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Teenage Drug Abuse Guide for Parents

No parent wants to face the reality of teen drug abuse. Unfortunately, it’s an all-too-common problem for many teenagers and their parents. According to, 75 percent of high school students have used addictive substances at least once. Nearly half of students regularly use addictive substances, and 90 percent of Americans who struggle with the clinical definition of addiction began using drugs before they turned 18.

It’s one of the biggest health concerns in the country, and parents have a right to be worried if they notice signs of drug use in their household.

As parents, we can only do so much to keep our children safe from the dangers of drugs and other addictive substances. We can be role models for our kids, showing examples of a drug-free lifestyle. We can instruct our children and provide discipline and guidance as needed. We can limit our children’s access to medication and other substances. We can also use resources like instant drug tests to ensure our children stay healthy and honest about their potential drug abuse.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about teen drug abuse, including the most common drugs for teenagers, signs of drug abuse, at-home drug tests, proper testing procedures, and additional resources. Let’s get started.

Most Common Drugs for Teenagers

Teenagers use a variety of drugs for any number of reasons. Often, they are simply caving to peer pressure or want to fit in with their friends at group events. Sometimes, they want more energy to devote to life’s constant demands — school, work, homework, and extracurriculars can be stressful for a young person.

When you consider the most common drugs that teens use, it’s fairly easy to see why certain substances are abused more than others. For example, the easier it is to obtain the drug, the more likely a teenager is to use it.

That’s why alcohol and tobacco top the list. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, these are by far the most popular drugs for teenagers.

Marijuana takes third place. Over 36 percent of teenagers have used marijuana in the past year. Amphetamines (like Adderall) are much less popular in fourth place at 8.7 percent. This prescription medication is pretty easy to obtain, either by abusing a personal prescription or buying medication from a friend.

Synthetic marijuana is rising in popularity. This includes brand names like Spice and K2. These drugs are sometimes sold in novelty shops and gas stations under various names and with colorful packaging. They’re often novelty products that seem appealing to younger generations who don’t realize they can be harmful.

Prescription painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin are also fairly popular; roughly 7.1 percent of teens have abused these drugs in the past year. Five percent of teens have used cough medicine recreationally in the past year, followed by sedatives and tranquilizers.

Hallucinogens, ecstasy (aka MDMA), and salvia are less popular but still a major concern.

If you’re wondering which drugs are most likely used by your teen, there are a few things to consider:

  • Which drugs does your teenager have easy access to?
  • Which drugs would be most enticing for your teenager?
  • What symptoms or odd behaviors is your teen exhibiting?

In general, younger teens are more likely to use inhalants (household substances, etc.), while older teens gravitate toward synthetic marijuana and prescription substances. However, every child is different, so it’s important to investigate and discover which type of teen drug abuse you’re dealing with.

Why Should You Test Your Teens for Drugs?

As parents, we want to believe our children. Unfortunately, not all teenagers are trustworthy. At such a young age, teens are very impressionable, but they don’t yet have the capacity to understand the long-term detrimental effects of drug abuse.

Teens may see occasional drug use as a typical coming-of-age activity. It’s an “everyone does it” mentality. While we never want to falsely accuse our children, it’s our job as parents to keep our children safe. If we suspect our kids aren’t being entirely truthful with us, it’s our responsibility to make sure their health isn’t at risk. Drug testing helps us make sure our children aren’t making poor decisions. If the drug test is positive, we can help our children make better decisions and find treatment options if needed.

Remember: Once a child becomes an adult, you are no longer their legal guardian. It’s much harder to help an adult who struggles with drug abuse than a teenager, particularly if they don’t want the help.

If you drug test your teens at the first sign of potential drug abuse, you have a much better chance of finding effective treatment to combat the issue and help pave the road to recovery.

What Are the Signs of Teen Drug Abuse?

There are many signs of teenage drug abuse. Some are subtle, so you’ll need to pay attention if you want to catch the problem early.

