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How to Spot Teenage Alcohol or Drug Use


If teenagers begin to use alcohol or drugs, it can mean they are in danger of some severe consequences. It is important that parents, and other concerned adults, are able to spot the warning signs of substance abuse among young people, so that they can prevent this behaviour leading to disastrous consequences. The sooner the warning signs of alcohol or drug abuse can be observed, the sooner the problem can be resolved.

The Dangers of Alcohol or Drug Use among Teenagers

Many adults will have experimented with alcohol or drugs while growing up. This can mean that we may try to minimise the behaviour, just seeing it as a normal part of growing up. The reality is though that there are significant dangers associated with this behaviour, such as:

  • Young people can easily end up in a situation where they overdose or develop alcohol poisoning – this could easily become a life-threatening episode.
  • Substance abuse gets in the way of normal adolescent development, meaning that young people may be damaged for the rest of their life.
  • It increases the likelihood that young people will engage in high-risk behaviour.
  • It increases the risk of suicide – alcohol is involved in the majority of suicide cases involving young people.
  • It can mean that the individual will underperform at school, affecting their options in later life.
  • It can lead to problems such as underage sex and teenage pregnancy. It also means that this person will be at far higher risk of sexual assault.
  • It will mean that young people will be far more likely to be involved in accidents.
  • Using alcohol or drugs at a young age can lead to mental health problems such as depression. It can also exacerbate existing mental health problems.
  • It can lead into criminal behaviour because they are already engage in a behaviour that is illegal.
  • Those individuals who begin to use alcohol or drugs at a young age will be at much higher risk of developing an addiction problem.
  • The teenage years are when most of us begin to develop important life-coping strategies. Those who are engaged in substance abuse can miss this important stage of development.

Why Do Teenagers Abuse Alcohol or Drugs?

There are many reasons young people can fall into alcohol or drugs. It is not something that is limited to any one type of teenager – the individual can be rich or poor, loved or feel unloved, introverted or extroverted, or top of their class or struggling in school. The most common reasons why teenagers fall into this behaviour include:

  • Peer pressure – their friends are engaged in this behaviour, so they do not wish to feel left out. Young people are far more susceptible to peer pressure than adults are.
  • Curiosity – alcohol and drugs is regularly portrayed in the media, and it is understandable that young people want to find out what all the fuss is about.
  • Those young people who have been subject to emotional, sexual, or physical abuse can turn to these substances for comfort.
  • Some teenagers with undiagnosed mental health problems may turn to alcohol or drugs because it seems to alleviate their symptoms temporarily – this is referred to as self-medication.
  • Many young people grow up in an environment where substance abuse is portrayed as normal behaviour.
  • Being a teenager can involve a great deal of stress, and young people may try to escape this by using mind-altering substances.
  • This is usually a stage of life where people like to rebel against the rules of society – taking alcohol or drugs will feel like an act or rebellion.
  • Some young people will be genetically predisposed to this type of behaviour.
  • It is also suggested that some people have a personality that makes them more prone to substance abuse – this would include things like impulsiveness, tendency towards risk-taking, admiration of deviant behaviour, and inability to delay gratification.

How to Spot Teenage Alcohol or Drug Use

The signs that teenagers are involved in alcohol or drugs can be difficult to spot because many of the symptoms can be associated with normal development – for example, the young person might want to spend more time on their own. It is usually the presence of a pattern of symptoms that triggers alarm bells in the minds of parents. Some of the most common signs will include:

  • secretive behaviour – although this alone is probably not enough to suggest substance abuse as this is a time when young people are trying to express their independence
  • money is going missing from the home
  • alcohol is going missing from the home
  • the young person appears to be ill in the mornings for no apparent reason
  • they have started spending time with a new set of friends
  • they have lost interest in hobbies they used to enjoy
  • they become very defensive when their behaviour is questioned
  • they are performing less well in school
  • strange smells coming from their clothing or from inside their bedroom
  • staying out late
  • they appear overly excited and say things that do not really make much sense
  • noticeable mood swings – this can also be a normal part of going through adolescence
  • loss of interest in personal grooming and hygiene
  • they appear to be having audio or visual hallucinations
  • getting into trouble with the police
  • not going to school
  • unexplained injuries and illness.

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