Signs of Drug Use in Kids and Teenagers

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Signs of Drug Use in Kids and Teenagers

Have you noticed behavioral changes in your children lately? Are they hanging out with a new group of friends? Perhaps they are going out more frequently, or at odd hours. Maybe your child used to spend lots of time socializing, but has become more withdrawn lately. Behavior doesn’t spontaneously change; usually, there is some reason behind why your child is now acting a certain way. Sometimes, that reason is because he or she is experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Other than generic behavioral changes, there’s no one indication that your child is taking drugs. Each drug has its own unique signs and symptoms.


Alcohol use/abuse can begin as early as age 12, and a 2012 study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry showed that 78% of Americans ages 13-18 had consumed alcohol in the past year, with 47% consuming 12 or more drinks in the past year. 15% of the 10,123 teens surveyed met the criteria for lifetime alcohol abuse. The median age for kids to start drinking is 14, which is usually eighth or ninth grade. Some indications that your teen has begun to drink include morning grogginess, demanding more privacy or locking the doors, and an increased use in mouthwash and perfumes. Weight gain is also a side effect of drinking. If your child is suddenly sneaking out at night, hanging out with a new group of friends, and socializing more frequently or at later hours, keep an eye out. Parents’ intuition often proves to be correct.


According to the 2013 Monitoring the Future study of over 50,000 adolescents, 16.5% of 8th graders, 35.8% of 10th graders, and 45.5% of high school seniors have smoked marijuana or hashish. There are several clues that may help you determine if your child has recently started smoking marijuana. The drug has a distinct smell, so his/her room, car, or clothing may have a skunk-like odor. The child may try to counteract this smell by using an abundance of perfumes, air fresheners, or incense. Marijuana can make people less active, prone to fits of giggling, or less coherent than usual. Does your child seem tired or listless? Does he/she have trouble remembering things, seem less active, or have red, glassy eyes? These are all symptoms of marijuana use.


Fewer teens are trying cocaine, with only 2.6% of high school seniors using it in any form in the past year, the 2013 Monitoring the Future study reports. The average first-time cocaine user is 21.2 years old, although 28.4% of first-time users are under the age of 18 (NSDUH, 2010). Unlike marijuana and alcohol, cocaine is a stimulant, and thus has very different symptoms. A user may frequently make trips to the bathroom, or disappear for minutes at a time during activities. Teenagers who use cocaine may sniffle often, as though they always have a cold, or get more bloody noses. Sudden mood changes, both positive and negative, are also indicative of cocaine use. Cocaine is expensive, so your child may steal and/or begin selling off his/her possessions.


In the past five years, there’s been a demographic shift in the primary users of heroin. By 2010, 90% of recent first-time heroin abusers were white, and half were women. Today’s heroin users can be found in the suburbs, and 75% of them turn to heroin after becoming addicted to prescription pain medications. Parents can help to avoid this by locking up or disposing of prescription narcotics, and by keeping a watchful eye out for symptoms of heroin use. Do not assume that if you don’t see needle marks, you don’t need to worry. Heroin can be snorted, smoked, or ingested in a number of other ways. One major sign of heroin use is pupil constriction, where the black part of the eye becomes very small. Sleep patterns can be disrupted, with the abuser appearing alert for a few hours, and then extremely tired. If you find spoons, aluminum foil, gum wrappers, or straws with burn marks on them, this could be drug paraphernalia. Decreased attention to hygiene and loss of motivation are also symptoms.

Any sudden major changes in your child’s behavior should be investigated. At FastMed we provide quick and easy drug tests so you can have peace of mind and get your child the help he or she may need.


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