Teen Drug Addiction

Teen drug addiction is a serious problem that parents should be well informed about. Whether the addiction is physical, affecting the teen’s body, or psychological, affecting the teen’s mind, it usually requires treatment for teens to overcome a drug addiction.

Teen drug addiction usually starts with abusing a drug, which means using an illegal drug or misusing a legal substance like pain killers. Addiction is considered a medical illness. The teen's body, mind, or both get used to the presence of the drug and they feel like they need the drug to function or feel normal. The drug comes to be the driving force in their thoughts and their actions and they keep abusing it even though it is harming them.

Teens can abuse drugs for a number of reasons. Peer pressure, curiosity, or trying to escape from their problems are some of the common reasons for teen drug use. Whether or not a teen becomes addicted depends on many factors, including their genetics and their personality. Because teens’ brains are still developing, drug abuse and teen drug addiction can be especially harmful during the teen years. This may also make them more susceptible to teen drug addiction.

There are many drugs that teens can become addicted to, including:

  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Steroids
  • Methamphetamine
  • Pain killers

Teens can develop an addiction to any substance that they are abusing. The government's Monitoring the Future survey shows trends in teen drug use in the United States. This survey shows:

  • More teens recognize the dangers of abusing illegal drugs and say illegal drugs are harder to get than they used to be
  • Marijuana remains the most commonly abused illegal drug, and its use has remained steady in recent years
  • The use of methamphetamine, cocaine, and hallucinogens like LSD has declined in recent years
  • The number of teens who smoke has reached a historic low
  • More teens are abusing other forms of tobacco
  • Alcohol use among teens has declined
  • The abuse of prescription drugs like pain killers is a growing trend among teens, and many teens say these drugs are easy to get

It can be hard to tell if a troubled teen is addicted to drugs because some of the normal changes teens go through can seem strange to parents. Also, many of the symptoms of teen drug addiction can also be symptoms of other problems, including mental health problems like eating disorders or depression. Some symptoms to watch for include:

  • Sudden changes in friends
  • Sudden changes in appearance, including clothing, personal hygiene, or weight
  • Loss of interest in activities they enjoyed until recently
  • Withdrawal from family or friends
  • Drop in performance in school or other activities
  • Selling possessions to get money for drugs
  • Stealing or being involved in other illegal activities or teen dishonesty 
  • Having mood swings or acting depressed, anxious, or angry
  • Developing strange personal habits, like twitching, grinding teeth, or picking at skin
  • Hallucinating or having delusions about things that are not real
  • Strange behavior, like acting unusually silly, loud, or confused
  • Changes in habits or routines
  • Unexplained injuries or frequent illnesses
  • Smelling strange or using items to hide the smell of drugs, like perfume, mouth wash, gum or breath mints, air freshener, or incense
  • Wearing clothing related to drugs or drug use
  • Having objects used for taking or hiding drugs

These symptoms, or other concerning behaviors, may be a sign that troubled teens need help, either with teen drug addiction or another problem.

Because teen drug addiction is difficult to overcome, parents and friends can best help teens by intervening before they use drugs or before they become addicted to them. The earlier teens with a drug problem get help the better their chances for recovery. Parents can help by:

  • Talking to teens about the dangers of using drugs and asking them if they or anyone they know uses drugs.
  • Setting clear rules about teens' activities, including drug use, with reasonable consequences, and enforcing those consequences if the rules are broken.
  • Keeping track of teen’s activities, including getting to know their friends and knowing where and how they spend their time. This doesn't mean spying on them or taking away all of their privacy, but letting them know that you care and want them to be safe.
  • Encouraging teens in their positive activities and emphasizing the importance of getting an education
  • Finding time for the family to spend together doing fun activities
  • Getting help for teens for any problems they may be having at school or with their health. Tutoring and counseling are often available for free or very low cost through schools or community programs.

Overcoming an addiction is very difficult, but it can be done, especially once the teen realizes they have a problem. The treatment for teen drug addiction varies according to the drug, but usually involves working with a doctor and a therapist or counselor to help teens quit using the drug and stay clean.

Some teens will relapse even if they are really trying to quit, so parents have to be patient, loving and supportive through the process. Family counseling can help members of the family deal with the teen's drug addiction. Support groups are also available for teens overcoming addictions to drugs and for the family members and friends of teens with an addiction.


Nemours, TeensHealth, "Dealing With Addiction" [online]
National Institutes of Health, News in Health, "A Loved One's Substance Abuse Problem" [online]
National Institute on Drug Abuse, "NIDA InfoFacts: High School and Youth Trends (From the Monitoring the Future Survey)" [online]
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Get Smart About Drugs, "What Kinds of Things Are Paraphernalia?" [online]
Partnership for a Drug-Free America, Parent Toolkit, "Is Your Teen Using?: Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse" [online]
U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus, "Drugs and Young People" [online]

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