You might have concerns about teen substance use if you’re a parent. Knowing the causes, like cultural and peer influence, and signs may help your child stay drug-free.

Substance use is common among teens. The most typically used substances to be aware of are tobacco, cannabis, and alcohol.

For some, it’s a passing phase. For others, substance use becomes habitual and can impact their lives in unwanted and significant ways.

Substance use disorder (SUD) in adults often starts in adolescence. Because the teen brain is still developing, exposure to substances at this age increases the risk of SUD.

Understanding your teen’s motivation to try drugs can help you work with them to find a safer alternative.

Teens may be more inclined to try drugs if they see their friends or people at home using substances. The influence of movies, music, and television can also normalize substance use, making it seem less out of reach and less harmful.

Some teens try drugs because they’re bored. Some might be curious, while others may be rebellious. They may be more likely to get drug information from risk-taking peers than cautious adults. As a result, they can get misinformation about the potential risks of using drugs.

Mental health issues can also contribute. Sometimes, teens with undiagnosed or untreated depression or anxiety disorders discover that drugs make them feel better.

Once they experience relief from their distress, they may want to continue self-medicating with certain substances.

Some common reasons why teens may use drugs include:

  • peer influence
  • environment
  • popular media
  • escape
  • self-medication
  • boredom
  • curiosity
  • rebellion
  • misinformation

The encouraging news is that treating issues like depression and anxiety can reduce or end substance use or even prevent it from starting.

Some early signs of drug use in teens can be easy to miss. You might chalk them up to adolescent angst or even depression.

Here are some behaviors to keep an eye out for:

  • resisting feedback or discipline
  • losing interest in hobbies
  • locking bedroom doors
  • lying or making excuses
  • regularly asking for money
  • changing mood or appearance
  • having difficulty staying on task
  • breaking curfew
  • acting irresponsibly

You may also notice other signs that are more alarming, like:

  • stealing
  • becoming verbally abusive toward friends and family
  • losing interest in long-term friendships
  • wearing long sleeves or long pants in warm weather
  • experiencing irritability

Some of the physical signs of substance use include:

  • bloodshot or glazed eyes
  • poor hygiene
  • rapid weight changes
  • large pupils
  • extreme fatigue or hyperactivity
  • frequent runny nose or sniffling

If your teen is using substances, it’s a good idea to intervene rather than assuming it’s a phase they will outgrow. Although starting a conversation about drug use may feel overwhelming, it’s an essential step in helping your teen recover.

If you suspect your child is self-medicating a mental health issue, a therapist or other mental health professional may be able to help. Psych Central’s article on therapy and cost-reduction options offers suggestions if a therapist isn’t in your budget.

If your teen shows signs of depression, 2017 research shows that parental monitoring may reduce substance use.

There are several ways you can monitor your teen:

  • check-in when they have friends over
  • get details about their plans when they leave the house
  • call or have them call you when they’re out
  • spend time with them when they get home to assess their sobriety
  • involve their friends’ parents

You friends’ to schedule a doctor’s appointment doctor’s for any medical issues that might prompt substance use. For example, your teen might be using stimulants because of debilitating fatigue.

In such cases, many treatable conditions can cause debilitating fatigue, such as:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • trouble sleeping
  • low iron levels
  • diabetes
  • thyroid problems

Treating the source of the symptom is the best first step.

There’s also help available if your teen is experiencing opioid addiction. Opioids include prescription medications like Percocet and drugs like heroin and fentanyl.

Recent research shows that medication for opioid use disorder significantly improves the outcome for people with opioid use disorder. The medications work by reducing withdrawal symptoms to prevent continued use.

A big protective step you can take for your teen is to establish two-way communication. This means listening to understand — not only offering advice.

Like adults, teens may be more inclined to talk and open up when they feel safe. You can be their safe person by staying calm and prioritizing hearing their point of view.

Your teen may get upset when you bring up the subject of substance use. By staying calm, you show them this is a safe topic to discuss. Emphasize support and acceptance.

Applying perspective can also help. Substance use isn’t who your child is rather, it’s something they’re going through.

Asking questions lets you know if your teen is well informed about substance use. Find out if they know about potential legal consequences and health outcomes.

Many therapists offer parent-adolescent relationship counseling if you’re unsure how you’re with your teen about drugs.

It’s important to help teens using substances, especially considering their risk of developing adult SUD.

Education and two-way communication are powerful tools that can make a difference. Therapy or diagnosing and treating underlying issues like anxiety and depression can also help.

The American Psychological Association has a psychologist locator tool that you might find useful. The American Psychiatric Association has a similar tool if you want to find a psychiatrist. Psych Central’s Finding Mental Health Support resource can also help.

It’s important to remember that substance use isn’t a poor reflection of your parenting or your teen’s character. It often represents an unmet need like stress relief or social acceptance. You can help your teen make safer choices with the right support and information.