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Drug signs and teenagers


It’s common for parents to worry that their teenager will use drugs. Learn the signs of drug use so that you can be alert to drug use. Early intervention on your part can help your teen stay out of trouble from drugs.

Alternative Names

Teenagers and drugs; Symptoms of drug use in teenagers; Drug abuse-teenages; Substance abuse-teenages:


Learn about the different types of drugs that may be abused.

Older teens are more likely to use drugs than younger teens. Marijuana (pot) is still common. More and more teens are abusing prescription drugs.

  • About 1 out of 7 of high school seniors have abused prescription drugs
  • About one out of three have used marijuana in the last year.
  • Younger teens use drugs that are inhaled more than older teens.
  • Keep your eyes open for signs of drug abuse.

Physical signs:

  • Slow or slurred speech (downers and depressants)
  • Rapid, explosive speech (uppers)
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Cough that does not go away
  • Unusual odor on breath (inhalant drugs)
  • Pupils of eyes extremely big (dilated) or extremely small (pinpoint); nystagmus (rapid eye motion) might be a sign of PCP abuse
  • Loss of appetite (occurs with amphetamine, methamphetamine, cocaine use)
  • Increased appetite (with marijuana use)
  • Unsteady gait

Changes in their energy:

  • Sluggishness, listlessness, or constant sleeping (opiate drugs such as heroin, codeine; or may when coming down off stimulant drugs)
  • Hyperactivity (as seen with "uppers" such as cocaine, methamphetamine)

Changes in their behavior:

  • Poor grades in school and missing more school days
  • Not taking part in family and usual activities
  • Change in group of friends
  • Secretive behavior
  • Lying or stealing

Get help early for your teen. Help them stop using drugs before it becomes a drug abuse problem. More information is available at

See: Drug abuse and dependence and drug abuse


Stager MM. Substance abuse. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. GemeIII JW, Schor NF, Behrman RE, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders;2011:chap 108.

National Institute on Drug Abuse: Preventing drug use among children and adolescents. NIH Publication No. 04-4212(B). 1997. Revised October 2003. Available at: Accessed 8/8/2013.

Review Date: 8/8/2013
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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