Teen Substance Abuse: Know the Signs and Symptoms              

Diagnosing substance abuse isn’t easy. That’s why it’s important to engage a professional to help determine if your teen is using or abusing a substance.

At Rosecrance, substance abuse counselors look at a combination of factors to decide if someone has an alcohol dependency or addiction. These factors usually form a pattern of behaviors, which include:

  • Consequences – The person experiences negative consequences from their use but continues to use anyway.
  • Progression – The consequences of use get more severe over the course of time but do not stop the person from using.
  • Loss of control – The person drinks or uses more than they intended. They are unable to quit their use despite numerous unsuccessful attempts to do so, or they are able only to interrupt use for a short period of time.

Do your best to be aware of any indication that drug use is happening. The signs can include:


  • Unexplained extreme mood swings
  • Fatigue with noticeable change in sleep patterns
  • Dilated pupils and bloodshot eyes
  • Loss of appetite, yet periods of binge eating
  • Changes in dress or appearance
  • Threats or attempts to commit suicide
  • Uncharacteristic nosebleeds or unexplained burns


  • Ignoring curfews and other house rules
  • Withdrawal from family activities
  • Isolation from family members and is rarely home
  • Collecting alcohol and other drug paraphernalia
  • Telling lies or giving unrealistic explanations to parents
  • Use of air fresheners or breath mints to cover scents


  • Missing excessive time from school
  • Failure to turn in assignments
  • Sleeping in class
  • Persistent behavioral problems
  • Reduced grades
  • Increased tardiness
  • Reduced interest in extracurricular activities


  • Changes in friends, including secret calls and visits
  • Avoiding contact with concerned persons
  • Loss of interest in hobbies/activities
  • Secretiveness and defensiveness regarding actions
  • Reluctance to introduce new friends


  • Stealing money or objects from family and friends
  • Unexplained shortages of money
  • Loss of possessions
  • Increased amounts of alcohol missing in home
  • Increased need for money
  • Lack of tangible evidence how money is spent (such as clothes, music or other items)
  • Excess money (may mean teen is dealing drugs)


  • Running away from home
  • Increased involvement with law enforcement, such as having parties/social functions broken up by the police
  • Arrests for alcohol or other drug related charges

Be on the lookout, and get help when needed

If you are concerned about a change in a young person close to you, it is important to know that these signs and symptoms may not occur at the same time, in any certain order or with any particular frequency. The best way for a parent or loved one to support a family member is to stay informed and take action when warranted. Call Rosecrance at 815-391-1000 or (866) 330-8729.

Treatment at Rosecrance is:

  • Insurance/Medicaid approved
  • Accredited by The Joint Commission
  • Licensed and partially funded by the Illinois Department of Human Services/Division of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse

For more information about recognizing the signs of teen substance abuse, you can download the brochure.