Signs & symptoms of teen drug/alcohol use

by Gina DeMent, Public Information Officer
Five County Mental Health Authority

How can you tell if your child is using drugs or alcohol?

It is difficult because changes in mood or attitudes, unusual temper outbursts, changes in sleeping habits and changes in hobbies or other interests are common in teens.

What should you look for?

You can also look for signs of depression, withdrawal, and carelessness with grooming or hostility. Also ask yourself, is your child doing well in school, getting along with friends, taking part in sports or other activities?

Watch List for Parents

  • Changes in friends
  • Negative changes in schoolwork, missing school, or declining grades
  • Increased secrecy about possessions or activities
  • Use of incense, room deodorant, or perfume to hide smoke or chemical odors
  • Subtle changes in conversations with friends, e.g. more secretive, using “coded” language
  • Change in clothing choices: new fascination with clothes that highlight drug use
  • Increase in borrowing money
  • Evidence of drug paraphernalia such as pipes, rolling papers, etc.
  • Evidence of use of inhalant products (such as hairspray, nail polish, correction fluid, common household products); Rags and paper bags are sometimes used as accessories
  • Bottles of eye drops, which may be used to mask bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils
  • New use of mouthwash or breath mints to cover up the smell of alcohol
  • Missing prescription drugs–especially narcotics and mood stabilizer
  • Loss of appetite, increase in appetite, any changes in eating habits, unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Slowed or staggering walk; poor physical coordination
  • Red, watery eyes; pupils larger or smaller than usual; blank stare
  • Cold, sweaty palms; shaking hands
  • Puffy face, blushing or paleness
  • Runny nose; hacking cough
  • General lack of motivation, energy, self-esteem, “I don’t care” attitude. Sudden oversensitivity, temper tantrums, or resentful behavior
  • Moodiness, irritability, or nervousness
  • These changes often signal that something harmful is going on–and often that involves alcohol or drugs. You may want to take your child to the doctor and ask him or her about screening your child for drugs and alcohol. This may involve the health professional asking your child a simple question, or it may involve urine or blood drug screen.

    However, some of these signs also indicate there may be a deeper problem with depression, gang involvement, possible chronic illness or other health problems, peer adjustment, allergies, eating disorders, teenage aggression, or suicide. Remember that many of these signs or symptoms may also be symptoms within the context of your individual adolescent’s personality and current lifestyle.

    When discussing your findings with your child, it is not necessary to make a conclusion about the behavior. More importantly, talk to your child or to the health professional about exactly what you are seeing and the concern it is causing you as a parent. Be on the watch for these signs so that you can spot trouble before it goes too far. A mental health professional or a caring and concerned adult may help a youngster successfully overcome a crisis and develop more effective coping skills, often preventing further problems.

    If you are worried about your teen’s future and the problems they are having, you need to find help for your teen. You should confront them immediately and try to work the problem(s) out. However, if your teen’s problems have been ongoing and they refuse to obey you as a parent, you should find help as soon as possible. If you don’t help your teen now, the problems will only get worse.

    For more information regarding services available in the five county area, call the Five County Mental Health Authority’s Helpline number at 1.877.619.3761.

    For emergencies in Halifax and surrounding areas, BEARS has a walk in clinic located at 1609 E. Tenth Streen, Roanoke Rapids; 252.537.6799 between 8:00 a.m. — 5:00 p.m., Monday – Friday.