Teenagers and Drug Addiction

Drug addiction is a neurobiological disease that affects the brain and behaviour of the user. This disease requires holistic treatment of the body, mind and spirit. When left untreated the brain changes caused by addiction can be long-lasting.

Teenagers who use drugs may have a greater risk of developing an addiction when they are adults. You can try and prevent use or abuse by having honest talks and setting a healthy example about drug use are strong tools that a parent can use for adolescent substance abuse prevention. 

How do I know my teenager is using drugs?

One of the main concerns as a parent is the safety of your child. To spot substance use in your children, certain signs can help you identify unusual behaviour. When teenagers start using drugs their normal habits can change in the following ways:

  • Losing interest in spending time with old friends and starting to hang out with a new group
  • Dealing with an increased appetite or new cravings
  • Becoming aggressive or angry
  • Sleeping more hours than before
  • Losing interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • persistent problems at school

Other signs that may indicate drug consumption refer to changes in physical appearance. Usually, these changes are various depending on the consumed drug:

  • Red eyes
  • Long sleeves when it is hot outside (trying to hide certain marks)
  • Flushed cheeks
  • Shaking or tremors
  • The unusual smell on clothing or breath 
  • Runny nose or nose bleed without a cold
  • Unexplained bruises or track marks on arms
  • Poor personal hygiene 
  • Constantly licking lips

Some other signs indicate a secretive behaviour, which may be unusual especially for extrovert teenagers that become quiet suddenly:

  • Being away from home for longer periods than before, or even going out at night
  • Locking the bedroom door
  • Stealing
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Skipping classes

If you do not find obvious proof that your teenager is hiding alcohol or drugs, you may want to keep an eye out for  the following signs:

  • Missing your prescription drugs, over-the-counter medication, or bottles of alcohol
  • Finding containers or wrappers you do not recognize
  • Finding smoking devices, butane lighters, eye drops, and syringes

What drugs are most frequently used by teenagers?

At some point, teenagers may be tempted to use drugs and as a parent,  it is important to be aware of how various substances can impact the health of teenagers if they decide to experiment with drugs. Rehab centres help everyday adolescents struggling with all kinds of drug addictions 

Such as:

  • Ecstasy (also known as Molly)
  • Inhalants
  • Heroin
  • LSD (acid)
  • Cannabis
  • Synthetic marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Mushrooms

Some teenagers may be tempted to consume prescription drugs. It is recommended that all medications be locked in a safe place, where children do not have access to them. A teenager could also be buying these pills on the street, and it is important for parents to be aware of any changes in the behaviour of their child.

Adolescents may abuse certain prescription medicines such as:

  • Adderall
  • Ambien
  • Vicodin
  • Oxycodone
  • Codeine
  • Xanax
  • Ritalin

Why is my teenager using drugs?

Teenagers like to try new things and experimenting with drugs can entice their curiosity. Here are a few reasons why your teenager may be tempted to use drugs:

  • To be accepted in a group: When “others are doing it”, teenagers are tempted to follow the trend. Some start using drugs to become part of a group of a particular group of kids. 
  • To feel pleasure: When consuming drugs, the substance can change brain activity often inducing a surge of chemicals in the brain increasing euphoria. The intensity of the feelings depends on the type of consumed drug.
  • To escape stress or depression: If teens suffer from anxiety, depression or are stressed the chances can be higher to try drugs hoping to find relief from everyday stressors. 
  • To feel more motivated: Being part of a competitive class can put pressure on some teenagers. They may want to improve their school performance by taking stimulants. 
  • Out of curiosity: Adolescents tend to be curious and interested in trying new experiences. Starting to use drugs can be perceived by a teen as a thrilling experience that is worth trying.
  • The family history: If someone in your family consumed drugs at some point, chances can be higher for a teenager to also start abusing substances.

How do drugs affect the body of my teenager?

The effect of drugs can be much more harmful to a teen’s body than an adult’s body, as the adolescent is still developing, and the growth process of the body can be affected. 

Here you can read how various drugs impact the adolescent body:


Opiates were created to be used as painkillers, being responsible for releasing dopamine, which can create sensations of pleasure. When consumed improperly by a teen, opiates can give feelings of euphoria, slowing the breathing and cardiac function. It can also impact the gastrointestinal tract and other organs. The most common side effects are nausea, vomiting, itchiness and flushing.


