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Substance Abuse in Teens Columbus, Ohio

Teenagers are caught in a world somewhere between child and adult, a place where experimentation is inevitable and in many ways normal, good, and healthy. Unfortunately, that experimentation can be dangerous, and when it involves alcohol, drugs, nicotine, or other substance abuse, it has the potential to move into ever higher levels of risk and addiction.

Understanding teenage addiction

Teenage addiction is a complex issue influenced by many factors, one being biological. It’s important to note that adolescents’ brains are still developing, especially in areas like decision-making, impulse control, and risk assessment. This means that teens may be more susceptible to trying drugs or alcohol because they’re curious and want to fit in with their friends, even though they don’t fully understand the risks. Additional factors like family history and genetics can also play a role in whether a teen experiments with substances.

Beyond biology and genetic dispositions, social and environmental factors also play a key role. Things like peer pressure, stress, and easy access to drugs or alcohol can all contribute to a teenager’s likelihood of developing an addiction. Understanding these factors is key to helping teens make healthy choices.

Teens Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance among teenagers. Many teens view drinking as a rite of passage or a way to socialize with peers. However, underage drinking can have profound negative effects on both physical and mental health. Alcohol impairs judgment, increases the risk of accidents and injuries, and can lead to alcoholism later in life.

Drug Addiction in Teens

Drug addiction among teenagers is a serious concern with potentially devastating consequences. Adolescents may experiment with drugs for various reasons, including peer pressure, curiosity, or as a means of self-medication for underlying emotional or mental health issues. Common drugs abused by teens include marijuana, prescription medications (such as opioids and stimulants), and illicit substances like cocaine and methamphetamine.

Nicotine Addiction in Teens

With the rise of e-cigarettes and vaping products, nicotine addiction has become a growing concern among teenagers. While vaping is often marketed as a safer alternative to smoking cigarettes, it still poses significant health risks, especially for young, developing brains. Nicotine addiction can lead to a host of health problems, including respiratory issues, cardiovascular disease, and addiction to other substances.

Behavioral signs of drug and alcohol use in teenagers

Teenagers may experience natural changes in behavior and mood as they navigate through adolescence. However, it’s essential to be aware that substance use can also contribute to significant shifts in their behavior.

Identifying the signs of drug and alcohol use in teenagers is crucial for early intervention. Some common indicators include:

Frequent and sudden mood swings

Teens experimenting with drugs or alcohol may experience frequent and sudden mood swings. These mood shifts can vary from extreme highs to sudden lows, often without apparent cause. Substance use can disrupt the brain’s natural balance of neurotransmitters, leading to erratic mood fluctuations. Additionally, the stress and turmoil associated with substance abuse can exacerbate mood instability.

Prolonged depression or anxiety

Teens struggling with substance abuse may also experience prolonged feelings of sadness or hopelessness. Similarly, feelings of anxiety can intensify which may even lead to the development of anxiety disorders. The temporary relief provided by drugs and alcohol may lead teens to rely on these substances as coping mechanisms, ultimately worsening their mental health issues over time.

Increased secrecy, dishonesty, or manipulation

Adolescents engaged in substance abuse often exhibit secretive behavior, such as concealing their activities, whereabouts, or interactions from family and friends. They may lie about their substance use or manipulate others to cover it up.

Stealing valuables

Additionally, the frequent disappearance of valuables, such as money or possessions, among teens can signal potential substance abuse issues. Often driven by a need to fund their use and satisfy cravings, teens may resort to stealing.

Decline in academic performance or attendance at school

A noticeable decline in academic performance or attendance at school can be a red flag for substance abuse in teenagers. Teens who are struggling may lose interest in their studies or neglect responsibilities, leading to falling grades and absenteeism.

Social withdrawal and sudden changes in friends or social circles

Social withdrawal and sudden changes in friends or social circles are common signs of teenage substance abuse. Adolescents using drugs or alcohol may distance themselves from loved ones, preferring isolation or peer groups involved in substance use.

While some social isolation from family is natural during adolescent development, prolonged or pronounced withdrawal might warrant exploration for underlying causes.

It’s important to note that these signs alone may not indicate substance abuse, but if you notice multiple signs or significant changes in behavior, it may be worth seeking support from a professional. 

Physical signs of substance use in teens

Physical changes and indicators of teen substance abuse can vary depending on the type of substance being used. However, some common physical signs to watch for include:

Bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils

Redness in the eyes or abnormal pupil size can indicate use of marijuana, cocaine, and amphetamines. Bloodshot eyes and dilated pupils are commonly associated with such substances.

Changes in appetite or weight

Sudden changes in eating habits, such as increased appetite (often referred to as “the munchies” with marijuana use) or dramatic weight loss, can be signs of substance abuse.

Unusual odors

The presence of unusual smells on the breath, body, or clothing could indicate alcohol, marijuana, or other drug use. It’s important to note how the fruity scent of vaping and use of e-cigs makes it challenging to identify nicotine use.

Slurred speech or impaired coordination

Slurred speech and difficulties in coordination are classic indicators of being under the influence. Excessive alcohol and certain drugs can easily affect speech patterns and motor skills.

Changes in sleep patterns

Teens may experience a disruption in their sleep patterns due to the influence of substances like stimulants or depressants. Stimulants often lead to insomnia while depressants may cause excessive drowsiness.

Skin changes and scarring

Skin may show signs such as track marks or scars, particularly in areas where drug injection occurs. Be on the lookout for long sleeves, especially in the warmer months, as they may be a way to hide scarring. Additionally, drugs like methamphetamine can cause skin sores or acne.

Poor hygiene

Substance abuse can be associated with apathy towards self-care, so be on the lookout for infrequent bathing and brushing of teeth.


It’s important to note that these signs alone may not indicate substance abuse, but if you notice multiple signs or significant changes in behavior, it may be worth seeking support from a professional.

Consequences for teenage drug use

The negative consequences of teenage drug use extend far beyond the immediate impact on an individual’s health. Some consequences include:

Academic Impairment

Teen substance abuse often results in a marked decline in academic performance, as students grapple with concentration issues, memory lapses, and missed deadlines, leading to lower grades and disrupted educational paths. This academic impairment can have lasting effects, affecting future opportunities and perpetuating feelings of frustration and low self-esteem.

Legal Issues

Adolescents may find themselves entangled in illegal activities to fuel their substance abuse or due to impaired judgment while under the influence. These actions can carry severe consequences, such as facing prison time or other legal penalties. Minor run-ins with the law for possession of illegal substances, or more serious offenses like theft or DUI charges, can tarnish their record, which limits future opportunities and negatively impacts their life trajectory.

Mental Health

As mentioned earlier, substance abuse can also exacerbate existing mental health issues like depression and anxiety. While drugs or alcohol might make things feel better temporarily, they actually amplify mental health challenges and impair cognitive function. Without help, these issues can get worse, making it hard to do well in school and with friends, and increasing the chances of self-harm.

How to stop an addiction through therapy

Therapy offers crucial support for teens grappling with substance abuse. Through evidence-based counseling techniques, we can help address underlying issues and equip them with healthy coping skills.

However, we recognize many teens will only be in counseling because they are mandated by school authorities, parents or the court. That’s why our trained adolescent counselors work carefully with reluctant teens to build a rapport and trust essential to ultimate change.

To schedule your teen with a trained therapist, please call today. We’re here to help and support you.

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