Adapted from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP):

Adolescent substance use is very common but can have serious consequences. Recurrent adolescent substance use contributes to personal distress, poor school performance, short- and long-term health problems, relationship difficulties, and involvement in antisocial activities. Some teenagers will develop severe substance use or become “addicted.” They can use more than they planned, struggle with cutting down or stopping use, or give up important activities in their lives. Some may even become tolerant (needing more of the substance to achieve the same effect) and experience withdrawal when they stop use.

Even teenagers who are simply experimenting with alcohol or drugs can die or suffer severe injuries, acquire infections, or become pregnant due to engaging in risky behaviors while under the influence of the substance. The good news is that effective treatment can help youth recover from substance use disorders.

Signs of Youth Substance Use May Include:

  • Increased moodiness or sudden changes in mood
  • Getting into fights
  • Increased secretiveness
  • Associating with friends who are getting into trouble
  • Worsening performance in school, cutting classes, or dropping out of activities
  • Getting into more arguments than usual
  • More direct signs can include missing pills, unexplained over-the-counter medications in the house, cigarettes, rolling papers, or other substance paraphernalia in the laundry, or smells of alcohol or smoke.

Fortunately, prevention and treatment can make a difference. The development of a substance use disorder is complex, involving interactions between biological and environmental risk factors. Many teenagers who have a substance use disorder can also have one or more mental/behavioral health disorders.  It’s important to get professional help in order to ensure your teen gets the right treatment.

Parents who are concerned about their child’s substance use can contact a trusted professional such as a school counselor, pediatrician or a family doctor. If they have access, they can seek advice from a specialist such as a child psychiatrist, psychologist, or substance abuse counselor, or other behavioral health professional.

The Child Mind Institute has developed a comprehensive online guide to co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders in children and youth here.

For more information about youth substance use, including signs and symptoms to watch for, what to do if you think your child has a substance use problem, how to find treatment, and more, visit the AACAP’s Resource Center on Youth Substance Use at the link below: