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Teens Substance Abuse - Triple Divide Lodge - Two sad teens embracing at bedroom

Recognizing Signs of Teen Substance Use: An Insider’s Guide

Recognizing the signs of teen substance use is a complex but life-saving skill. Early detection can lead to timely intervention, support, and, ultimately, better lifelong outcomes. This guide will outline valuable tips and insights on identifying potential signs of teen substance use and help narrow down signs by specific substances. By understanding signs of possible misuse, you can create a safer, more supportive environment for your teenager and take appropriate action when needed.


Note: If you’re interested in specific signs of substance use for different substances, please see the Substance Specific Signs section and FAQ at the end of this blog post.


Key Takeaways

1. Open Communication: Maintaining open lines of communication with your teenager is crucial. Encourage them to talk to you about their concerns and experiences without fear of judgment.

2. Trust Your Instincts: If you feel something might be wrong, trust it. Sometimes, your intuition can be a powerful indicator of underlying issues.

3. Seek Professional Help: If you notice significant changes in your teenager’s behavior or suspect substance use, consider seeking professional help. Substance misuse can have serious consequences, and early intervention is essential.


For professional guidance and support tailored to your situation, consider contacting Triple Divide Lodge. We are committed to assisting families facing substance use issues by offering a range of comprehensive services. 


At Triple Divide Lodge, our experienced team of counselors, therapists, and addiction specialists is dedicated to providing personalized treatment plans and therapeutic interventions designed to address the unique needs of each family we work with. Our approach is rooted in compassion and holistic care, empowering individuals on their recovery journey while fostering stronger family bonds.


Whether you’re seeking education, intervention, or ongoing support, we are here to guide you through the challenges of substance use disorder with care, empathy, and expertise. We aim to help individuals rebuild their lives and create lasting positive change. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to Triple Divide Lodge today to begin your path to healing and recovery.


First, let’s explore the various signs that may indicate substance use in teenagers. Then, towards the end of the article, we share some substance-specific signs to look out for. 

Teen Substance Abuse - Triple Divide Lodge - depressed boy sitting with dog outside

1. Physical Changes to Watch For

Teenagers undergoing substance use may exhibit physical signs that warrant attention. Some common physical symptoms include:

  • Bloodshot Eyes: Persistent bloodshot or red eyes, even when they haven’t been crying.
  • Sudden Weight Loss or Gain: Rapid changes in weight without a clear explanation or change in diet or exercise habits.
  • Lack of Personal Hygiene: Neglecting personal hygiene, such as infrequent showers or a disheveled appearance.
  • Unusual Smells: Strange or unfamiliar odors on their clothing, breath, or belongings.

These physical changes can indicate substance use and should prompt further investigation.


2. Behavioral Changes

Changes in behavior can be significant indicators of substance use. Pay attention to:

  • Sudden Mood Swings: Frequent and abrupt changes in mood, from extreme happiness to irritability or anger.
  • Increased Secrecy: Becoming more secretive about their activities, whereabouts, or friends.
  • Declining Academic Performance: A noticeable drop in school performance, such as declining grades, attendance, or a lack of interest in academic activities.
  •  Changes in Social Circles: A shift in friends and social groups, especially if the new friends exhibit risky behaviors or spend more time alone in isolation.

Recognizing these behavioral changes early can help address potential substance misuse issues.


3. Neglecting Responsibilities

Substance use can lead teenagers to neglect their responsibilities. While there is some cultural ideology about occasional disobedience, perhaps more often for teenagers, sharper declines or sudden changes in habits are essential to pay attention to. Watch out for:

  • Chores: A significant decline in their willingness to complete household chores or responsibilities. 
  • Academic Change: Any drastic change in school performance/attendance, such as frequent missing or incomplete school assignments or decreased attendance, often accompanied by excuses.
  • Extracurricular Activities: Loss of interest or participation in extracurricular activities they once enjoyed.

A drastic shift in priorities may indicate deeper issues related to substance use.


