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teen drug use

Drug abuse, often called by its more general name substance abuse, involves the repeated and/or excessive use of a chemical substance. These substances may be “street” drugs, which are illegal due to their inherently high potential for addiction and abuse. They also may be legal drugs obtained with a prescription, but used for pleasure rather than their intended medicinal purpose. Or they may even be chemicals found in household products like cleaners or glue that are misused.

There is no question drug use is a serious problem that has reached epidemic proportions today. The good news is a recent study by the University of Michigan suggests that teen drug use has declined 24% from 2001 to 2007. Unfortunately, we are still seeing the destructive effects of substance abuse affecting people of all ages and destroying families of all backgrounds, races, religions and geographic locations. What are the warning signs? Why is this happening? What can be done to protect your family? If your child is involved in this dangerous behavior, what can you as a parent do to help?


What are the warning signs of drug use?

Teens who use drugs often act out and do poorly academically. They are at risk of unplanned pregnancies, violence and infectious diseases. According to the CDC, some other warning signs of drug use are:

Signs in the Home

  • Loss of interest in family activities
  • Disrespect for family rules
  • Withdrawal from responsibilities
  • Verbally or physically abusive
  • Sudden increase or decrease in appetite
  • Disappearance of valuable items or money
  • Not coming home on time
  • Not telling you where they are going
  • Constant excuses for behavior
  • Spending a lot of time in their rooms
  • Lying about activities
  • Finding the following: cigarette rolling papers, pipes, roach clips, small glass vials, plastic baggies, remnants of drugs (seeds, etc.)

Signs at School

  • Sudden drop in grades
  • Truancy
  • Loss of interest in learning
  • Sleeping in class
  • Poor work performance
  • Not doing homework
  • Defiant of authority
  • Poor attitude toward sports or other extracurricular activities
  • Reduced memory and attention span
  • Not informing you of teacher meetings, open houses, etc.

Physical and Emotional Signs

  • Changes friends
  • Smell of alcohol or marijuana on breath or body
  • Unexplainable mood swings and behavior
  • Negative, argumentative, paranoid/confused, destructive or anxious behavior
  • Over-reacts to criticism acts rebellious
  • Sharing few if any of their personal problems
  • Doesn’t seem as happy as they used to be
  • Overly tired or hyperactive
  • Drastic weight loss or gain
  • Unhappy and depressed
  • Cheats, steals
  • Always needs money, or has excessive amounts of money
  • Sloppiness in appearance

Why is my child using drugs?

Many parents are asking the question - Why is my teen using drugs? Of course there is no single answer to this question. However, a basic understanding of the problem is helpful.

Drug abuse and addiction involves many factors. One important factor is an adolescent’s inability to internally handle stress or untreated mental or physical pain. Without the internal capacity and external support to handle stress, loneliness or depression, drugs can be a tempting way to escape. Unfortunately, due to the chemical changes drugs make to the brain, it can only take a few times or in some cases even one time to begin an addiction. With continued use, the chemistry of the brain is measurably altered to the point where not having the drug becomes very uncomfortable and even sometimes painful. This process is further complicated by the fact that the brains of children and adolescents are in an important state of development. A strong urge to use (addiction) becomes more and more powerful during this process, eclipsing all other aspects of life including work, school, relationships and health.

Recent science has dispelled some of the popular myths surrounding addiction. The important thing to remember is that your teen is not morally flawed or simply lacking in willpower. Only punishing your child for this dangerous behavior is not likely to be effective. If your teen is addicted, they have a serious health problem and need the appropriate treatment.


What can be done to protect my family?

There are many things parents can do to help their children and protect their families. For instance, know where your kids are, whom they are with and what they are doing. Make it your business to know your child. There are simple things that you can do like having at least one meal together with your children. Make time to talk to your children. Seek them out. Use the opportunities that present themselves. Driving in a car is a great opportunity.

Teach your children about the dangers of all substance abuse. For instance, we know that many youth have a false sense of safety using prescription drugs because they are so common and readily available. The reality is these drugs are deadly when taken in the wrong quantities or combinations. As parents, we need to raise our children’s level of perceived risk on these medications. This means we cannot treat medication casually or use alcohol and cigarettes without careful education and structure. Control access to prescription medication. Prescription drug abuse is preventable and controllable. We need to get the pills out of our medicine cabinet. Make sure that pharmaceuticals are treated in your household with the care and safeguarding that reflects your understanding as a parent of just how dangerous these substances are. Include your children in the discussion on why you are doing this. They shouldn’t be able to open the medicine cabinet and see Vicodin left over from your wisdom tooth extraction or sleeping pills from your airplane trip. The medicine should be under lock and key, or out of your house.

Another common idea is that marijuana, the most commonly used illicit drug among youth in the United States, is a minor or tame drug and even sometimes considered a “good” drug. We need to let our children know that the idea that there are “good” drugs and “bad” drugs is false and dangerous.

Remember that structure and boundaries are the necessary elements for a healthy, productive adolescent and ultimately a healthy, productive adult. The most important thing is don’t be afraid to act. Deep down kids want you to do the parenting. They may not like it, but they want it. It is normal behavior for a teen to fiercely fight against the limits placed on them by parents and then deeply appreciate the parents’ efforts to not be afraid of doing the right thing. Do not be afraid of doing your job.

There are many web sites with additional information for parents. We have listed some at the bottom of this page. www.drugfree.org in particular is highly recommended and has lots of good parenting information and guidelines.



My youth is definitely involved in drugs. Is it too late?

Of course it is never too late! This illness is treatable but depending on the severity of your child’s problem, you may need professional help. If you are actually finding illegal or prescription substances on your child or their belongings, your child has a very serious problem that needs professional intervention. If the child is getting so casual with their substances that you are finding them, this is usually just tip of a the iceberg. Seek the help of professionals trained in dealing with teens involved in substance abuse.


The following are just a few sites that offer good information and resources for parents.


Please explore our website or call an admissions counselor at 866.694.8882 for additional information about how Wood Creek Academy can help your family.