As a parent or caregiver, you may feel frightened and stuck between wanting to help and protect your teen while at the same time trying to respect their privacy and their need to be treated as an individual.


Even though some teens may be using long before their parents realize it, knowing the warning signs will help you to be proactive in seeking support early before the use becomes a life-changing event.

The warning signs below may be due to substance use or to issues relating to adolescent development. If warning signs are detected, please seek help from your health care professional.


Physical signs depend on what substance a teen is using. For example, with alcohol and marijuana, teens may have bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils, slurred speech and be overly talkative. Stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamines, teens might have a runny nose, coughing, wheezing and staying awake for long periods of time. Teens may also look disheveled and exercise poor hygiene.

One way to figure out if your teen is using is to give them a hug and do their laundry. By hugging them you may be able to smell the substances in their hair, skin and clothing. When doing their laundry, look for drugs left in the pockets, as well as drug and bodily fluids on the clothes.

Also keep in mind that teens may have various items in their possession to help cover up drug use, such as eyedrops, breath and body spray, mints and incense.


Teens may be moody, depressed, overly sensitive and hostile to perceived criticism or questioning. They may also be violent towards siblings and have low motivation. They may not be as happy as they used to be.


Teens will no longer hang out with old childhood friends but will change their social group to those who use drugs and alcohol. Teens will be secretive regarding their friendships and may be participating in delinquent behavior such as excessive partying, lying, stealing, fighting, bullying, truancy and trouble with law enforcement. When a teen gets a phone call, they may talk in a hushed tone or be quick to end the conversation.


Family activities will not be a priority in the teen’s life. A lot of time may be spent in their bedroom or out with using friends. Teens may violate curfew and established house rules. When confronting the teen regarding their behavior, they may make excuses for their actions or be argumentative. Communication between family members will be strained and a feeling of something just isn’t right within the family unit.


Teen’s classroom behavior may consist of sleeping in class, lack of participating, skipping class periods and having an oppositional attitude towards teachers and administrators. Homework will not be completed or turned in and grades will drop. Teens also may not tell you when teacher conferences and meetings are scheduled. Teens will no longer be interested in school activities and sports that they used to love.