As kids move from middle school into high school, they start to explore new experiences to help find their identity. It’s during this time when young teenagers are tempted to try different drugs and/or alcohol.

Because the transition from middle school to high school is tough for some kids. In their quest to ‘fit in,’ they may find older kids who may already be experimenting with substances. If your kid has trouble fitting in, there may be a temptation to look up to these ‘cool’ older kids and try drugs that appear seemingly harmless.

Some of the most popular drugs used by high schoolers include marijuana, ecstasy, inhalants, Adderall, amphetamines/painkillers, synthetic drugs, tranquilizers and others. And all too rapidly, these drugs are easy to obtain and easy to use, even on school campuses.

Alcohol among teenagers is also another widespread issue for parents. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism report that

  • A third of teenagers aged 15 have already had an alcoholic drink.
  • Nearly 60% of teenagers drink by the age of 18.
  • Over 7 million teenagers ages 12-19 said they consumed more alcohol monthly than “just a few sips.”

If parents or guardians aren’t alert to subtle shifts in their kid’s behavior, this early drug use could escalate and spiral into more frequent use. Parents of teenagers need to be especially vigilant of their teen’s activities and social life in middle school and into high school.

Warning signs of teenage substance use

Your kid might be involved in drugs or use of alcohol if you’ve noticed personality changes or physical differences in your teenager. Let’s review some of the common signs of substance abuse:

Behavioral changes from teenage substance use

Here are some common behavior changes:

Keeping parents away from personal items

Does your teen shut his door often? Is he hiding substances in his room or backpack?

Communication shutdown

Teens distance themselves somewhat from parents at certain ages. But if this is consistently happening, then it more a matter of evasion and hiding something from parents.

School issues

This is a big warning sign. What’s happening with grades? Have you seen “missed class” notes from the school? Or other unexcused absences?

Mood swings

People react differently with drug and alcohol use. Is your child going from calm to agitated in minutes? Watch for attitude changes. Additionally, substance use can highlight co-occurring disorders, such as depression or bipolar disorder.

Change of friends

Is your young teen hanging out with older teens? Do you know these kids? Or is your teen keeping these ‘friends’ at arm’s length?

Low energy

Is your teen just laying around at home? Is he non-committal about school activities? That’s a warning sign of drug use, alcohol use or depression.

Physical signs of substance use in teenagers

Here are common physical differences from drug or alcohol abuse:


What do your teen’s eyes look like? Are you seeing dilated pupils? Or reddened or bloodshot eyeballs? Parents should always start to check eyes and breath when teens arrive home.


Is your teen’s walk a little unsteady?


Is your teen’s speech mannerisms excitable or slurred?


Is your teen coming home and not eating and going straight to sleep? This is a definite sign of drug use.

Body injuries

Drug use could be involved if you notice your teen has a bruise or cut, and he isn’t sure how it happened or doesn’t want to tell you.

These are among the common behavior traits that experts have found in teenagers who are using drugs and alcohol. It’s crucial for parents to be aware of these changes, and to have discussions with their teen to learn what’s going on, and to stay on top of the new ‘friends’ that the kid is making. Keep a close eye if these new activities start suddenly, or if they are all occurring around the same time.

Substance Help issues

Parents who have found these warning signs are encouraged to reach out to their child to have conversations about the short- and long-term effects of substance abuse. If you think your child is using substances, it’s important to take steps to prevent further use by starting regular discussions with your teen, enforcing mandatory dinner rules at home, and ensuring that you know his or her friends.

If your child is not forthcoming on the questions you’re asking, then it’s time to go to next steps, such as drug testing your teenager. If your teen tests positive for drug use, then you can set new rules around the teen’s social activities. This might include cutting off the use of mobile devices or setting rules on staying in.

If those attempts fail, then contact your school counselor or teen counselor for a screening on attitude, behavior, physical changes and more. Contact a local substance abuse professional for help. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers a form on its website to find a local contact.

More encouragingly, parents should love and support their teenager, and find workable solutions to this newfound drug or alcohol use. Rather than getting angry, parents should try to frame the conversations around your love for your child. However, parents also need to stay firm in their resolve. This might include taking steps to get your teen away from these ‘friends’ or find more involvement in sports or outdoor activities. With new impulses coming into the teen’s life, he or she can start to move past drug or alcohol use and into more rewarding lifestyle choices.

If your teenager is a drug user, reach out to us to learn more about our individualized treatment programs. We’ll help you and your teen come to grips with drug and alcohol use, and to put together a plan that will create a better life ahead for your teen.


“Drug Facts – High School and Youth Trends”, National Institute on Drug Abuse, June 2016. Accessed November 4, 2016.

Underage Drinking, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Accessed November 4, 2016.

Behavioral Health Services Treatment Locator, SAMSHA, Accessed November 4, 2016.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.