Stimulants include methamphetamine, cocaine, and amphetamine. These drugs can give a boost to the nervous system, raising blood pressure, and increasing the heart rate. Other symptoms are increased breathing rate and a higher body temperature. Teenagers who abuse cocaine can feel more sensitive to light and physical touch, and they can experience convulsions, headaches, and seizures. If used in excess or for other reasons than the one prescribed by the doctor, prescription amphetamines can lead to loss of interest in daily activities, sleep disorders, and seizures.


Depressants are responsible for slowing down the functions of the body. The brain can be also affected, the user experiencing a drowsy feeling. The most used depressants are Xanax, Librium, Valium, and barbiturates. 

A teenager who is abusing depressants may lack coordination and concentration. Other effects are related to slower breathing and heart rate, lower overall energy, and lower body temperature. 


Hallucinogens include MDMA, LSD, PCP, mescaline, and psilocybin. These drugs can alter the user’s perception of reality. Teenagers using these substances can experience certain sensations and see images that are not real. They can cause dry mouth, loss of appetite, increasing heart rate and body temperature.

How do drugs affect the brain of my teenager?

Youth is not an excuse for drug abuse, but it is well known the teen brain is still developing by learning and trying new things. Teenagers also have decreased inhibitions as they are developing so are more prone to take risks and be attracted to things that are considered “dangerous”.  The reward area in the brain can be affected by all addictive drugs. This pathway of the brain is responsible for teen behaviour when it comes to consuming drugs. The addictive substances can increase the level of dopamine, leading to feelings of relaxation, stress relief, or euphoria. After experiencing these sensations, the teenager may feel motivated to go back for more. 

Dopamine is a natural chemical that creates the urge in people to form bonds of friendship, to become more sociable, and to develop survival behaviours, such as eating and sleeping.

Alcohol and other substances change the healthy pathway of the brain and can make a teenager want to abuse drugs rather than sleeping or going out with friends.

Once abusing drugs becomes a habit, the teenager may be at a higher risk of developing an addiction. When healthy brain functioning is damaged, teenagers can lose control over their healthy choices.

What can I do if my teenager is using drugs?

When as a parent you suspect your child of drug abuse, it can be both frightening and confusing. The first thing to do is to speak to your teenager. 

Most parents postpone talking about drug consumption with their children being afraid of repercussions. To avoid dramatic consequences, it is important to prepare the conversation,  plan certain discussion points and try to identify the cause behind the harmful habits of your teenager.

There are specific strategies you can follow to ease this process for you and your child:

Understand why your teenager has started using drugs

Understanding a teenager can be difficult sometimes. Adolescents are going through rapid changes which can be difficult to handle. 

Substance abuse can damage the brain of your child in the long-term causing health problems in adulthood and learning difficulties. 

To fully understand the situation and challenges of your teenager it is recommended to start a conversation with them about your worries.

Talk to your teenager

Even if you feel prepared for the conversation with your child, the subject and the situation may make the discussion difficult and uncomfortable. 

Avoid making accusations and use direct and simple questions such as “Have you been drinking alcohol?”, “Do you use drugs?”, “What kind of drugs have you used?” Be prepared to hear an affirmative answer to these questions and do not let anger or frustration dictate your reaction.

If you want to achieve an effective outcome there are a few guidelines that can help you communicate with teenagers:

  • Create a safe and non-judgemental space to talk with them. If they are intoxicated postpone the conversation until everyone is prepared to sustain a healthy dialogue.
  • Communicate with calm and love and let them know your concerns, but also your willingness to give them support.
  • Let them know you are concerned and the only thing that matters is for them to be safe, healthy, and happy.
  • Make sure you focus on their behaviour and do not make them feel they are bad persons because they used drugs.

Have the teenager take a drug screening

When teens lie about drug use the safest thing to do is to have them screened. You can do this by contacting the Castle Health team at: 01721 722 763. Our rehab specialists can help you book a screening for your child and guide you through the next steps if necessary.

Set firm boundaries and new rules

When a teenager is abusing drugs, the first step is to set clear limits about their behaviour and consequences for negative behaviour.

Learning self-control can be possible only by following rules. When you implement rules as a parent your teenager becomes aware of what is expected of him or her. 

