Skip to Main Content

Educational Resources

Determining whether signs of teen addiction require attention

Finding alcohol, drugs or paraphernalia in a child’s room is a serious warning sign,

Whether you’re doing an intentional search for marijuana in your daughter’s room or just happen to come across a bottle of Jack Daniels while gathering up your son’s laundry, you’re probably more than a little concerned about what to do next.

Do you confront the issue head on, demand answers and issue punishments, or do you take a more measured approach and ease into a conversation with your child about personal responsibility? Or should you consider it just another aspect of teen life and treat potential drug use it with little concern?

Mary Egan, director of outreach at Rosecrance Health Network, says finding alcohol, drugs or paraphernalia in a child’s room is a serious warning sign, one that addiction counselors see as an indication that drug or alcohol use has progressed beyond experimentation. Therefore, it should be treated as a serious matter by parents.

“When a teen brings a drug into their home, it can signify that drug use is becoming more normalized and habitual,” says Egan. “Teens who are experimenting usually don’t carry the drug or paraphernalia around in their personal effects.”

Still, parents should be cautious about rushing to conclusions until they’ve had a chance to speak with their child to get a full picture of what’s going on, especially since many teens will try to pass off the situation by saying that the drug or paraphernalia belongs to a friend.

Keeping track of patterns, habits

Egan recommends being proactive when dealing with a child’s potential addiction, suggesting that parents keep an eye out for changes in grades, friends and other aspects of their child’s life.

When Egan and her team at Rosecrance assess a teen for addiction, they pay special attention to the following issues:

  • changes in mood
  • changes in interaction with family members
  • whether the child follows home rules and curfew
  • changes in school grades, attendance and discipline
  • changes in previously enjoyed sports and activities
  • shifting friendships from one group of teens to another
  • increased overnight sleepovers at a friend’s house
  • signs of the child coming home under the influence, smelling of unusual odors or engaging in unusual behavior

If parents notice changes in these areas, they need to follow up with more questions to determine whether substance use is an issue.

Parents are often frustrated by the casual attitude their children have toward the use of drugs. Indeed, many teenagers think it’s OK to experiment with drugs and alcohol because they see adults using substances and hear messages in popular culture that condone overuse.

“Normal teenage development involves an ebb and flow between adult and childlike behaviors throughout adolescence as they progress toward full adulthood and try out adult-type behaviors and choose who they want to be,” Egan says. “We know, however, that (young brains are) not fully developed until the mid-20s — especially the areas involving judgment and critical thinking — so making a decision about substance use is flawed by a brain that doesn’t fully understand what the consequences can be for experimentation.”

Experimentation may rapidly become use

The casual light in which teens may view drugs makes early action even more important. Egan says the adolescent brain is also very susceptible to the effects of drugs and alcohol, which can result in addiction much more quickly than an adult. “A teen can progress from experimentation to use and addiction in a very short time span, especially with the potency of drugs available to them today like marijuana, prescription pills and heroin,” she says.

As difficult as it may be to have a conversation with your teen about drug use, it’s essential.

“This is the time for you to be the parent and not the friend,” Egan says. “Holding your child accountable is one of the most important things a parent can do.”

If you suspect your teen is using substances, it’s time to seek a professional evaluation. Rosecrance will answer your questions and walk you through each step to get the help your family needs. Call Rosecrance at 888.928.5278 or go to Life’s waiting.

Get Help Now (866) 330-8729