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Ask a coach

Meghan comes from a background in fashion, but changed her career path to help others overcome the disease of addiction.

Q: What are some signs of drug use in teenagers?

A: It can be really challenging to recognize early signs of drug use, especially for parents of teenagers. Teen years can be tumultuous anyway, so it may be hard to know if something more serious is going on.

These symptoms can really vary person to person; none of these in isolation are indicative of a drug problem. It’s also not an all-inclusive list, but we’ve found these are some of the most common and easiest to spot.

  • Sudden, unexpected personality changes. Often, people who are normally outgoing or energetic will become nervous or quiet, especially when they’re in large groups of people. Abrupt outbursts, mood swings and changes in motivation could also be signs of substance use.
  • Mysterious medical ailments. Extreme weight loss or gain, passing out with no prior history, frequent bruises – there are plenty of physical symptoms that could be warning signs. They differ depending on the drug and the method in which it’s being ingested.
  • Appearance changes. In addition to some of the physical symptoms listed previously, clothing can be a clue. Wearing long sleeves in warm weather is a fairly typical sign, as well as baggy or loose-fitting clothing to conceal weight changes. 
  • A different or irregular sleep schedule. It’s pretty typical for a person who’s using drugs to be very wired or noticeably sluggish – or switch back and forth between those two extremes.
  • Missing items from the home. These could be as simple as spoons, tin foil or plastic bags, or could be more valuable like jewelry or money.
  • Weird or odd smells. These can vary quite a bit too. Meth, for example, smells a lot like nail polish remover. If someone is smoking marijuana but covering the odor, you might notice a lot of Ozium, air freshener or dryer sheets.
  • Short trips or visits. A lot quick, unexplained trips away from the house, or a lot of visitors stopping by but not coming inside, may be worth noting. Similarly, a sudden change in friend groups could indicate a problem.
  • Miscellaneous plastic items. For example, maybe you’re finding a lot of chewed up straws or disassembled pens around the house.

Of course, if you suspect your teen may be using drugs, it’s important to address it as soon as possible. Experts suggest preparing ahead of the time for the conversation, staying calm and setting realistic goals. It’s also important to recognize any addiction issues in your family and discuss that with your child.

It can be incredibly challenging to know where to look or what questions to ask. But often, if something feels off, you’re probably right. Trust your intuition, educate yourself and get professional help if need be.


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