Parents of Adolescents

Raising a teenager can be incredibly challenging and complex, and the added concern of substance abuse can amplify this difficulty. Adolescence is a time of significant physical, emotional and social changes as teenagers navigate their way towards adulthood. Trying to work out whether or not your teenager is struggling with substance abuse can be confusing and frustrating.

Detecting signs of drug addiction requires keen observation and understanding of the nuanced behaviours associated with substance abuse. In this help guide, we look closer at how you can spot these signs and what to do if you feel your child needs an extra helping hand.

Parents of adolescents - mum comforting son

How are teenage drug addictions commonly formed?

As a parent, educating yourself about how teenagers can develop drug addiction is crucial in recognising early signs and taking appropriate action. By understanding the factors contributing to drug addiction in adolescents, you can be better equipped to spot warning signs and intervene effectively.

Peer influence…

Peer pressure is a significant factor in adolescent drug use as they may feel compelled to try drugs to fit in, gain acceptance or maintain friendships within their social circles.

Curiosity and experimentation…

Adolescence is a period of exploration and self-discovery. Some adolescents may experiment with drugs out of curiosity or a desire for new experiences, unaware of the potential risks and consequences.

Coping with stress and emotional difficulties…

Adolescence is a time of significant emotional changes, and some teens may turn to drugs as a means of coping with stress, anxiety, depression or other emotional difficulties they are facing.

Family environment…

Family dynamics and the home environment play a crucial role in shaping a teen’s behaviour. Factors such as parental substance abuse, lack of parental involvement, poor communication or inconsistent discipline can increase the risk of drug issues.

Trauma and adverse experiences…

Teenagers who have experienced trauma or adverse childhood experiences may be more susceptible to turning to drugs to cope with their emotional pain or escape from distressing memories.

Accessibility of drugs…

Easy drug access, whether through peers, family members or community influences, can significantly increase the likelihood of substance abuse among adolescents.

Media and cultural influences…

Media portrayal and cultural norms surrounding drug use can influence a teen’s perception and attitudes towards drugs, making them more susceptible to experimentation.

Adolescent drug facts in the UK

From April 2021 to March 2022, alcohol and drug services in the UK assisted 11,326 individuals under 18. Among them;

  • 87% sought help for cannabis use
  • 46% acknowledged issues related to alcohol
  • 12% admitted to a nicotine addiction
  • 8% sought assistance for ecstasy-related problems
  • 8% reported issues with powdered cocaine

Out-of-character behaviour – drug or hormone related?

It is essential to acknowledge that some signs and symptoms of drug abuse in adolescents can overlap with the natural changes in hormones that occur during the transition to adulthood.

Adolescence is a time of significant hormonal shifts, which can bring about a host of behavioural and physical changes. These changes can sometimes mimic or mask the signs of drug use, making it challenging for parents to differentiate between normal adolescent development and potential substance abuse.

Below is a table that shows similarities between hormonal changes and drug addiction symptoms;

Adolescent Drug Addiction Symptoms Changes in Hormones during Adolescence
  • Mood swings
  • Changes in appetite
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Erratic behaviour
  • Increased irritability
  • Changes in social interactions
  • Poor academic performance
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Secretive behaviour
  • Lack on interest in hobbies/activities
  • Mood swings
  • Changes in appetite
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Erratic behaviour
  • Increased irritability
  • Changes in social interactions
  • Difficulty concentrating on academics
  • Increased need for independence
  • Desire for privacy
  • Shift in interests or exploration of new ones

It’s important to note that this table highlights some potential similarities and should not be used as a definitive diagnostic tool. Each individual is unique, and it’s crucial to consult with medical professionals or mental health experts for accurate assessment and guidance in cases of suspected drug addiction.

