KEEPING KIDS SAFE | Spot the Warning Signs

Here’s how to tell the difference between a bad day and something more worrisome.

Teenagers can be prone to emotional swings, as heightened tensions over friends or school become commonplace. They may also become mentally or physically exhausted as their responsibility levels ramp up into young adulthood. If these changes become more pronounced or last too long, however, they may be indicative of more serious issues. There are also other important warning signs to look out for along the way.


More than 10 million American teens and young adults are struggling today with alcohol or drugs. D.A.R.E. and the Partnership to End Addiction say the following warning signs may indicate alcohol or drug usage: Lasting changes in their sleep patterns, slurred speech, lingering bloodshot eyes, unexplained skin abrasions or injuries, and any dramatic changes in weight. Many who begin using drugs show a particular lack of interest in personal hygiene or their personal appearance. Watch for burned or sooty fingers, and needle marks on arms and legs.


 Sometimes, alcohol and drug abuse is more difficult to confirm, but might be indicated by other less obvious signs including: loss of interest in favorite activities like sports, hanging out with friends or hobbies, emotional instability, a sudden secretiveness, lying about their whereabouts, aggression or depression, and a noticeable decline in their grades. Be on the look out for unusual smells, peer-group changes, or efforts to cover up bad breath, nasal irritation or red eyes with over-the-counter treatments. Keep a close eye on prescription medicine and any alcohol kept in the home.


If you recognize important changes like these, the Partnership to End Addiction recommends discussing a potential issue with drug and alcohol directly with teens. Ask if they’ve been offered drugs, and how they responded. If they answered yes, make direct inquiries about how they’ve been interacting with these illegal substances — then be prepared with a supportive message about how you will get through this issue as a family. Remind your child that you only want what is best for their future, and that starts with getting sober again. The Partnership to End Addiction — which changed its name from Partnership for Drug-Free Kids after merging with the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse — also provides at helpline at 855-378-4373.