Spotting the Early Signs of Teen Drug Use

Figuring out if your child is using drugs or alcohol may pose a challenge. Many of the very early signs and symptoms could just be typical teen or young adult behavior. Many may also be signs of mental health issues, including depression or anxiety.

If you suspect drug use amongst your teen, it is advised to err on the side of caution. Prepare to have a conversation where you can as your child directly, “Have you been drinking?,” or “Have you been using drugs?” While you may not want to hear a “yes” answer, being prepared in how you would respond will help lead to more positive outcomes.

View our “Tips for Talking to Your Teen”

What to Look for in Your Teen

Changes in Mood or Personality

Have  face-to-face conversations with your child when they come home from hanging out with their friends. Is there a smell of alcohol on their breath, clothing or hair?

Changes in Behavior

  • Loss of interest in activities (school, work, sports, etc.)
  • Change in friend groups
  • Struggling relationships with family or friends
  • Locking doors
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Breaking curfew
  • Secretive with phone use
  • Chewing gum or mints
  • Use of over-the-counter eye drops or nasal sprays
  • Disappearing cash
  • Unusual clumsiness
  • Periods of sleeplessness or high energy, followed by periods of excessive sleeping

Changes in Hygiene or Appearance

  • Smell of smoke or alcohol on breath
  • Unusual messy appearance
  • Flushed or red cheeks
  • Track marks on arms or legs (or wearing long sleeves in warm weather ot hide marks)

Changes in Physical Health

  • Unusually tired or lethargic
  • Slurred or rapid-fire speech
  • Sores or spots around mouth
  • Dramatic weight loss or gain
  • Skin abrasions and/or bruises
  • Excessive Perspiration
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting

What to Do

Use Your Sense of Smell

Have face-to-face conversations with your child when they come home from hanging out with their friends. Is there a smell of alcohol on their breath, clothing or hair?

Watch Their Eyes

When speaking to your child, look into their eyes. Are they red, or heavy lidded? Do they have constricted or dialated pupils? Are they having difficulty focusing?

Observe Behavior

How is your child acting after hanging out with friends? Are they unusually loud or obnoxious, or laughing hysterically? Are they unusually clumsy to the point of stumbling into furniture or walls? Are they queasy or stumbling to the bathroom?

Take a look at your teens digital behavior. Are they secretive about their phone use? Do you recognize frequent contacts?

Search Their Spaces

The limits you set with your child do not have to stop at their bedroom door. If you are concerned your child is drinking or using drugs, it is important to find out what is going on.

Look for places that vapes, alcohol or drugs could be stored:

  • Inside small boxes such as jewelry boxes or makeup cases
  • In a plant or buried in the dirt
  • Between or inside books
  • Under a loose floorboard
  • In over-the counter medicine containers such as Tylenol or Advil
  • Inside empty food containers such as candy bags, or chip bags
  • Fake containers designed to conceal drugs – many look like soda cans.

Information on Substance Use

teen drinking, alcohol use


While it can be difficult to determine whether a child is “just experimenting” or if they are struggling to with drinking to the point of an alcohol use disorder, an alcohol use is an issue when the child is underage.

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marijuana use teens


The stigma of marijuana use has declined since the legalization in some states for medical and/or recreational uses. While it may not be as problematic for adult use as once believed, there are plenty of reasons to discourage pot smoking in teenagers.

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teen vaping, tobacco use

Nicotine, Tobacco, & Vaping

 Whether in the form of cigarettes, vaping, chewing tobacco or more, nicotine is highly addictive and dangerously harmful – especially to a teen’s developing brain

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opioid use teens


Opioids are a class of drugs that include heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and prescription pain relievers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and many others.

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