9 warning signs of teen substance abuse

9 Warning Signs of Teen Substance Abuse

The consequences of youth substance abuse are serious, resulting in brain development problems, car accidents, risky sexual behavior, school dropouts and more. (You can read about the 7 consequences of underage drinking here).

In addition, teens are using substances at a surprisingly early age. The average age of first use of alcohol is 13 ½ in Texas and the average age of first use of marijuana is 13.7 in Texas.

Even the best kids can fall into bad habits and parents need to know the warning signs in case their child might be using.

Here are 9 warning signs of teen substance abuse (here’s the source with more information):

  1. Changes in behavior and mannerisms
  • Frequent change of friends with whom parents are not familiar with
  • Withdrawal from usual family bonding routines and activities
  • Violation of curfew
  • Inappropriate, uncharacteristically defiant or caustic reaction to confrontations


  1. Impaired judgement
  • Slurring of speech and difficulties in expression
  • Limited communication
  • Unusually talkative behavior using incoherent words and sentences


  1. Poor academic performance
  • Exhibiting poor grades and skipping classes
  • Complaints from teachers
  • Loss of interest in extracurricular activities, hobbies or sports


  1. Lack of motivation
  • Showing apathy, poor morale and low productivity


  1. Neglect of personal hygiene and appearance
  • Wearing wrinkled or dirty clothes
  • Paying little attention to hair grooming and cleanliness


  1. Manipulative and secretive behavior
  • Telling lies to cover up acts
  • Making and receiving frequent phone calls in hushed or whispered tones
  • Acting sneaky and suspicious


  1. Irrational behavior
  • Becoming irritable, verbally abusive and violent with parents and siblings
  • Threatening to quit school, run away from home, drop out of school, destroy family property, cause bodily harm or even suicide.


  1. Depression and mood instability
  • Crying spells
  • Mood swings
  • Becoming alienated and disinterested in things they were passionate about before


  1. Changes in appearance
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Widely dilated pupils/Pinpoint pupils
  • Unexplained and sudden weight loss
  • Skin changes like needle tracks on arm, which could indicate injectable substance use like heroin
  • Raw dripping nostrils which could indicate cocaine use


Are you feeling overwhelmed, stressed or have a specific question about your child’s drug or alcohol use? Call Partnership for Drug-Free Kids’ Toll-Free Helpline at 1-855-DRUGFREE (1-855-378-4373) to speak with a trained specialist.

Additional information: