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Warning Signs

Many youth may show behaviors in adolescence that are indicative of substance abuse, but can also be considered normal behaviors while growing up. It is important to take notice if there are several signs happening at the same time, if they occur suddenly, and if the behaviors are extreme. The following behaviors in a youth might indicate drug or alcohol abuse:

  • Mood changes (temper flare-ups, irritability, defensiveness)
  • Academic problems (poor attendance, low grades, disciplinary action)
  • Changing friends and a reluctance to have parents/family get to know the new friends
  • A "nothing matters" attitude (lack of involvement in former interests, general low energy)
  • Finding substances (drug or alcohol) in youth’s room or personal effects
  • Physical or mental changes (memory lapses, poor concentration, lack of coordination, slurred speech, etc.)1

Warning signs indicate that there may be a problem that should be looked into—not that there is definitely a problem. If there is suspicion that a youth is abusing substances, it is important to first speak with the youth to get a better understanding of the situation. The next step would be to have the youth screened for substance use by a professional (e.g., school counselor, social worker, psychologist). If there is no clear evidence of abuse, families should contact their primary health care physician to rule out a physical problem. If formal intervention is necessary, local substance abuse professionals should be contacted. In addition, it might be helpful to learn more about screening tools, prevention efforts, and treatments.


Substance Abuse Treatment Locator
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides an online resource for locating drug and alcohol abuse treatment programs across the country. The Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator lists:

  • private and public facilities that are licensed, certified, or otherwise approved for inclusion by their state substance abuse agency; and
  • treatment facilities administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Indian Health Service, and the Department of Defense.

1 NIH, NIAAA, 2009


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