Signs kids might be using drugs or alcohol

Parents know that each new period in a child’s life brings both noteworthy milestones and a host of new concerns. Those concerns often reach new heights as children enter adolescence, a period in life when pressure from peers and at school can make it hard to be a kid, which in turn makes it harder to be a parent.

Adolescence is a period of significant change, as children’s bodies are physically changing and they’re inching closer to independence. It’s during this transition period that many children are first offered drugs or alcohol.

In fact, the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics reports that 50 per cent of teenagers have misused a drug at least once. In addition, data from the NCDAS indicates that drug use among teenagers in Grade 8 increased by 61 per cent between 2016 and 2020.

Such statistics are enough to make any parent lose sleep. But parents aren’t helpless against teen drug and alcohol use. There are many things parents can do to help children handle the temptation to use drugs and alcohol. Learning to spot the signs kids might already be using can help parents determine if they need to step in and help kids make the right decisions regarding drugs and alcohol.

The Partnership to End Addiction is the nation’s leading organization dedicated to addiction prevention, treatment and recovery. The Partnership recognizes how challenging it can be for parents to determine if kids are using, as many of the symptoms of using mimic normal teen or young adult behaviours. But parents who suspect their teen might be using can look for these potential indicators.

Shifts in mood and personality

– Sullen, withdrawn or depressed
– Less motivated
– Silent, uncommunicative
– Hostile, angry and/or uncooperative
– Acting deceitful or secretive
– Unable to focus
– A sudden loss of inhibitions
– Hyperactive or unusually elated

Behavioural changes

– Changing relationships with family members or friends
– Absenteeism or a loss of interest in school, work or other activities
– Avoiding eye contact
– Locks doors
– Disappears for long periods of time
– Goes out often, frequently breaking curfew
– Secretive with the use of their phone
– Makes endless excuses
– Uses chewing gum or mints to cover up breath
– Often uses over-the-counter preparations to reduce eye reddening or nasal irritation
– Has cash flow problems
– Has become unusually clumsy
– Has periods of sleeplessness or high energy, followed by long periods of sleep

Hygiene and appearance

– Smell of smoke or other unusual smells on breath or on clothes
– Messier than usual appearance
– Poor hygiene
– Frequently red or flushed cheeks or face
– Burns or soot on fingers or lips
– Track marks on arms or legs

Physical health

– Frequent sickness
– Unusually tired and/or lethargic
– Unable to speak intelligibly, slurred speech or rapid-fire speech
– Nosebleeds and/or runny nose not caused by allergies or a cold
– Sores or spots around the mouth
– Sudden or dramatic weight loss or gain
– Skin abrasions/bruises
– Frequent perspiration
– Seizures and/or vomiting

Parents of adolescents may need to walk a tightrope if they suspect their children are using drugs or alcohol. More information about kids and substance abuse can be found at

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