Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0
Warning Signs of Teenage Alcohol and Drug Abuse
Most teenagers will have some experience with alcohol and
other drugs. Most will experiment and stop. Some will
continue to use alcohol or drugs casually without
significant problems. Others will use regularly, with
varying degrees of physical, emotional, and social problems.
Some will die, and some will cause others to die.
Since there is no certain way to predict which teenagers
will develop serious problems, all use of alcohol and drugs
should be considered dangerous.
Some teenagers are more at risk than others of developing
problems related to alcohol and other drugs. Highest on the
list are teenagers with a family history of substance
Legally available products include alcohol (for those over
21); tobacco (for those over a certain age, depending on
where they live); prescribed medications; inhalants; and
over-the-counter cough, cold, sleep, and diet medications.
Illegal drugs include marijuana, cocaine/crack, LSD, PCP,
opioids, heroin, and the so-called "designer drugs."
Although the use of some drugs has leveled off recently, the
use of others has not. In particular, the use of alcohol,
cigarettes, and crack remain major areas of concern.
Teenagers who begin to smoke or drink during their early
teens are at particularly high risk. These substances are
the typical gateway drugs, which lead first to marijuana and
then to other illegal drugs.
Warning signs of teenage drug abuse may include:
- Physical: persistent fatigue, repeated health
complaints, red and dull eyes, and a steady cough.
- Emotional: personality change, sudden mood changes,
irresponsible behavior, low self-esteem, depression, and
a general lack of interest.
- Family: starting arguments, breaking rules, or
withdrawing from the family.
- School: drop in grades, many absences, discipline
- Social problems: new friends who are less interested in
standard home and school activities, scrapes with the
law, and changes to less conventional styles in dress and
The warning signs listed above can also be signs of other
problems. Parents may recognize signs of trouble but should
not be expected to make the diagnosis. Consulting a
physician to rule out physical causes of the warning signs
is a good first step. This may be followed by a
comprehensive evaluation by a mental health professional.