Make sure your child understands that you do not want him/her to do drugs. It might be difficult to believe but rules help  teenagers understand that their parents care about their safety. 

Discussing consequences is an important part of setting rules. Getting grounded is a consequence of their behaviour and allows them to learn what actions/activities should be avoided for the future

Monitor your teenager

When you start monitoring your teenagers you should communicate about their high school activities, friends and other things that are involved in their behaviour. It is ok to check up on them when they are out, to ask questions before they leave the house (where they are going, with whom, how long they will stay). Once they are back home, try to make eye contact and to notice any smells on their clothes.

Take notes about your teenager’s behaviour and situation

If you think  your child might need professional help it is recommended to keep track of important information related to your child (your teenager’s entourage, the date when you noticed drug abuse for the first time, how did substance consumption start).

Use Positive Reinforcement

Start by noticing the things that your child is doing right. Positive reinforcement is about rewarding habits to increase the chances that your child will repeat the same healthy behaviour in the future.

When it comes to drug abuse, to avoid building up tension in your household, you may try to direct your attention towards positive reinforcement and less on lecturing and punishing your child.

Reinforce healthy behaviour by celebrating a prompt response from your teenager to your text message, finishing a chore, coming home sober after spending time with friends, or spending time looking for a job.

Rewards can be meaningful even if they do not cost money, such as a smile, a long hug, spending time doing their favourite activity (going to the beach, hiking, or just watching a movie together). Preparing their favourite dish can also be considered a reward.

If you want to use money as rewards, you can offer them gift cards to a clothing store, to their favourite coffee shop or to that place where they gather with their friends to eat pizza. Young adults can be rewarded with tickets to concerts, the parent can also pay for the dentist visits, or for books they need in college.

Always keep in mind to use reinforcement that is meaningful to your teenager. 

What to do if my child is using drugs?

As a parent you can do certain things that can help your teenager become aware of the situation and stop using drugs:

  • Learn more about the law and the health and safety risks resulting in underage drinking. Finding out more about the names and side effects of illegal drugs can help you become more confident when talking to your teenager.
  • Be a good example for your child. Teenagers feel influenced by their parents’ attitude towards life and towards addictive substances.
  • Make sure you talk openly and honestly about alcohol and drugs. The conversation may start with the reasons why people abuse drugs (relaxation, escaping reality, socializing) and can continue with the side effects drugs have on users (hangovers, health risks and addiction).
  • Avoid making the conversation about drugs one “big talk”. Share information about drugs and alcohol with your children regularly, this way they will know how to protect themselves and they will feel comfortable coming to you for support when they need to.
  • Support your teenagers in making healthy and safe decisions. Let them know they can boost their self-confidence by doing things besides consuming drugs. They can adopt healthy habits such as finding a hobby, doing sport, spending quality time with friends and family.

How to help my teenager quit drugs?

When professional treatment is needed for your child drug dependence you cannot rely on quick solutions, as there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Finding the right treatment for your teenager can be challenging, and it is important to see it as a process. 

The first step is to recognize and understand the situation of your child. After that, your teenager needs to reach the point of being willing and ready to be treated.

You can begin the conversation with your loved one about getting professional treatment after you hear them say they want help. Sometimes the cry for help is different than what you may expect it to be. Even a little willingness to get better is enough for you to start looking for a good rehab centre.

As a parent, you hope your child will agree quickly to get treated. If this  is not the case with your teenager, do not despair. In the beginning they may say no, or they may want to think about it. Just take advantage of each opportunity to talk with your child about the benefits of being treated properly.

Part of being supportive of your child is managing your expectations regarding their acceptance to be treated. 

Self Care

Taking care of yourself is important as well.

Self-care means getting enough sleep, eating well, socializing, enjoying hobbies, and exercising. Other ways of improving your wellbeing involve spending quality time with your family, practising mindfulness. This way you avoid being exhausted, you will feel better and be more able to support your child with compassion and love. 

It may sound difficult to enjoy your life and to take care of yourself while your child is struggling with addiction, but this is a healthy way for you to develop resiliency. Therapy can help as well.

With improved well-being, there are higher chances to increase positive emotions such as hope, joy, and gratitude for what it is and not for what you want things to be.