Signs, Symptoms and Effects of Teen Drug Addiction

What is Teen Substance Abuse?

Learn More About Teen Substance Abuse & Addiction

While some may view experimentation with drugs and/or alcohol during adolescence as a normal practice, the truth of the matter is that any abuse of substances can be dangerous and can lead to a myriad of detrimental outcomes, especially for young people. Substances like alcohol, cocaine, heroin, prescription medications, and the like can all have a harmful effects on a teen’s health, and, in more serious circumstances, can lead to a potentially deadly addiction if no one intervenes on the youth’s behalf.

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders details the criteria needed in order to diagnose a person with a substance use disorder, the clinical term for addiction. If a teen exhibits behaviors listed below, it is likely that he or she is grappling with a substance abuse problem that he or she cannot control:

  • Abusing substances in increased amounts, usually more often than desired
  • Failed attempts to stop using substances
  • Spending a lot of free time trying to get, and use substances of abuse
  • Experiencing cravings for more of one’s substance of abuse
  • Being unable to attend school or work, or otherwise neglecting one’s responsibilities in favor of substance abuse
  • Continuing to abuse drugs and/or alcohol despite problems occurring because of substance abuse (e.g. still using marijuana despite getting in trouble with one’s parents or guardians)
  • No longer participating in activities, like sports, in favor of substance abuse
  • Being aware that substance abuse has caused issues, yet continuing to use drugs and/or alcohol
  • Being physically tolerant of a given substance
  • Experiencing withdrawal when not under the influence of substances.

The more criteria that a teen meets, the more severe the addiction to a given substance or substances. For this reason, if it becomes apparent that a teen in your life is battling substance use, it is important to act as the youth’s advocate and get him or her effective treatment as soon as possible.


Statistics of Teen Alcohol & Drug Abuse

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, it is estimated that somewhere around 20 million people in the United States, which includes teens, struggle with chemical dependency concerns. Additionally, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, or NIDA, conducted research on this issue and found that alcohol, prescription medications, and marijuana are the most commonly abused substances. Finally, through research, it was also determined that of all individuals who are faced with substance abuse problems, only fifteen percent actually seek and receive some sort of treatment. Given this information, it is clear that many Americans, including young people, are presently battling substance abuse problems.

Causes and Risks

Causes and Risk Factors of Teen Substance Abuse

In order to understand why and how a teen may come to abuse substances, one has to consider certain genetic and environmental factors that can make a young person more vulnerable to turning to this unhealthy method of coping or dangerous type of recreation. Please note the following:

Genetic: When a teen has a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, who struggled with addiction, there is an increased likelihood that a young person will also begin abusing drugs and/or alcohol as well. Additionally, if a youth possesses a genetic predisposition to certain personality traits, such as novelty-seeking and impulsive types, the risk for abusing substances also goes up.

Environmental: Exposure to substance abuse, whether at home, school, with peers, or in the community, can all contribute to a teen resorting to substance abuse. Furthermore, if a young person endures a trauma, lacks healthy support, and/or does not possess healthy self-esteem, the chances of a youth experimenting with and eventually abusing substances are raised.

Risk Factors:

  • Possessing a novelty-seeking temperament
  • Family history of mental health concerns
  • Personal history of mental health concerns
  • Living in an impoverished area
  • Having an inadequate support system
  • Possessing an impulsive personality
  • Lacking coping skills
  • Personal history of trauma
  • Family history of substance abuse, addiction, and/or chemical dependency

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Teen Alcohol & Drug Abuse

Many teens go to great lengths to conceal their substance abuse from their parents, guardians, teachers, and the like. In the event a youth does try to hide his or her substance use behaviors, it may be more difficult to notice that a young person has developed a problem with drugs and/or alcohol. If you are wondering if a teen in your life is abusing substances, it could be helpful to note the presence the following symptoms that can infer substances are being abused:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Failing to adhere to responsibilities and obligations
  • Failed attempts at ending one’s substance abuse
  • Abusing a substance despite a desire to stop
  • No longer participating in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Possessing drug paraphernalia
  • Abusing drugs and/or alcohol in situations that could be dangerous
  • Poor academic performance
  • Missing school

Physical symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Tremors
  • Injection marks caused by intravenous drug use
  • Headaches
  • Poor hygiene
  • Weight changes
  • Nausea
  • Increased energy
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep changes
  • Slurred speech

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Psychosis
  • Poor concentration
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Difficulty focusing attention
  • Memory loss
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Poor decision making
  • Impaired judgment
  • Slowed though processes

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Temperament changes
  • No longer interested in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Abrupt changes in mood


Effects of Teen Substance Abuse

Regardless of how severe a teen’s substance abuse problem may be, it is likely that a young person will experience some sort of adversity if the abuse of drugs and/or alcohol is occurring. However, if a youth has developed a serious chemical dependency problem, more detrimental effects have a high likelihood of happening. Among the types of consequences that can occur when a teen abuses substances, the following are the most commonly cited:

  • Exposure to viruses, including HIV and hepatitis
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Overdose
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Demise of meaningful relationships
  • Irreversible cognitive damage
  • Memory loss
  • Academic failure
  • Malnutrition
  • Hindered immune system
  • Heart failure
  • Damage to vital organs
  • Expulsion from school
  • Polysubstance abuse
  • Interaction with the legal system
  • Development or worsening of mental health concerns
  • Poor lung functioning

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders & the Complexity of Teen Substance Abuse

While some teens begin experimenting with substances out of sheer curiosity, some turn to the abuse of drugs and/or alcohol as a means of coping with an untreated mental illness or illnesses. Additionally, some teens who abuse substances may experience the onset of certain mental disorder symptoms as a result of their drug use. In either scenario, it is possible for a young person to be diagnosed with one or more of the following mental health conditions:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose of Teen Alcohol & Drug Addiction

Effects of withdrawal: Substances such as alcohol, methamphetamine, heroin, and prescription medications can cause a teen’s body to become dependent on them if consumed for a long period of time. When dependence on a substance develops, withdrawal symptoms are likely to manifest if the teen no longer abuses a substance like those that were previously mentioned. To know if a teen is grappling with withdrawal symptoms, it could be helpful to note the presence of the following physical and psychological effects:

  • Depression
  • Seizures
  • Bone pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Muscle pain
  • Suicidal ideation

Effects of overdose: If a teen ingests too much of a given substance, an unfortunate outcome may be that the youth experiences an overdose. An overdose of any kind can be fatal, so it is important for emergency medical care to be sought if any of the following symptoms become apparent:

  • Heart failure
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Dizziness
  • Disorientation
  • Psychosis
  • Confusion
  • Skin tone changes
  • Seizures
  • Labored or shallow breathing
  • Stroke
  • Chest pains
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When my son had a drug addiction, it felt like there was a stranger living in my home. Thanks to the comprehensive solutions at Greenleaf, my son is now drug-free and back to his old self!

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