3 Signs That Your Teen Is Hiding an Addiction

Unusual odors, bloodshot eyes, or problems with coordination can indicate a teen addiction. More on the physical, emotional, and social signs of a problem here.

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ARTICLE OVERVIEW: Teens who become addicted to drugs or alcohol also send several signs to their parents that something is wrong. These can be boiled down to physical, emotional, and social changes.


The Earlier, the Better

The teen years are a time of experimentation and upheaval. Teens experience lots of growth and changes during this chaotic time in their lives, and some turn to drugs or alcohol in order to cope with their transition from childhood into adulthood. Yet, before long, these teens can become addicted.

Since relationships with parents can often become strained during the teen years, it can be difficult to know whether your son or daughter is dealing with something as serious as addiction or if they are simply acting out. Teens can also be pretty sneaky about their drug abuse, making it harder to detect, especially if you spend lots of time apart from each other either due to the demands of work or school.

Nevertheless, with all kinds of substances available to teens nowadays, it’s imperative for parents to look for warning signs that may indicate drug or alcohol abuse or addiction. [1] The earlier you spot and identify these warning signs, the earlier your teen can receive the help they need to get their lives back on track.

Warning Signs That May Indicate Addiction

Both drugs and alcohol take a toll on the user’s body, most of which you cannot hide. [2] Nearly everyone who becomes addicted gives off several signs. These can be boiled down to physical, emotional, and social changes.

While the suspicion that your child may be using drugs or alcohol is concerning, it’s important not to jump to any conclusions when you spot any of the telltale signs discussed below. On their own, they’re not definitive. In fact, some of these could indicate your teen has issues other than an addiction. However, if your teen exhibits several of these symptoms at once, then it’s a strong indication that they’re addicted to a substance.

We suggest that you confirm your suspicions by seeking a diagnosis with a mental health professional. Addiction specialists can be medical doctors, psychologists, or social workers. Or, you can seek a referral to a specialist from your family doctor.

Also, keep in mind that different drugs affect the brain and body in varying ways. [3] Depending on the substance being abused, your teen could end up feeling relaxed and lethargic or keyed up and hyperactive. Here are the main signs to look out for in the following text.

1. Changes in your Teen’s Physical Appearance.

Physical changes in your teen’s appearance or demeanor can serve as strong indicators of addiction. The longer your teen uses substances, the more severe and pronounced their physical symptoms will be, depending of course on the drugs being used. The very first signs alerting you of a problem include a sickly appearance and a drop off in personal hygiene.

Watch out for the following:

  • Changes in your teen’s eyes. Bloodshot eyes with dilated pupils might signify alcohol use while red, heavy-lidded eyes with constricted pupils show likely marijuana use.
  • Frequent unexplained nosebleeds are synonymous with meth or cocaine use.
  • Impaired coordination, body tremors, and shakes.
  • Poor physical coordination.
  • Incoherent or slurred speech.
  • Changes in eating habits accompanied by either weight gain or weight loss.
  • Changes in sleeping patterns; your teen either sleeps more or less than they used to.
  • Poor physical hygiene, e.g. bad odor, unkempt appearance. As addiction takes hold, teen addicts spend more time accommodating new habits associated with the substance and personal grooming is often neglected.
  • Unusual smells or odors on the breath, clothing, hair or body.

2. Emotional Changes in your Teen.

As addiction progresses in teens, it normally triggers drastic changes in brain chemistry that manifests in the person’s mood and behavior. In some cases, parents say that their teens’ personality changes so much they’re unrecognizable.

If your teen suddenly becomes sullen, depressed, silent, withdrawn or prone to angry outbursts amidst other changes in behavior, then it’s an indication something’s amiss. Other psychological warnings of addiction include:

  • Changes in personality or attitude. Your once cheerful teen becomes sullen and withdrawn, or if they’re usually quiet, they become animated.
  • Sudden extreme mood swings. Although young people are prone to moodiness and emotionally charged responses, seeing such behavior in your teen could signify drug use. However, before concluding that they have an addiction, have a chat with them and see if these changes aren’t caused by some other stressor.
  • General lethargy combined with lack of motivation and an inability to focus on tasks.
  • Sustained periods of agitation or hyperactivity.
  • Increased aggression or irritability.
  • Unexplained anxiety or paranoia.
  • Depression and increased inability to deal with stress.
  • Repeated dishonesty, defensiveness, and denial especially when confronted about changes in their behavior.

3. Social Changes in your Child.

Teens often go to great lengths to hide their addiction, but this is something that’s difficult to completely hide. Furthermore, addiction takes a noticeable toll on users, and it doesn’t take long before these psychological changes in attitude and behavior start affecting your teen’s social life. At this point, you start noticing things like:

  • Problems at school. Your teen might start skipping classes, getting into trouble at school and their grades might drop.
  • Changes in relationships. Teen addicts normally end up changing friends, falling in with a crowd that enables and encourages addiction. There may be complaints of their unusual behavior either from their teachers, friends or classmates. Additionally, family relationships become strained as your teen becomes increasingly hostile or withdrawn.
  • Demands for more money. Since most teens are still financially dependent on their parents, they need to find ways to buy drugs or alcohol for them to use. Addicted teens can turn to demanding increased amounts of money from you or stealing it. Alternatively, you might notice valuable items in your house go missing as these are sold off to get quick cash. In some cases, teens get into gambling as a way to get money to feed their addiction.
  • Lack of interest in activities they previously enjoyed, e.g. hobbies, sports
  • Decreased motivation to go out, resulting in missed engagements.
  • Withdrawn, secretive or suspicious behavior.

What to Do If Your Teen Is Addicted

Early intervention has the best outcome when it comes to treating teen addiction. [4] If your teen shows several of these signs, and you don’t feel comfortable having an open discussion with them, seek professional help. A medical doctor can first help you establish the course of the symptoms then seek appropriate diagnosis. Diagnosis is made using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association.

Different treatment options are available and can vary from residential treatment centers to medication and various forms of therapy in between. [5] A treatment plan will all depend on your teen’s individual case. Some teens do well in outpatient programs, while others need longer term care with lots of supervision.

Discovering that your teen has an addiction can be devastating.

But remember…help is available to give them a new start!

Hope is here.

Reference Sources: [1] Addiction Blog: Trends in Popular Drugs Among Teens
[2] Better Health: How Drugs Affect Your Body
[3] Live Science: This Is Your Brain on Drugs (Really)
[4] Addiction Blog: Treatment Options for Youth Diagnosed with Substance Addictions
[5] Help Your Teen Now: The Best Residential Treatment Centers For Troubled Youth
About the author
Tyler is a freelance writer/journalist, with past experience as the head content writer and outreach coordinator for HelpYourTeenNow. His areas of focus include: parenting, education, social media, addiction, and issues facing teenagers today.
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