Resources & Education

May 31st, 2016

For Parents: Warning Signs of Drug Abuse

Teen drug useMany parents report being completely blindsided when they find out that their son or daughter has been abusing alcohol or drugs.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Parents can take charge and arm themselves with knowledge so that they know what to look out for.

Warning signs of substance use can be divided into three categories: physical, psychological and behavioral.  Here are several red flags to look out for in those three categories.

Behavioral warning signs of substance abuse:

  • At school:
    • Skipping school or classes
    • Declining grades
    • Decreased motivation
    • Detention, suspension or other disciplinary action
    • Complaints from teachers or classmates
  • After school
    • Drop in attendance and performance at work/activities
    • Loss of interest in extracurricular activities, hobbies, sports or exercise
    • Complaints from co-workers or supervisors or other authority figures
    • Concerns from friends
    • Sudden changes in friends or social circles
  • At home:
    • Missing money, valuables, checks
    • Missing Rx drugs from other family members
    • Demands extreme amounts of privacy
    • Locks doors
    • Avoids eye contact
    • Acts isolated, silent, withdrawn,
    • Engages in secretive or suspicious behaviors
    • Clashes with family values and beliefs
    • Frequently gets into trouble (arguments, fights, accidents, illegal activities)
    • Using incense, perfume, air freshener to hide smell of smoke or drugs
    • Using eyedrops to mask bloodshot eyes and dilated pupils

Psychological warning signs of substance abuse:

  • Unexplained, changes in personality
  • Mood swings, irritability, angry outbursts or inappropriate laughter
  • Hyperactivity or acts irritable
  • Lack of motivation; inability to focus, tired looking
  • Appears fearful, withdrawn, anxious, or paranoid for no reason whatsoever


  • Physical warning signs of substance abuse:

    • Eyes are bloodshot
    • Pupils that are smaller or larger than normal
    • Frequent nosebleeds
    • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
    • Sudden weight loss or weight gain
    • Seizures
    • Deterioration in personal hygiene
    • Unexplained injury
    • Track marks (may wear long sleeve shirts even in hot weather)
    • Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing
    • Shakes, tremors, incoherent or slurred speech
    • Impaired or unstable coordination

    Did we miss any?
    If you have seen any other warning signs that might help other parents, please share them in the comments section below.

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