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Drug and Alcohol Abuse Among Adolescents

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse
There are many symptoms of substance abuse. The list that follows is not conclusive. If your child shows one or two of the symptoms, it doesn't mean he is using drugs or alcohol. Be concerned when you observe a cluster of symptoms. Look first for symptoms you can see. Often, appearance is affected by the use of drugs or alcohol.

  • Seeing the child drunk. The child is drunk frequently. Alcohol or medications disappear from the home. You find hidden drugs or alcohol. You discover store-bought drug paraphernalia (packets of rolling paper, various types of pipes, syringes). You frequently find household items that may be used as drug paraphernalia (plastic bags, baggies, lock-type pouches, aluminum-foil strips, small bottles, boxes, razor blades, weighing scales, kitchen spoons, and bottle caps burnt black on the bottom).

  • Loss of interest. Loss of ambition. Loss of interest in hobbies, sports, or activities. Overall deterioration of morals or values.

  • Physical changes. Deterioration in health and/or physical appearance. Appetite swings, either a loss or an increase. Bloodshot eyes, hyperactivity, frequent "colds" or nosebleeds.

  • Personality changes. The child doesn't seem to like himself. Mood swings. Violent or destructive behavior. Severe depression. Threats of suicide or actual attempts. Running away from home or threats to run away.

  • Loss of interest in school. Grades start to drop. Missing school.

  • Secretive behavior. The door to his room is locked. Very private phone calls. Chronic tardiness (late for school, dates, activities).

  • Avoidance of others. Avoiding family functions, neighbors, or old friends. Hanging out with older children. Verbal and/or physical abuse of parents or siblings. Changes in friends or hangouts.

  • Money problems. Money disappearing from the house. Vague money needs. Sudden expenses. The child has money but you don't know where it is coming from.

  • Chronic lying. Frequent alibis, excuses, and justifications (Teachers don't like me. Everybody is picking on me. You don't understand me.). Inability to keep promises. Excuses, such as: Everyone smokes (or drinks). Why should you care? It's not hurting you.

  • Trouble with police. Police involvement of any kind. Driving-under-the-influence citations. Automobile or motorcycle accidents.


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From Keys to Parenting Your Teenager by Don Fontenelle, Ph.D. Copyright 2000 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with Barron's Educational Series, Inc.

Buy the book at Barron's.


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