Over the next few posts I’m going to outline some of the signs that a teenager might be on drugs. Of course, the only sure way to know is by getting a drug test done but watching for the signs can be helpful. Keep in mind that one sign by itself doesn’t mean they are for sure – it’s just a sign that you should keep your eyes open.
Yes, personality changes are a part of the regular process of puberty but there are some parts of personality that don’t have drastic changes overall. I’m not just talking about a “leave me alone” attitude every once in awhile – during the teen years kids need to have time to themselves and sometimes we forget that. But if they suddenly have no desire to talk to anyone in the family, start taking all meals in their room, and give you only grunts and murmurs when you speak to them, you should start watching carefully for other signs of drug use.
If your once very active child would suddenly rather stay home than go to their hockey game keep your eyes open. If your normally quiet child starts getting invited to parties every weekend and is eager to go watch for other symptoms of drug use. Any extreme change in personality could potentially be a sign of drug use or drug abuse so start keep your eyes open to see if there are other signs.
Change in Dress and Hygiene
When a generally well kept child starts wearing ripped clothing, dirty clothing, and grungy hairstyles you should be aware that this kind of dress tends to be associated with drug use. Girls may start dressing more provocatively and wearing more make-up. I tend not to put too much stress on this sign though because the teen years are a time of learning who they are. Some kids just feel the need to not look like everyone else and will generally try to look any way that other kids do not.
But if it is combined with other signs of drug use it can be very meaningful. Especially if you start to see things like weed symbols on their hats or t-shirts that is definitely a clear sign.
You should also watch out for gang colors. Find out what the gang colors are in your area. Don’t think there are gangs where you live? You’re likely wrong. Talk to the manager at the community centre nearest you or a youth centre. They likely have rules about wearing gang colors so they will know what to look for. And yes, gangs almost always mean drugs.
When you talk to your child do you get a lot of grunts and shoulder shrugs? Do you get complete sentences from them or are they all mono-syllables? If your child is not talking on a regular basis or uncommunicative for an extended period of time it could be a sign of drug abuse. At the very least it is the sign of some underlying problem and if they won’t talk to you, you should find someone for them to talk to – a close relative, a member of your church, a teacher, a counselor – anyone that they feel they can trust.
It’s in the eyes
Yes, it is true that the eyes hold the answers to many things. Watch for red eyes or extremely dilated or glassy eyes. These are conditions that don’t occur naturally. Found Visine in their purse or pockets? I hate to say it but kids don’t buy Visine unless they are huffing or smoking pot or are hardcore swimmers.
Have your child’s friends suddenly changed? Noticed that there is a different class of friends hanging around? Noticed that the friends they have been friends with for years suddenly have stopped calling? All of those are good signs that something is up in your kids’ life. If you know your child’s friends’ parents give them a call. They may know something but be hesitant to tell you because they think it is none of their business.
If your child that normally likes to sleep in every day is suddenly up at the crack of dawn to get to school early or your child that generally falls asleep fast is suddenly up all night be aware. Drug use can seriously affect sleeping patterns. It may also make sleeping patterns more erratic. You may find them sleeping for normal periods of time one night and then needing to go to bed at 8 pm and sleeping soundly until they have to get up for school the next day.
Other Behavioral Signs
1. Paranoia – they feel that everything you say is a personal attack
2. They stop doing things they used to love
3. They feel that spending any time with family is time wasted
4. Forgetfulness, lack of attention span
5. Giddiness, getting the giggles for no apparent reason
6. Secrets – being in their room for any reason is suddenly not allowed
7. Needing money more often and not being able to explain where it is going
8. Lying, lying repeatedly, and trying to cover their tracks.
9. Possession of drug paraphernalia (and watch for this because things you never thought would be related to drugs could be – like pieces of tinfoil in their room, broken pens, pop bottles with holes in the body)
Keep in mind that the above signs on their own may be just part of the normal changes they go through in their teen years. But when they start to be combined it could be a forewarning. It might be time to take further action.
Drug Specific Signs
There are also some signs that you can watch for that pertain to specific drugs.
Alcohol: staggering, slurring their words, dilated pupils, won’t come to close to you, knocking things over, muttering so that they don’t have to talk
Marijuana: eyes may be reddish or glassy, might have Visine or other over-the-counter medication for red eyes, boredom, lack of motivation, weight gain or loss, talking loudly, random laughter, paranoia, sleepiness
Barbiturates, tranquilizers, and other depressants: similar symptoms as alcohol use but without the odor, lack of concentration, drowsiness
Stimulants: very hyper, euphoric, anxious and irritable, talking a lot, not eating, weight loss; followed by a sudden downward drop with depression or sleeping a lot
Inhalants: impaired memory and thought, rash around nose or mouth, headaches, nausea, sleepiness, extreme change in appetite, anxious and irritable, watery eyes; you might find empty spray cans, glue bottles, or white out bottles in their room
Cigarettes: smell of tobacco, smelling like perfume or cologne when they come home, brushing their teeth as soon as they come home
Heroin: needle marks, wearing long sleeved clothing all the time, erratic sleeping patterns, sweating, vomiting, twitching, loss of appetite, contracted pupils, coughing and sniffing
Hallucinogens: irrational behavior; paranoia, mood swings, becoming detached, confusion, hallucinations