Teen Drug Use: Warning Signs and Prevention

teen drug useAs times change from generation to generation, so does the culture of drugs in our communities. Smoking marijuana and drinking are still among the most used substances by our teenagers however; much has changed in what our kids are using and how accessible their drug of choice has become. The days of counter-culture hippies smoking pot at a sit-in have long since passed, giving way to unassuming teens on their way to the local electronics store to pick up keyboard cleaner. Drug dealers have gone out of business not because the demand has dissipated, but because most everything they sell can now be found at home or over the counter at the local drug store. Accessibility to drugs is a significant contributor to the rise in teen substance use and addiction.

Teen Drug Use and Prescription Drugs

Some prescription drugs can produce the same high as speed, alcohol, and heroin. Drugs such as Adderall, Ritalin, Vyvanse, and Concerta are psychiatric medicines that help to treat people with ADHD. People who do not have ADHD, take these medicines to feel high or a sense of euphoria in addition to improving focus and sustaining attention. As a result, stimulants have become very popular study aids for high school and college students. In contrast, benzodiazepines (Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, Valium) treat anxiety/panic disorder and are often used by teens who are looking for a sedating almost drunk state. These medications are central nervous system depressants, so most of the effects have to do with general brain functioning. The most common effects of benzodiazepine use include lack of coordination, drowsiness, slurred speech, confusion, and disorientation. Pain management medicine like Oxycontin, Roxicdodone, Vicodin, and Norco can produce a feeling similar to heroin use. Additionally, many kids not only take these medicines orally, but also snort and inject them heightening feelings of euphoria while elevating the risk of overdose. These drugs are widely used and may even be in your medicine cabinet right now.

Household Products

For most of us, whip cream, cough syrup, hand sanitizer, motion sickness medicine, or even keyboard cleaner represent nothing more than everyday household products. Products like these can be misused to produce powerful and dangerous effects on the central nervous system and neurological processes. Canned whipped cream as well as keyboard cleaner can be inhaled whereas Dramamine, Robitussin, and Nyquil can be taken orally to cause effects similar to strong hallucinogens like LSD. These substances are among the most dangerous due to the large dosages necessary to get high. Seizures, kidney failure, brain damage and death can occur from the misuse of these dangerous chemicals. All of these products are cheap and will likely go unnoticed by parents making them favorites among some teens.

Kratom, Salvia, and Bath Salts

Salvia, Kratom and Bath Salts are lesser known substances but are gaining popularity due to the high accessibility and the strong psycho-active effects. Kratom and Salvia are both plants that are currently legal to possess and use. Kratom leaves are often used to make tea, that can cause stimulating, euphoric, and sedating effects. Despite claims that Kratom is not habit forming, this substance like other mood altering chemicals can become addictive. Salvia Divinorum’s active ingredient Salvinorin A, produces psychedelic-like changes in visual perception, mood and body sensations, emotional swings, and feelings of detachment. Bath Salts contain synthetic chemicals that are similar to amphetamines causing effects that can include agitation, paranoia, hallucinations, chest pain, increased pulse, high blood pressure, and suicidal thinking/behavior. Salvia, Kratom, and Bath Salts can be purchased at tobacco shops, gas stations, head shops, and on the internet.

Warning Signs

Changes in behavior, mood, social, emotional, and academic functioning are the best predictors for substance use. In addition, changes in social group, interests and hobbies can also help to identify a shift in your teen that may be related to experimentation or more substantial substance use. Because adolescents may exhibit many of these behaviors as they grow and develop, it can be challenging to differentiate drug use vs. age appropriate behavior. Here are physical, behavioral, and psychological signs that can help identify drug use.

Physical warning signs of drug abuse

  • Bloodshot eyes, pupils larger or smaller than usual, using eye drops to mask these signs
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns. Sudden weight loss or weight gain
  • Deterioration of physical appearance, personal grooming habits
  • Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing
  • Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination

Behavioral signs of drug abuse

  • Drop in attendance and performance at work or school
  • Unexplained need for money or financial problems. May borrow or steal to get it.
  • Engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors
  • Sudden change in friends, favorite hangouts, and hobbies
  • Frequently getting into trouble (fights, accidents, illegal activities)
  • Demanding more privacy; locking doors; avoiding eye contact; sneaking around
  • Dropping one group of friends for another; being secretive about the new peer group
  • Loss of interest in old hobbies; lying about new interests and activities

Psychological warning signs of drug abuse

  • Unexplained change in personality or attitude
  • Sudden mood swings, irritability, or angry outbursts
  • Periods of unusual hyperactivity, agitation, or giddiness
  • Lack of motivation; appears lethargic or “spaced out”
  • Appears fearful, anxious, or paranoid, with no reason
  • Acting uncharacteristically isolated, withdrawn, angry, or depressed

Prevention

You can make simple changes in your home to reduce access to harmful substances. Prescription drugs, (OTC) over the counter medicines, and liquor cabinets can all be secured to prevent any curiosity that may lead to experimentation. It is also important for parents to consider environmental factors that could make your teen vulnerable to experimentation. An example would be moving. Children and teens can feel a great deal of stress when moving to a new home, school, or neighborhood. The need for social acceptance and belonging can leave kids feelings lonely and vulnerable causing them to fall into unhealthy peer groups. Divorce, loss, and high family discord coupled with feelings of stress, anxiety, and guilt, can contribute to maladaptive coping skills such as drug use. Parents should keep the communication open and engage their kids in discussions about their thoughts and feelings regarding alcohol and drug use. Make it not only okay for them to talk to you about peer pressure; drug use at school; and friend’s experimentation, but warmly encourage your kids to discuss these situations. In doing so, you will help to strengthen the parent/child bond as well as foster healthy and adaptive coping strategies.

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