Posted by: bluesyemre | December 29, 2021

How to tell if your child is using #Drugs? Learn the signs of DrugUse in Teens

Is it Getting Better?

The good news is that according to the 2018 Monitoring the Future Survey, teenage drug abuse, aside from marijuana use, is at its lowest level in over two decades.2 Among 12th graders, past-year use of illicit drugs other than marijuana has declined by 30 percent since 2013. According to the survey, substances at historically low levels of use among teenagers include cigarettes, alcohol, heroin, prescription opioids, meth, sedatives and ketamine.

The bad news, many teenagers are still abusing drugs, including more than 12% of high school seniors. We will explore the signs of drug use in teens, including risk factors for teenage drug abuse, signs of teen addiction, and what parents can do if they believe their child is abusing drugs.

Drug Use and the Adolescent Brain

Teenagers demonstrate plenty of mental ability with regard to rational decision making and understanding right versus wrong. However, the teenage brain does not have fully-developed control processes. This leads to teens to respond to stressful or emotional decisions with impulsiveness. They fail to consider the consequences of their actions.3

16 to 17 year old children are more:

  • Vulnerable to peer pressure
  • Aggressive
  • Impulsive
  • Reactive to stress
  • Focused on short-term gratification rather than long-term consequences

Adolescence is a normal time a child to experiment. Over 50% of young people will try an illegal drug as a teenager, and nearly 100% will have tried alcohol, tobacco, or both at least once before they reach legal age.

Surveys show that for Americans aged 15-20, 12.2% meet the definition of an alcohol dependence disorder. This percentage is much higher in comparison to other age groups. For example, the rate of alcohol dependence was at 4.1% for those in the age range of 30-34.

Vulnerability to Drug Use: Children vs. Adults

Neuro-developmental studies show that a teenager’s developing prefrontal cortex leads to more emotional and impulsive decision-making. Adolescents also show a lower sensitivity to intoxication than adults due to higher metabolic rates allowing them to consume higher amounts of alcohol. These factors, combined with hormones that increase social competitiveness, promote drug use in children looking for social approval from their peers.

Teen Drug Use and Memory

A study shows that teens with alcohol use disorder show 10% smaller volume in the hippocampus (the main brain structure for memory) and displayed greater difficulty retrieving memories than peers without a history of alcoholism.

Marijuana Use and Brain Development

Researchers at Rosalind Franklin University School of Medicine looked at the effect of constant exposure to cannabinoids had on brain development. They found that during early adolescence, the growth of the child’s prefrontal cortex is slowed. This leads to changes in decision-making, personality, and social behavior.4

Most Abused Substances by Teens

Any use of substances by teenagers is considered abuse. The brain continues to develop into the 20’s, making substance use dangerous to brain development. According to the Monitoring the Future Study, the following are the most used substances by teenagers:


With more than half of high school seniors admitting to drinking in the past year, alcohol remains the most abused substance by teenagers.


Approximately 36% of high school seniors admit to using marijuana in the past year and 22% of high school seniors admitting using it during the past month. Marijuana is the only substance to see an increase in use over the years.36% of High School Seniors Used Marijuana in the Past Year36%


Cigarette use is on a decline, however, the use of vaping or other e-cigarette products is increasing. This may be due in part to a misconception that vaping is somehow safer than cigarettes when there is no evidence of that.


Around 4% of high school seniors admitted to using Adderall in the last year. Although there is no evidence to support the idea that Adderall will improve academic or athletic performance, teenagers sometimes still believe it will help.4% of High School Seniors Used Adderall in the Last Year4%


This category of substances includes Benzodiazepines like Ativan, Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium as well as Barbiturates like Phenobarbital and butalbital. Sleep Medications like Ambien and Lunesta are also a tranquilizer. More than 6 percent of high school seniors admit to tranquilizer use in the last year.

Detox from this category of substances is particularly dangerous due to increased risk of seizure.


Also known as “synthetic marijuana” these dangerous substances are perceived by some as “safe” when in fact it can cause violence and aggression along with paranoia and anxiety. Around 3% of high school seniors have used spice in the last year.3% of High School Seniors Used Spice in the Last Year3%


Sometimes people think that prescriptions are somehow safer because they are prescribed by a Doctor. The truth is, painkillers such as OxyContin are just as dangerous. Around 2 percent of high school seniors admit to using Oxycontin in the last year.2% of High School Seniors Used Oxycontin in the Last Year2%


Around 4% of students admit to having ever abused inhalants, however around 1% admit to using them in the last year and less than 1% admit to abuse in the last month.4% of Students Admit to Abusing Inhalants4%


Psychoactive substances include LAD, Peyote, Mescaline, Mushrooms and DMT. Around 6% of high schoolers admit to having ever used hallucinogens.6% of High Schoolers Have Used Hallucinogens6%

Cough Medicine

Approximately 3% of high school seniors admit to abusing cough medicine in the past year. Abusing this substance can result in brain damage and nausea.3% of High School Seniors Admit to Abusing Cough Medicine3%

The Rise of Vaping

Vaping is a type of electronic nicotine delivery system. They are used to simulate smoking using vapor instead of smoke. These devices have been marketed to teens as a safer alternative to cigarettes. Vape companies even use flavoring in the vapor that would appeal to children, but this practice has been curtailed by the U.S. Government.

How Many Children Vape? 5

  • Over 5 million children reported vaping in 2019.
  • 33% of users vape daily
  • Children are almost 20 times more likely to vape than adults
  • Vaping in children rose nearly 2000% from 2010-2020
  • Over 70% of high school smokers use both cigarettes and vape

According to a National Institutes of Health article, Dr. Richard Miech of the University of Michigan stated “vaping is reversing hard-fought declines in the number of adolescents who use nicotine . . . these results suggest that vaping is leading youth into nicotine use and nicotine addiction, not away from it.”​​​6

Teen Drug Abuse, Dependence, and Addiction

Drug abuse, addiction, and dependence are not the same things, and understanding the differences can help you determine the level of help your child needs if they are abusing substances.

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