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Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment: A Research-Based Guide

What are signs of drug use in adolescents, and what role can parents play in getting treatment?

A photo of a mother and daughter.

If an adolescent starts behaving differently for no apparent reason—such as acting withdrawn, frequently tired or depressed, or hostile—it could be a sign he or she is developing a drug-related problem. Parents and others may overlook such signs, believing them to be a normal part of puberty.

Other signs include:

  • a change in peer group
  • carelessness with grooming
  • decline in academic performance
  • missing classes or skipping school
  • loss of interest in favorite activities
  • changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • deteriorating relationships with family members and friends

Parents tend to underestimate the risks or seriousness of drug use. The symptoms listed here suggest a problem that may already have become serious and should be evaluated to determine the underlying cause—which could be a substance abuse problem or another mental health or medical disorder. Parents who are unsure whether their child is abusing drugs can enlist the help of a primary care physician, school guidance counselor, or drug abuse treatment provider.

Parents seeking treatment for an adolescent child are encouraged to see NIDA's booklet, Seeking Drug Abuse Treatment: Know What to Ask and see the Treatment Referral Resources section of this guide.

This page was last updated January 2014

What are signs of drug use in adolescents, and what role can parents play in getting treatment?

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National Institute on Drug Abuse (2014). What are signs of drug use in adolescents, and what role can parents play in getting treatment?. In Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment: A Research-Based Guide. Retrieved from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-adolescent-substance-use-disorder-treatment-research-based-guide/frequently-asked-questions/what-are-signs-drug-use-in-adolescents-what-role-can-parents-play-in-getting-treatment

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