Signs specific to drug abuse/addiction

Although some drug addiction symptoms are similar to hormonal changes, some distinguishable signs are typically associated with only drug use. Below we have highlighted some of the main things to look out for and, when possible, state the potential drug your child may have an issue with;

  • Needle marks or track marks: Needle marks or track marks on the body, particularly on the arms or legs, are strong indicators of heroin or other drug use.
  • Bloodshot or glazed eyes: Bloodshot or glazed eyes can indicate drug use, particularly with substances like cannabis or stimulants. These drugs can cause dilation of blood vessels in the eyes, leading to redness or a glassy appearance. Persistent bloodshot or glazed eyes, especially when combined with other symptoms, can indicate drug intoxication or ongoing substance abuse.
  • Frequent nosebleeds: Frequent nosebleeds can result from drug use, particularly substances that are snorted. Drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine can irritate and damage the nasal passages, leading to nosebleeds. Recurring nosebleeds, especially without any other medical condition, may suggest drug abuse.
  • Rapid weight loss or gain: Significant and unexplained changes in weight, either rapid weight loss or gain, can be indicative of a drug problem. Certain drugs, such as stimulants, can lead to decreased appetite and subsequent weight loss. On the other hand, substances like alcohol or opioids can cause increased appetite and weight gain. Dramatic weight shifts, combined with other signs of drug addiction, may point to substance abuse.
  • Excessive sweating: Excessive sweating, mainly when it is out of proportion to the temperature or physical activity level, can be a symptom of drug use. Stimulant drugs like amphetamines or cocaine can increase body temperature and lead to profuse sweating.
  • Dilated or constricted pupils: Pupil dilation or constriction that is not related to changes in lighting conditions can indicate drug use. Certain drugs, such as opioids or depressants, can cause pupil constriction, while stimulants may lead to pupil dilation. Unusual or persistently dilated or constricted pupils, without a medical explanation, can suggest drug intoxication or dependency.
  • Slurred speech: Slurred speech is a common symptom of central nervous system depressant drugs, including alcohol, benzodiazepines or opioids. These substances can impair speech and motor coordination, resulting in slurred or slow speech. If slurred speech is observed frequently or consistently, it may indicate ongoing substance abuse.
  • Tremors or shakes: Tremors or shakes, especially when present during periods of drug withdrawal or in the absence of a medical condition, can indicate drug dependence or addiction. Withdrawal symptoms from substances like alcohol, benzodiazepines or certain stimulants can manifest as trembling or uncontrollable shaking.

I feel my teenager has a drug addiction – how can I approach them?

If you suspect your teenager has a drug addiction, approaching them requires careful consideration and a supportive approach. Here are some tips to help you address the situation effectively:

  • Choose the right time and place: Find a suitable time when both you and your teenager are calm and not distracted. Ensure privacy so they feel comfortable opening up to you.
  • Show empathy and understanding: Approach the conversation with empathy, understanding that addiction is a complex issue. Avoid judgmental or confrontational language that may push them away.
  • Educate yourself about addiction: Familiarise yourself with drug addiction, its signs and available resources for treatment. This will help you approach the conversation with knowledge and provide appropriate support.
  • Use active listening: Allow your teenager to express themselves without interruption. Listen attentively, validate their feelings and ask open-ended questions to encourage them to share their perspective.
  • Avoid accusations or blame: It is important to avoid blaming or accusing your teenager. Instead, focus on the behavioural changes you have observed and express your desire to understand what they may be going through.
  • Offer support and reassurance: Let them know you are there to support them and want to help them through this difficult time. Assure them that seeking help is a sign of strength and that they are not alone in this journey.
  • Seek professional guidance: If you believe your teenager’s drug addiction is severe or beyond your ability to handle it alone, don’t hesitate to seek professional help from addiction specialists.

What are the next steps?

If you feel your child’s drug addiction has become too much for you to handle alone, know there is help out there for them.

Banbury Lodge, our sister clinic, is a dedicated teenage addiction treatment centre. The facility offers confidential and highly effective rehabilitation services for adolescents from all over the country. With a team of dedicated professionals, we are committed to supporting young individuals in overcoming addiction and empowering them to lead fulfilling and healthy lives.