4. Changes in Sleep Patterns

Substance use can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to:

  • Insomnia: Difficulty falling or staying asleep.
  • Oversleeping: Excessive daytime sleepiness and a tendency to sleep longer than usual.
  • Irregular Sleep Schedules: Erratic sleep patterns include staying up later or all night and sleeping during the day.

Understanding the connection between substance use and sleep disturbances is crucial for improving overall well-being, enhancing mental and physical health, and developing targeted interventions to address these intertwined issues in individuals and communities.


5. Loss of Interest

A sudden loss of interest in hobbies, sports, family connections, or activities they previously enjoyed can signify potential substance use. Pay attention to changes in their passions and interests.


6. Increased Secrecy and Isolation

Teenagers using substances will become more secretive and withdraw from family and friends. Approaching conversations with sensitivity while respecting their privacy is essential.


7. Changes in Physical Appearance

Be on the lookout for changes in physical appearance, such as:

  • Frequent unexplained bruises or injuries.
  • Evidence of needle marks, especially on the arms.
  • Changes to their smile include quickly yellowing teeth or abraded gum lines. 
  • Unusual paleness, changes in skin tone, or lesions on the skin. 

Open and honest conversations can help you determine the cause of these changes.


8. Financial Issues

Substance use may lead teenagers to require more money for substances, resulting in financial issues or even stealing money. Address financial concerns while maintaining trust and open dialogue.


9. Interactions with law enforcement or other authority figures.Legal and School Problems

Substance use can result in legal trouble or disciplinary issues at school. It’s crucial to address these problems promptly and seek appropriate support.

10. Trust Your Instincts

Above all, trust your instincts as a parent,  guardian, or loved one. If you have a strong feeling that something is wrong, even if you can’t pinpoint specific signs, it’s essential to address your concerns. Often, the individual will have plausible excuses and explanations, which can lead you to question yourself. Be aware of second-guessing yourself too much. Maintain a supportive and nonjudgmental atmosphere at home so your teenager feels comfortable discussing their challenges with you.

In conclusion, recognizing the signs of substance use in teenagers is a critical responsibility for parents and guardians. By staying vigilant and maintaining open communication, you can create a safe and supportive environment for your teenager to navigate the challenges they may face.1


Substance-Specific Signs of Use/Overuse

Teen Substance Abuse - Frustrated boy sitting on sofa and mother looking at him

Look at substance-specific signs of use and overuse for today’s commonly abused substances:



In recent years, the popularity of fentanyl has surged, driven in part by its potent opioid properties and its relatively low cost of production. This synthetic opioid, initially developed for medical purposes, has gained notoriety as a dangerous and potent recreational drug, significantly increasing opioid-related overdose deaths across many regions. 

The ease of manufacturing and its alarming potency have made fentanyl a pressing public health concern, demanding increased attention from authorities, healthcare professionals, and families. The fentanyl category of opioids accounted for 67,325 preventable deaths in 2021, representing a 26% increase over the 53,480 total in 2020

Signs of fentanyl use in teens may include:

  •  Mood swings or changes in behavior
  •  Lack of interest in activities they once enjoyed
  •  Changes in sleeping patterns
  •  Poor hygiene
  •  Weight loss
  •  Slurred speech
  •  Constricted pupils
  •  Nausea and vomiting
  •  Itching or scratching
  •  Constipation

If you suspect your child is under the influence of fentanyl or other opioids, seek immediate medical attention. Educational conversations about the dangers of fentanyl and the importance of seeking help can save lives.


Prescription Pills

Prescription drug abuse is a serious concern among teenagers. There is often accessibility and prevalence of prescribed medication in households of family members, friends, and loved ones. This easy access, coupled with the misconception that prescription drugs are safer than illicit substances, has contributed to a troubling trend of adolescents experimenting with or misusing prescription medications. 

In addition to the accessibility factor, the allure of prescription drugs lies in their potential to relieve various physical and emotional issues, which can lead young individuals down a dangerous path of misuse and addiction. To effectively address this growing problem, it is imperative to understand the root causes of misuse, educate adolescents and adults on the risks, and implement preventative measures promoting responsible medication use.

