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Early Signs of Drug Use and Addiction in Teens

by Landmark Recovery

January 11, 2021

While it’s important to remember that many teens go through a period of rebellion and may experiment with substance use, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will become drug users or addicts in the future. However, teen addiction is not normally recognized immediately, and drug and alcohol use in a teen’s formative years can also be detrimental to their health and wellbeing, now and in the future.


Dangerous Behavior Starts Early

Studies show that teen addiction can start as early as 12 years old – some of this youth may start sampling drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. These patterns are associated with increases in risky behaviors, such as dangerous driving, unsafe sex, truancy, mental health issues, and suicidal thoughts or tendencies.


Signs of Substance Abuse

Substance abuse problems can manifest in the form of mental, emotional, and physical changes. But how do you tell the difference between addiction in teens and “normal” teenage acting out?


Watch for the following signs and symptoms:

Mental/Emotional Signs

  • Inability to focus
  • Decreased inhibitions
  • Loss of motivation
  • Loss of interest in activities they usually like
  • Significant shifts in mood, either depressive and low-energy or manic and hyperactive
  • Increased depression or anxiety


Behavioral Signs

  • Uncommunicative or secretive
  • Withdrawn or increasingly isolated
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Lying or making excuses about their behavior and whereabouts
  • Becoming sullen, irritable, or hostile
  • Missing or skipping school 
  • Poor academic or extracurricular performance
  • Change in sleeping or eating habits
  • Shift in close personal relationships, including friends and family
  • Being overly influenced by their peers
  • Issues with cash flow
  • Extreme secrecy about their phone usage


Physical Signs

  • Sick more often than usual
  • Abnormally lethargic or fatigued
  • Slurring, mumbling, rapid-fire talking, or unintelligible speech
  • Lacking coordination, stumbling, falling, or struggling to balance
  • Runny nose, sniffling, or frequent nosebleeds with no discernible cause
  • Sores or lesions around the mouth
  • Rapid weight gain or loss
  • Bruises, scratches, or abrasions
  • Excessive perspiration or cold sweats
  • Seizures or vomiting


Outward Appearance

  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Uncharacteristically messy appearance
  • Unusual odors, such as marijuana smoke or alcohol on their breath, clothes, or hair
  • Flushed face, broken blood vessels, or bloodshot eyes 
  • Pinpoint or dilated pupils
  • Sooty or ashy marks on face or fingers
  • Needle marks on arms or legs
  • Wearing long sleeves and pants even when it’s hot to hide track marks or scars


Mental Health vs. Teenage Angst vs. Substance Abuse

With so many potential signs and symptoms, it might feel like anything your teen does could be signs of drug use. And it’s true: many of these changes are just part of the teenage experience or could be attributed to mental health struggles. But if you notice changes in your teen’s health, behavior, or attitude, it can be better to err on the side of caution and to consider the possibility of teen addiciton. Of course, the presence of drug paraphernalia is a dead giveaway, especially when paired with the behavior.


There are many reasons why a teenager may become more than casually involved in drugs or alcohol. If you are worried about your teen’s substance use or if they have expressed a desire for help, Landmark Recovery is here for you. 


Addiction and substance abuse are devastating, but there is support for teens and parents alike. If you or a loved one are struggling, don’t hesitate to reach. Connect with us today to take the first step. 

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.