Other Youth Topics


  1. Youth Topics
  2. Substance Use/Misuse
  3. Warning Signs

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.

Emoji Drug Code: Decoded (PDF, 1 page)
This fact sheet provides parents, caregivers, educators, and other influencers with a road map on how emojis are used in conjunction with illegal drug activity. It lists symbols used to communicate about specific substances often advertised and sold on social media and e-commerce platforms.

1 NIH, NIAAA, 2009


Youth Briefs

How Individualized Education Program (IEP) Transition Planning Makes a Difference for Youth with Disabilities

Youth who receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) and especially young adults of transition age, should be involved in planning for life after high school as early as possible and no later than age 16. Transition services should stem from the individual youth’s needs and strengths, ensuring that planning takes into account his or her interests, preferences, and desires for the future.

Youth Transitioning to Adulthood: How Holding Early Leadership Positions Can Make a Difference

Research links early leadership with increased self-efficacy and suggests that leadership can help youth to develop decision making and interpersonal skills that support successes in the workforce and adulthood. In addition, young leaders tend to be more involved in their communities, and have lower dropout rates than their peers. Youth leaders also show considerable benefits for their communities, providing valuable insight into the needs and interests of young people

How Trained Service Professionals and Self-Advocacy Makes a Difference for Youth with Mental Health, Substance Abuse, or Co-occurring Issues

Statistics reflecting the number of youth suffering from mental health, substance abuse, and co-occurring disorders highlight the necessity for schools, families, support staff, and communities to work together to develop targeted, coordinated, and comprehensive transition plans for young people with a history of mental health needs and/or substance abuse.

Young Adults Formerly in Foster Care: Challenges and Solutions

Nearly 30,000 youth aged out of foster care in Fiscal Year 2009, which represents nine percent of the young people involved in the foster care system that year. This transition can be challenging for youth, especially youth who have grown up in the child welfare system.

Coordinating Systems to Support Transition Age Youth with Mental Health Needs

Research has demonstrated that as many as one in five children/youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Read about how coordination between public service agencies can improve treatment for these youth.

Civic Engagement Strategies for Transition Age Youth

Civic engagement has the potential to empower young adults, increase their self-determination, and give them the skills and self-confidence they need to enter the workforce. Read about one youth’s experience in AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).