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Is My Teen Using Drugs?

How Parents Can Know

By

Updated April 23, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

How can a parent know if their teen is using drugs? This is a complicated question that is not easily answered as it takes time and the ability to put together pieces of your teen's behavior puzzle. But it is very important for parents to puzzle out whether or not their teen is using any type of drug as teen drug use can lead to sad consequences - like your teen not reaching their full potential or much worse consequences like death.

Here are the issues parents need to take into consideration when figuring out if their teen is getting high on drugs or drinking alcohol. The first few are tips on getting in the right frame of mind when dealing with this tough issue and your teenager. The rest are steps you should take if there is any hint of drug use in your home by your teen.

Get over the shock as fast as you can. It's a normal feeling, but it won't help.

Teens Passing a Joint.
Doug Menuez/Photodisc/Getty Images

Finding out, even getting the smallest hint, that your teen is doing drugs is a big shock. It will take time to process the thoughts and emotions you are thinking and feeling. But because of the nature of teen drug use and its often life and death consequences, that time is a luxury parents of teens who are using cannot afford.

You and your teen will be better off if you know about their drug use as it can lead to your teen getting any help they need to stop using the drug. So, while you may be working through your own feelings, take steps to find out if they are really doing drugs and get help for your teen right away - and try not to freak out.

Avoid dening the drug use or that it could happen - all types of teens do drugs.

Teen Popping Pills Drugs
Getty Images
Some parents believe that their teen would never do drugs because they have great grades or their teen is an athlete. While this may have been more true in the past, teen drug use is no longer a problem for the select few teens who were your typical 420 druggies. These days all teens have access to many types of drugs. Athletes may even be more susceptible to some types of drugs like steroids, as some good students may take speed to do better in their classes. Plus, alcohol use and abuse has been a problem for teens and young adults for many generations. Put away stereotypes and keep an open mind when exploring these possibilities.

Know that teen drug use is not a rite of passage.

Parents may not want to believe that when their teen is getting high or drinking alcohol it is anything more than a phase or a rite of passage. Or, they may believe that drinking a few beers or using marijuana is something kids do, it's a teen thing and it will be just fine because they also did it when they were younger and they turned out okay. Therefore, they deny teen drug use is going on in their family or they avoid seeing the warning signs of their teen using. Some parents may even go so far as to provide drugs or alcohol - typically it's alcohol - to their teen and other teens. If this describes you, you'll need to adjust your attitude about teen drug use and be your teen's parent, not their friend.

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Talk to your teen.

Trust Teens Parents
Trusting your teen leads to a good relationship with them - use open communication. Getty Images
It is important to talk to your teen about drug use, not only if you feel they may be taking drugs, but as a preventative measure. But if you have found evidence of your teen using, share with your teen what you have found and why you feel they are using drugs. Your teen will either try to explain away the issues you raise or will get very defensive and start a power struggle to avoid the real issue of their drug use. Either way, you will need to ask your teen if they are using drugs. Ninety-nine percent of the time your teen will say, 'no', whether they are or not. Guilt and fear of being caught tends to make teens lie when asked that question.

I want to note here that you should never have this conversation with your teen if you think they are high or drunk. They are unstable and unable to communicate with you appropriately. Wait until they are sober.

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Know the signs of teen drug use.

Your teen may never bring drugs home but do drugs at school, at a local hang out or at a friend's home. There are warning signs of teen drug use including things like grades dropping, mood swings and loss of interest in their hobbies or family. There are also specific warning signs for a teenager's drug of choice. For instance, being high on meth will make a teen jumpy sometimes for a full 24 hours or more where being high on marijuana will make a teen sleepy after the initial high. Once you know the signs you can be on the look out for them.

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Check their room and personal space for drugs and drug paraphernalia.

drugs paraphernalia bong teen drug use
Photo by radiobread on flickr.
Yes, privacy is important in a family, but not as important as taking the responsibility of parenting your teenager. If you suspect drug use by your teen, this is one of those times that you need to be the parent who checks their personal area including their bedroom and not be their friend who wouldn't do this hard task because of privacy issues.

If you find drugs or drug paraphernalia, there are a couple of things you can do. The first one is to take drugs and dispose of them. Let your teen know what you found and what you've done with it. Tell them you are worried about their drug use and that you are seeking help for them because at this point you know that your teen is using drugs.

But if you have been down this road before with your teen, it is time to give the drug evidence to either their drug counselor or to the police. Either way, your teen will face consequences outside of the home. This is a harsh measure and should only be used if you exhausted all other avenues for helping your teenager because at some point your family's needs will have to come before their drug issues. Your family needs to be safe and your teen's drug use is not safe for anyone in your home.

Parents can opt to use a home drug testing kit.

Drug Testing Kit Teens
Drug testing kits can test for one drug or multiple drugs.

If you are still unsure if your teen is using drugs, yet you think it is most likely, you can opt to use a drug testing kit. The kits can be purchased at drug stores in your local area and online. Check the kit for a list of drugs that it screens for, normally it is marijuana, amphetamines, methamphetamines, ecstasy, cocaine and opiates.

Some parents have no other choice but to use a drug testing kit as their teen will deny using drugs and be very secretive. Other parents will have their teens test regularly to prevent them from doing drugs - something I recommend if your teen has used drugs in the past. What ever reason you are choosing to use a drug test kit, know that even if your teen gets very angry with you, you can work on building back the trust you both have in your relationship once their drug use is under control.

Quick Links: Teen Drug Use Resources | Quiz: Is Your Teenager Using Drugs?

What if the drug test comes out clean and your teen is not using drugs? Did you go through all of that for nothing? No. What you have done is ruled out one problem. Something made you think that your teen was using drugs and unfortunately, drug use is not the only issue some struggling teens face. Make an appointment with their doctor and get them a complete physical to see what else could be the problem.

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