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?

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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If an adolescent starts behaving differently for no apparent reason—such as acting withdrawn, frequently tired or depressed, or hostile—it could be a sign he or she is developing a drug-related problem.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 the Treatment Referral Resources section of this guide.