Being a parent is a huge responsibility, and it doesn’t come with an instruction manual. As a parent, it might be tricky to decide which behaviors are just normal parts of your child’s “growing pains” and which behaviors should be a cause for concern or intervention. Of course, no parent wants to believe that his or her child may have a substance abuse problem, and often parents may even feel guilty for suspecting something is amiss. However, research has shown that addiction affects almost 9 percent of American children over the age of 12, so there is nothing wrong with worrying over your child’s well-being.
While each kid is different, and parents should definitely trust their instincts, it never hurts to do a bit of research to help figure out which signs to look for if you’re concerned that your child may be using drugs.
There are both mental and physical signs of substance abuse. If you notice any of the signs mentioned below, don’t hesitate to ask your child straightforward questions about their behaviors and habits.
Physical Signs of Addiction:
Physical signs can include changes in their personal appearance, small behavior shifts or new, unusual nervous habits.
- Changes in sleep patterns – Significant increases or decreases in sleep can indicate a drug or alcohol dependency.
- Hyperactivity or lethargy – Some drugs can cause sudden spikes in energy, while other drugs, including alcohol, can cause abnormal lethargy.
- Lack of personal hygiene – Often, addictions can lead to carelessness when it comes to personal grooming or hygiene issues like brushing teeth and hair, showering regularly, wearing clean clothes or forgetting makeup.
- Nervous tics – Small things like clenching teeth, fidgeting with clothing or an inability to sit still may be warning signs of an addiction if they are not a normal part of your child’s behavior.
- Sudden secrecy – Yes, teens often demand more privacy as they get older. However, if you notice your teen doing things like breaking curfew, suddenly going out every night, refusing to make eye contact or constantly locking the bedroom door, you should take that as a warning sign.
- Changes in appetite – Increased appetite or regular cases of “the munchies” could be a red flag, especially if the changes in appetite come out of the blue.
Mental Signs of Addiction:
- Mood swings – Hormone surges can certainly make an adolescent’s behavior seem strange, but any atypical or severe mood swings should definitely be taken seriously. They could be symptoms of an addiction.
- Decline in academic performance – Even if your kid isn’t an all-star student, any sudden decline in grades should be addressed. Failure to complete assignments, complaints from teachers or an increase in truancy are all indicators of a possible substance abuse issue.
- Behavior shifts – Cycles of insomnia and hyperactivity, explosive anger or hostility, lack of inhibitions or unusually clumsy behavior can all be indicators of a substance abuse problem. These types of behaviors, alongside a general sense of apathy, should raise any parent’s suspicion.
If you see or experience any of these signs, or even just notice any new behaviors outside what you know to be normal for your teen, the best thing you can do is team up with an experienced professional to get your child the help he or she needs as quickly as possible.