Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse

In a busy, high-stress world, parents can’t always be alert to the warning signs of substance abuse. It’s practically impossible to monitor a teenager’s behavior 24 hours a day, and socially active teens may spend much of their time away from home. By educating yourself on the signs and symptoms of drug or alcohol use, you may become more aware of potential problems with your teenager before abuse turns into dependence and addiction.

Risk Factors for Teen Alcohol Abuse

Learning how to detect the red flags of substance abuse could literally be a matter of life or death. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry reports that half of all deaths among young people between the ages of 15 and 20 result from accidents, suicides, or homicides related to alcohol and drug consumption. Common risk factors for alcohol abuse among teens include:

  • A family history of chemical dependence
  • A weak support system at home
  • A lack of positive peer influences
  • Psychiatric disorders (depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder)
  • A history of physical or sexual abuse

Even the brightest, healthiest teens can succumb to the temptations of alcohol and drugs. Alcohol is widely available in family liquor cabinets, at parties, at football games and at concerts. It’s never safe to assume that just because a teenager is popular and successful that he couldn’t develop a problem with alcohol.

Physical Symptoms of Substance Abuse

The physical symptoms of alcohol abuse may not be immediately apparent in teens. If your teen comes home late at night after a party or sports event, he may be able to hide obvious symptoms of intoxication like slurred speech, alcohol on his breath, poor motor coordination or a flushed face. But some of the ongoing physical symptoms of alcohol abuse are a little harder to hide:

  • Unusual fatigue
  • Glassy eyes
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • An odor of alcohol or smoke on the skin or clothing
  • Puffiness around the cheeks and e
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain

It’s crucial to talk with teens about any new changes in their sleeping or eating habits. Although adolescents can get extremely defensive, parents must intervene before casual experimentation turns into regular alcohol consumption or chemical dependence.

Behavioral and Social Changes

It’s not uncommon for teens to change their activities, their style of clothing or even their friends. But parents should monitor these changes closely to make sure that alcohol or drug abuse isn’t a contributing factor. How can you identify the behavioral signs of substance abuse?

  • Your son abandons his old friends and doesn’t want you to meet his new crowd.
  • Your teen displays a sudden decline in personal hygiene or grooming habits.
  • Your teenager acts surly, moody or aggressive at home for no apparent reason.
  • Your teen begins asking for frequent “loans” of money from family members.
  • Your son starts to lie about his whereabouts or activities.
  • Your teenager’s grades drop suddenly.
  • Your son gives up his favorite activities, hobbies or sports.

A lot of parents report that when their teen began drinking, he seemed to change very suddenly, without any warning. Alcohol is a powerful drug that can produce rapid changes in a young person, especially if he drinks heavily. Communicating with your son will help you detect early changes that may indicate that he has progressed from recreational drinking to heavy alcohol consumption.

Emotional Signs of Addiction

Anyone who’s lived with a teenager is familiar with adolescent mood swings. Teens can get depressed, angry or withdrawn at times, and these changes don’t always indicate that your child is using alcohol. But a consistent pattern of moody, unpredictable emotional behavior may be a sign that your teen has started drinking.

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that can cause ongoing emotional instability. Binge drinkers, or those who consume more than four drinks in two hours at any given time, and heavy drinkers are especially prone to mood changes. A study published in Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research showed a strong correlation between heavy episodic drinking and depression. Alcohol makes some teens more withdrawn than usual, while others may become angry, irritable or aggressive with their family members. Stimulants like meth or cocaine can easily trigger hostility, violence or aggression in teens.

Adolescence isn’t an easy period for teens or for their parents. But this stage can be much less difficult if you seek help from professionals who specialize in adolescent addiction treatment. At Muir Wood, we’re here to help troubled teenage boys and their families move successfully from adolescence into adulthood. Our personalized treatment plans are based on neuropsychological testing to identify the most effective approach for your son. Call our intake specialists to initiate the process of healing today.