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Signs & Symptoms of Substance Abuse

    A Resource Guide For Parents & Families

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    Many of the following behaviors can be a symptom of normal adolescence; however, take a few together, and your student/child may have a problem with substance abuse. Listen to yourself. Teacher and parental instincts can be a valuable guide.


    Lower grades – lower achievement
    Academic failure
    Falling behind in class work
    Lack of motivation, apathy

School Attendance

    On absence list but in school
    Frequent schedule changes
    Frequent counselor visits

Extra Curricular Activities

    Loss of eligibility
    Decreasing involvement
    Dropping out

Physical Symptoms

    Staggering or stumbling
    Smelling of alcohol or marijuana
    Glassy, bloodshot eyes, dark glasses
    Lack of coordination
    Slurred speech
    Bad hygiene
    Sleeping in class
    Physical complaints
    Physical injuries
    Older social group
    Time disoriented
    Inappropriate responses or behavior
    Withdrawn, loner
    Rapid weight loss or gain
    Discolored fingers
    Dilated pupils

Criminal/Illegal Behavior

    Selling drugs; exchanges of money.
    Possession of drugs or paraphernalia.
    Involvement in thefts or assaults.
    Carrying weapons.

Disruptive Behavior

    Defiance of rules, constant discipline problem
    Irresponsibility, blaming, denying
    Verbal or physical abuse of others
    Throwing objects
    Obscene language or gestures
    Dramatic attention-getting
    Constantly in the wrong place at the wrong time
    Extreme negativism
    Hyper-activity, nervousness

Atypical Behavior

    Sitting in the parking lot
    Talking freely about drug use
    Avoids contact with others
    Erratic behavior changes on a day to-day basis
    Change in peer group, friends

Home Problems

    Family problems
    Running away
    Job problems
    Medicine in home is missing
    Alcohol in home is missing
    Money of of parents or siblings is missing
    Belongings of parents, siblings, or youth’s own belongings are missing, though they may have been lent to friends

Stages of Adolescent Substance Abuse
Download as a PDF for easier printing.

Stage 1: Experimental/Social Use of Drugs or Alcohol

    Uses drugs/alcohol occasionally (weekends, parties)
    Gets drugs/alcohol from friends; sometimes obtain parent’s alcohol
    Has no major changes in behavior (although they may lie about use, experience
    moderate hangovers, or adults may find evidence)

    Emotional or Mental
    Uses drugs/alcohol because of curiosity, peer pressure, rebellion, boredom, or as a social lubricant or as a way to experience pleasurable feelings
    Experiences a euphoria/intoxication and then returns to a normal state.

Stage 2: Purposeful Misuse of Drugs or Alcohol

    Uses drugs/alcohol on a regular basis (several times a week or during the
    Buys enough drugs/alcohol to be prepared for future use
    Experiences a decline in school performance and attendance, mood swings,
    lying/conning, change in appearance, increased family conflict, increased
    rebellion, has straight and drug-using friends

    Emotional or Mental
    Uses drugs/alcohol to cope with stress or uncomfortable feelings; experience pleasure; overcome feelings of inadequacy
    May begin to feel guilt, fear, shame about their drugs/alcohol use
    Experiences euphoria/intoxication and then return to a normal state

Stage 3: Habitual Use or Daily Preoccupation with Drugs or Alcohol

    Engages in almost daily use and may use drugs/alcohol alone
    Has made unsuccessful efforts to control use
    May sell drugs to keep personal supply/may steal for money
    Steals, lies, or cons others to cover use; focused on obtaining and using
    Has poor school performance/attendance, no straight friends
    Has drugs/alcohol drug culture appearance, poor family relationships, personality changes

    Emotional or Mental
    Experiences depression or uncomfortable feelings when not taking the drug
    May have suicidal thoughts/attempt when not using drugs
    Experiences shame and guilt, then use drugs/alcohol to maintain normal feelings
    After euphoria, experiences pain, depression, or discomfort

    Needs more substance to produce same effect

Stage 4: Dependency or Addiction to Drugs or Alcohol

    Uses drugs or alcohol daily or on a continuous basis
    May have run away from home
    Takes serious risks or engages in criminal behavior to obtain drugs
    Has had possible overdoses
    Has quit school or was expelled from school

    Emotional or Mental
    Takes drugs to avoid depression or pain
    Is out of control with their drug use escape realities of daily living
    Experiences guilt, shame, remorse
    Has suicidal thoughts or attempts
    Has changes in personality
    Exhibits changing emotions (depression, irritability, aggression, irritation,
    Experiences memory loss, flashbacks, paranoia, volatile mood swings, other
    mental problems
    Takes drugs to feel normal; they are unlikely to experience euphoria
    Does not care about getting caught; they are focused on getting and using
    drugs at any cost
    Focuses all interest on getting and using drugs

    Has blackouts
    Shows signs of physical deterioration (health problems, weight loss)
    Has poor physical appearance

What Can Parents Do?    

What if the answer is "yes?"  Your child is using alcohol  and/or other drugs?

    In a small percentage of cases, parents can work with their own kids to get them to stop. This might be easiest when the young person is just using occasionally, to have a good time.

    Of course, the earlier you start talking to your children about alcohol and/or drugs, the better the chances are they won’t become involved with them. 

    If a child reaches the age of 20 without using alcohol, tobacco or marijuana, the probability is almost zero he or she will ever develop a serious drug problem.

    If you have questions or concerns about alcohol, tobacco or other drug use in your child or family, call the Adolescent Resource Center at 586-5908. You will be able to talk to someone who can help give you good, confidential, and caring information.

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