Chances are your teen's mood swings can be attributed to the racing and changing hormones that come with adolescence. In other words, teen mood swings are normal. You'll want to pay attention, though, if your teenage son or daughter is experiencing mood swings along with changes in behavior or appearance, such as:
These are behavioral and physical signs that your child could be misusing medications, or using drugs or drinking alcohol. Knowing the signs and symptoms of teen drug use can help you better understand if or when you should consider a teen drug intervention program.
One of the most challenging aspects of addiction is that it is a progressive disease. Early warning signs can be hard to spot, and unhealthy patterns can develop into a full-blown substance use disorder (often referred to as substance abuse) if not addressed.
When you know your teenage son or daughter's passions, interests and habits, the early warning signs of trouble will be more apparent because you will sense when something seems off or amiss. Casual drug use can quickly spiral out of control if you ignore problems, rationalize underage drinking or smoking marijuana as "experimentation" or "just a phase," or avoid having open and honest discussions with your child. It's much easier to turn problematic behavior around when warning signs first surface, rather than when the situation escalates or an emergency occurs. Especially for kids who are at higher risk of alcohol or other drug addiction, paying attention to early signs of trouble can reduce the likelihood of a future problem. As a parent or concerned adult, you can never intervene too soon.
Friends in a teen's social circle may be aware of drug use before adults are, either by directly observing the risky behavior or hearing stories from others in their friend group. Don't expect adolescent friends to convince their peers to stop drinking or using drugs, though. Adolescents will typically avoid having such a potentially awkward conversation or otherwise intervening. Unfortunately, this has the effect of passively enabling the unhealthy behaviors. If your child is surrounded by friends who avoid saying anything negative about smoking marijuana, drinking alcohol, using prescription drugs such as opioids, or other stimulants in a non-medical way, or doing cocaine or heroin, the unspoken message is that those dangerous behaviors are acceptable. At this age, a friend's opinion has power, so it's more important than ever to keep the lines of communication open with your son or daughter, rather than relying on their friends to intervene.
Behavioral signs of drug use or substance abuse include:
Physical indicators of possible substance use or abuse include:
At the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, we have worked with thousands of adults invested in keeping the young people healthy and safe in their homes and communities. If you discover that your child has a drug or alcohol problem, it's normal to wonder what you could have done differently, if you should have seen it coming and what signals you may have missed. In other words, how could you have prevented this problem? And, perhaps more urgently, when does drug use or abuse progress to addiction?
These are complicated questions with complicated answers. The good news is that science has defined tangible early warning signs and symptoms that, if recognized and addressed, can help adults steer kids away from risks that could make them more vulnerable to addiction.
There are five main factors that contribute to a heightened risk for addiction, spelling out the acronym FACTS.
Age of first use
There are many circles of influence in a teenager's life. Beginning with families, teens gain an understanding of both healthy and unhealthy behaviors. When parents and other caregivers clearly discuss the risks of drug abuse with their children, the likelihood that they will misuse substances is reduced by 50 percent. Set a good example. The positive behavior that you and other family members model can have a dramatic impact on how your teenager perceives alcohol and other drugs.
A teen's circle of friends can also shape their beliefs and behavior regarding substance use. Teens are constantly trying to figure out how they fit into their world. As they work to find their place, they can be strongly influenced by peer pressure. If young people spend time with other teens who are engaged in risky, unhealthy behaviors, they are more likely to engage in those behaviors themselves.
As a caring adult, be aware of any shifts in friendships, associations and activities. Ask simple questions of the teens in your life (e.g., "How's so-and-so doing these days?") as a way to uncover any red flags in peer relationships. If a teen is vague about who they hang out with—or how they're spending their time away from home—take that opportunity to dig a little deeper. In these conversations, relate, don't interrogate. Don't lecture. Listen and show that you're genuinely interested. Try to establish a strong bond of trust.
What's portrayed in movies, on TV, online and in music can also help shape perceptions about alcohol and drug addiction. Whether it's Ewan McGregor shooting heroin in Trainspotting, Tony Montana snorting cocaine in Scarface, or glamorizing underage drinking and smoking marijuana in Superbad, the media can portray drug use as cool, fun and entertaining—while neglecting to broadcast the negative consequences of addiction and drug abuse, serious health consequences, relationship troubles, financial issues, incarceration, overdose and even death. Incomplete media messages can lead to dangerous misperceptions. If your teenager likes a movie or a song referencing alcohol or other drug use, this might not be a warning sign in and of itself; however, these interests can lead to misperceptions about substance use. Perceptions shape behavior.
Being aware of your teenager's views regarding alcohol and other drug use can be a valuable tool in identifying risk and taking a preventative stance in their lives. Talking with your teenager about the realities of substance use can powerfully impact their perceptions; don't be afraid to finish a conversation that society has started.
Many teens who struggle with addiction also have a co-occurring mental health disorder, such as anxiety or depression. The most effective treatment integrates care for both issues, so look for outpatient or residential/inpatient treatment centers with licensed professionals who are trained to address co-occurring substance use and mental health treatment at the same time. It's important to recognize that one disorder does not cause the other; they occur at the same time.
While resources vary from community to community, be assured that help is within reach. Local resources include schools, medical professionals, mental health specialists and treatment providers. If you are searching for an addiction treatment provider specializing teen rehabilitation, start with your insurance company. They can provide you with a list of in-network treatment providers. Regardless of the program you choose, treatment should always start with a physical, as well as mental health assessments and chemical use history, to determine the appropriate level of care. Given the right treatment and support, adolescents struggling with a substance use disorder can move into happy, healthy, productive lives.