While symptoms can vary by medication, some signs of prescription pill use may include:

  • Sudden changes in behavior
  • A drop in school performance
  • Loss of interest in once-enjoyed activities
  • Changes in sleep and eating patterns
  • Sudden changes in friends or social groups
  • Secretive behavior
  • Borrowing or stealing money
  • Sudden interest in visiting other’s homes


Party Drugs

Party drugs, such as marijuana (weed), cocaine (coke), amphetamines (speed), LSD (acid), MDMA (ecstasy or molly), or Ketamine (special K), are often used in social settings and can have serious risks. These substances are frequently chosen to enhance the party experience, create euphoria, or foster a feeling of peer connectedness. However, the use of these substances comes with significant health and safety concerns. 

The unpredictable nature of illicit drugs, varying potency, and the potential for adverse reactions underscore the importance of informed decision-making and harm reduction strategies when engaging in recreational drug use. It is essential for individuals to be aware of the potential consequences and to prioritize their well-being and that of others while partaking in such activities.

Signs of party drug use may include:

  •  Sudden changes in behavior and social circles
  •  Irresponsible behavior and poor judgment
  •  Rule breaking and withdrawal from the family
  •  Physical symptoms like dilated pupils, slurred speech, impaired coordination, aggression, or paranoia


Hand Sanitizer

While it may seem unusual, hand sanitizer is often one of the most accessible forms of alcohol that young individuals encounter. Most hand sanitizers are made from ethyl alcohol. However, ingesting hand sanitizer is dangerous due to additives and can indicate alcohol abuse. Signs of hand sanitizer are the same as alcohol ingestion, which include:

  •  Strong alcohol odor on breath
  •  Slurred speech
  •  Lack of coordination
  •  Agitation or irritability
  •  Confusion or disorientation
  •  Nausea and vomiting
  •  Drowsiness or lethargy
  •  Reduced body weight



Inhalants are volatile substances that produce chemical vapors that can be inhaled to induce a psychoactive, mind-altering effect. While these substances are often used for their intended purposes, such as cleaning or household chores, they can be extremely dangerous when inhaled for recreational purposes. The accessibility and ability to hide potential misuse make inhalants a hidden danger. Inhalants encompass everyday household products, including aerosol sprays, cleaning solvents, glues, paints, whipped cream cans, and more. 

Signs of Inhalant Use:

  • Chemical odor on their clothing, breath, or personal belongings.
  • Sudden or extreme changes in friends, eating habits, sleeping patterns, physical appearance, requests for money, coordination, or school performance.
  • Irresponsible behavior, poor judgment, and a general lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities.
  • Rule-Breaking and Withdrawal: Teens involved in inhalant use may break the rules at home or withdraw from family activities.

The effects of inhalant use are short-lived, so suspicions of inhalant intoxication likely imply current use. It’s essential to note that these signs do not necessarily indicate inhalant use; however, they should prompt further investigation if you suspect substance misuse.


Final Note: Seeking Help and Support at Triple Divide Lodge

If you need professional guidance or support while navigating the challenges of recognizing signs of substance use in teenagers, remember that help is available. Consider contacting our team at Triple Divide Lodge. We specialize in helping young men and families facing substance use issues. 

Our experienced team can provide valuable insights, counseling, and assistance tailored to your situation. By taking proactive steps and seeking the support you need, you can create a path toward understanding, intervention, and, ultimately, a healthier and brighter future for you and your teen.


FAQ: Recognizing Signs of Teen Substance Use

What should I do if I suspect my teenager uses drugs or alcohol?

If you suspect your teenager is using drugs or alcohol, it’s essential to approach the situation with care and understanding. Start by having an open and nonjudgmental conversation with your teenager. Express your concerns and listen to their perspective. If you continue to have suspicions or notice significant changes in their behavior, consider seeking professional help from a counselor, therapist, or addiction specialist. Early intervention can make a substantial difference in their recovery.

