Common Characteristics of Adolescent Drug and Alcohol Use or Abuse

Concerned you child could be using substances without your knowledge? Here are some common sign of drug and alcohol use or abuse to watch out for.


  • Drug or alcohol use (this is not a mistake; denial often obscures the obvious signs)
  • Theft
  • Disappearance of possessions, money, clothes
  • Possession of drug-related paraphernalia
  • Possession of weapons
  • Drug- or alcohol-related posters, signs, tee shirts, etc.
  • Use of goldenseal or other OTC herbs


  • Marked drop in grades
  • Lack of concern about grades
  • Little or no investment in homework, studying, etc.
  • Poor concentration
  • Poor memory
  • Marked drop in classroom participation
  • General loss of interest in school
  • Excessive procrastination / avoidance
  • Frequent lates or cuts
  • Loss of interests in sports, activities, school events
  • Improved behavior and appearance of focus


  • Frequent lying, and excuses that are plausible but suspicious
  • Excessive sleeping or drifting
  • Defiance of rules
  • Verbal or physical abuse
  • Mood swings
  • Excessive talking
  • Non-communicative


  • Change in friends
  • Change in hangouts
  • Unknown friends who avoid parents
  • Always out of the house with no particular destination
  • Secretive / suspicious phone conversations
  • Hang-up phone calls
  • Callers who refuse to identify themselves
  • Significantly older or younger acquaintances
  • Isolation
  • Argues that drug use is alright
  • Argues that teachers / parents don’t understand drug use
  • Lives day-to-day with no long term planning or commitments (apathetic)
  • Extreme avoidance of family / extended family functions
  • Use of street vocabulary
  • Demands / steals money from siblings, parents, friends, classmates

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