Symptoms of Teen Substance Abuse

It’s commonly known that teens are vulnerable to drug use. It’s a time of experimentation, curiosity, and sometimes confusion. For this reason, some teens might try drugs, and sadly, others might develop a teen substance abuse problem.

Teen Substance Abuse

Furthermore, teens tend to rely more on the part of the brain, known as the amygdala, that handles emotions; whereas adults rely more on their frontal cortex, leading to balanced thinking and behavior. Adults, who are emotionally and psychologically healthy, are able to judge risky behavior and factor into decision-making the consequences of their choices. This isn’t the case for teens. The grey matter of the brain, which contains neurons and is known as the part of the brain that thinks, is still growing in teens. However, for adults, the brain’s grey matter development is complete.


Regardless of the level of confusion an adolescent might experience, ideally, a teen wouldn’t turn to drugs when curiosity gets the better of them or as a means to cope. But often this isn’t the case, and teen substance abuse issues develop. The following table is meant to provide a clear list of symptoms that are associated with taking certain drugs, and ideally serve as a tool for discussing the dangers of drug use.

The Dangers of Drug Use

Narcotics (Methodone Heroin, Morphine)

Early Symptoms: red or raw nostrils, needle marks or scars on arms, wearing long sleeves at inappropriate times, and medicinal breath. Physical evidence might include cough syrup, bottles, syringes, cotton swabs, and spoons for heating heroin

Long Term Symptoms: loss of appetite, constipation, brain damage, damage to the central nervous system


Sedatives (Alcohol, Tranquilizers, Barbituates, GHB – the “date rape” pill)

Early Symptoms: poor coordination, slurred speech, drowsiness, loss of interest in occupational or academic responsibilities, loss of interest in hobbies and other activities that bring enjoyment.

Long Term Symptoms: Possible convulsions, symptoms of withdrawal when discontinued such as physical, emotional, and psychological impairment.


Stimulants (Cocaine, Crack, Amphetamines,)

Early Symptoms: excessive activity, aggression, argumentative attitude, nervousness, pupil dilation, chapped and dry lips, loss of appetite, sleep disturbance with long period of no sleeping, and periods of euphoria.

Long Term Symptoms: possible hallucinations and psychosis, loss of appetite.


Hallucinogens (Marijuana, LSD, PCP, Mescaline)

Early Symptoms: bizarre behavior, panic, disorientation, hallucinations, odor on breath and clothing, delusions

Long Term Symptoms: flashbacks, possible psychosis


Inhalants (Glue, Paint Thinner, Aerosol Sprays, Solvents)

Early Symptoms: odor of glue or solvent, redness and watering of the eyes, appearance of intoxication. Physical evidence might include plastic bags, rags, and aerosol glue or solvent containers.

Long Term Symptoms: disorientation, brain damage


By educating both teens and their caregivers about the symptoms and effects of drugs, perhaps drug use might be curtailed and other forms of coping mechanisms can replace them when confusion, sadness, or anxiety arises.