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Substance Use Disorder: Dealing With Teen Substance Use

Table of Contents


If your teen is using alcohol, tobacco, or other substances, take it seriously. One of the most important things you can do is to talk openly with your teen about the problem. Urge your teen to be open too.

Try not to use harsh, judging words. In most cases, an angry face-to-face meeting will push a teen away. Be as supportive as you can during this time.

If you don't know what to do or if you don't feel comfortable, ask for help. Talk to your teen's doctor, a pediatrician, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist.

Finding signs of substance use at an early age is important. That's because early substance use may:

How to recognize and deal with teen substance use

Looking for signs

Sometimes it's hard to tell if a teen is using alcohol or drugs. Experts recommend that parents look for a pattern or a number of changes in appearance, behavior, and attitude, not just one or two of the changes listed here.

Signs that a teen may be using substances include a:

Change in appearance.

Examples include:

  • Less attention paid to dressing and grooming.
  • Loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss.
  • Red and glassy eyes, and frequent use of eyedrops and breath mints.
  • "Track marks" where drugs have been injected into veins.
Change in behavior.

Examples include:

  • Decreased attendance and performance at school.
  • Loss of interest in school, sports, or other activities.
  • Repeated health complaints, such as being overly tired.
  • Newly developed secrecy, or deceptive or sneaky behavior.
  • Withdrawal from family and friends.
  • New friends and reluctance to introduce them.
  • Lying or stealing.
Change in attitude.

Examples include:

  • Disrespectful behavior.
  • A mood or attitude that is getting worse.
  • Lack of concern about the future.

Talking to a teen who is experimenting

If you think that your teen has started to experiment with alcohol or other substances, don't ignore it. It's important to talk openly with your teen about your concerns.

Taking action

If you think that your teen is using alcohol or any other substance regularly, take action. This use is serious. It should not be denied or minimized. Frequent or regular use of a substance can quickly lead to substance use disorder.

Use these tips to help your teen.

Credits for Substance Use Disorder: Dealing With Teen Substance Use

Current as of: August 2, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Patrice Burgess MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Peter Monti PhD - Alcohol and Addiction
Christine R. Maldonado PhD - Behavioral Health

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