Is it normal for teenagers to experience mood swings and changes in behavior?

Yes, it’s normal for teenagers to undergo mood swings and changes in behavior as they navigate the challenges of adolescence. However, it’s essential to distinguish between typical teenage behavior and concerning changes that may indicate substance use. If you notice extreme or sudden shifts in mood, especially when accompanied by other signs mentioned in this guide, it’s worth addressing and exploring further.

How can I maintain open communication with my teenager?

Building and maintaining open communication with your teenager is vital. Here are some tips:

  •  Listen actively without interrupting or judging.
  •  Create a safe and non-judgmental space for them to express their thoughts and feelings.
  •  Be approachable and available for conversations.
  •  Show empathy and understanding, even if you disagree with their choices.
  •  Respect their privacy while ensuring their safety.
What if my teenager denies using drugs or alcohol when I suspect they are?

It’s common for teenagers to deny substance use, even when there is evidence to suggest otherwise. Continue to express your concern and support, and encourage open dialogue. Seek guidance from a professional if necessary. Remember that building trust and maintaining communication is essential, and it may take time for your teenager to feel comfortable discussing the issue.

Are there support groups or resources for parents dealing with teenage substance use?

Support groups and resources are available for parents facing teenage substance use challenges. Organizations like The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and local community groups often offer guidance, support, and educational resources. Additionally, consider seeking therapy or counseling to help navigate this complex situation while supporting your teenager effectively.



Can I drug test my teenager if I suspect substance use?

Drug testing your teenager is a decision that should be made carefully considering your circumstances. Communicating openly with your teenager and discussing the reasons for drug testing is essential. Seek guidance from a medical professional or counselor to ensure the process is supported and constructive.

Consider the dynamics of your relationship with your teenager and reach out to a professional if you feel unprepared to navigate their potential reactions. 


How can I differentiate between typical teenage behavior and signs of substance use?

Distinguishing between typical teenage behavior and signs of substance use can be challenging. Look for patterns and combinations of symptoms, such as sudden and extreme changes in behavior, declining academic performance, neglecting responsibilities, and physical changes. If you have concerns, don’t hesitate to seek guidance from professionals who specialize in adolescent substance use.


What should I do if I find drug paraphernalia in my teenager’s belongings?

Finding drug paraphernalia is a concerning sign. First, ensure your teenager’s safety by removing any immediate dangers. Then, address the issue with your teenager honestly and express your concerns. Seek professional help to understand the extent of the problem and develop a plan for intervention and support. The decision to remove the paraphernalia is a case-based decision based on many factors.


Can substance use in teenagers lead to long-term health problems?

Substance use during adolescence can lead to long-term health problems. It can affect brain development, increase the risk of addiction, and negatively affect physical, emotional, and mental health. Early intervention and treatment are crucial in mitigating these risks and potentially life-saving.


How can I prevent substance use in my teenager?

While there are no guarantees, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of substance use in your teenager:

  •  Establish open communication and a trusting relationship.
  •  Educate them about the dangers of substance use.
  •  Be a positive role model regarding alcohol and drug use.
  •  Encourage involvement in extracurricular activities and hobbies.
  •  Know your teenager’s friends and their parents.
  •  Set clear boundaries and consequences.
  •  Seek professional guidance if needed.


Remember that prevention is ongoing, and maintaining a supportive environment is critical.


Contact local substance use support groups, therapists, or addiction specialists for personalized guidance and assistance if you have additional questions or concerns.


In closing, we want to assure you that recognizing the signs of substance use is a journey we’re all on together as parents and loved ones. We’re here to support one another, learn from our experiences, and ultimately create a brighter future for our teenagers. Remember that essential steps are building trust, maintaining open communication, and seeking help. And when you need extra support, know that our caring and experienced team at Triple Divide Lodge is just a call away. 

Triple Divide Lodge is a compassionate and dedicated group of professionals focused on guiding and supporting young men on their journey to recovery, providing a safe and nurturing environment where healing and transformation can flourish. Reach out to us at (406) 296-5776


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