Some of the earliest signs include:

  • A new group of friends, particularly if they no longer see or mention their old friends
  • Moodiness, including depression, anger, or aggression
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Lack of interest in hobbies or extracurricular activities
  • Disciplinary problems at home or school
  • Tardiness or absenteeism at work or school, or missing curfew
  • Poor hygiene or untidy appearance
  • Acting more secretive: avoiding eye contact, refusing to communicate, evading questions, hiding their phone, leaving the room to make phone calls or text their friends, locking their bedroom door

Later, you may notice:

  • Failing grades
  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Lack of focus
  • Lying or making excuses for behavior
  • Stealing
  • Obsessively looking for ways to earn money or asking for money repeatedly
  • Lack of responsibility for their actions
  • Anxiety, fidgeting, unexplained anger, or paranoia

You may also notice physical symptoms, particularly if the drug use has progressed. These include:

  • Weight gain or loss
  • Frequent nosebleeds or runny nose
  • Watery, hazy, or bloodshot eyes
  • Dilated or tiny pupils
  • Tremors or shaking (especially in hands)
  • Frequent headaches
  • Sores around the mouth
  • Clammy palms
  • Fatigue or hyperactivity
  • Puffy cheeks
  • Track marks on arms or legs (may attempt to cover with long sleeves and pants, even if the weather is hot)

Many of these signs are common and aren’t necessarily indicative of a drug problem. However, if you feel something is “off,” your instinct may be the best guide. Parents usually know their children well, and we can tell if things have changed. While drugs aren’t the only problems adolescents face, they are a common issue. If you’ve noticed a combination of these signs and your teen offers no plausible explanation, a home drug test can help you find answers.

How Should You Perform Instant Drug Testing?

Once you’ve decided you need to use an at-home drug test, it’s important to follow certain guidelines to ensure the test is accurate. Teenagers are intelligent, and they have the entire internet at their disposal. You’ll need to proactively deal with the situation if you seriously suspect your child is using drugs.

Experts recommend you follow four guidelines:

1. Random

First, instant drug tests should be randomized. You can’t warn your child or threaten a drug test in advance. That only gives them time to prepare, and there are ways to dilute urine and compromise the drug test results.

2. Observed

As a parent, this step is difficult to follow. To ensure test results are accurate, you need to observe the person taking the test. While you don’t necessarily need to watch them take the home drug test, you do need to stand near enough to ensure the urine is actually theirs and not something they obtained from a friend.

3. Frequent

Once you start testing your teens, you need to continue testing them on a regular basis. The frequency depends on how strongly you suspect drug use. If they test positive for drugs, you’ll need to test them at least once a week to make sure they aren’t relapsing.

4. Varied

While most parents use urine tests for quick, accurate results, teens who struggle with drug abuse need varied drug testing to make sure you’re aware of each substance. You can perform urine testing, saliva testing, hair sample testing, and breathalyzers at randomized intervals.

While this process may seem invasive, remember that teen drug abuse is a serious issue. Oftentimes, teenagers will go to any lengths to hide their substance abuse from their parents. Though they’re still the child you know and love, they aren’t trustworthy if they’re secretly using drugs and refusing help.

Instant Drug Tests and Additional Resources

If you find that your teenager is abusing drugs, there are resources that can help.

At-Home Drug Tests

Origin’s instant home drug tests can help provide the relief or answers you need without the hassle and evasive questions you’ll find at a clinic. You can conduct a drug test at home with a simple kit and receive results in five minutes or less. These tests are especially helpful for parents who need to keep a watchful eye on a child who is recovering from substance abuse. Parents can use instant drug tests at home to test their teenagers frequently for drugs with a low cost and accurate results.

National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence

The National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence helps teens (and parents of teens) who struggle with alcoholism and drug dependence. Their website has numerous resources available.

National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens

The NIDA for Teens is a trusted resource with simple guides, helpful videos, informative blog posts, and other information about drugs and substance abuse in teens.

Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator

The Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator helps parents and teens find local treatment facilities. These organizations work with substance abuse issues and mental health concerns.

Opioid Treatment Program Directory

The OTP Directory helps parents and teens find opioid treatment programs within their state.

Narcotics Anonymous

Narcotics Anonymous (or NA) helps adolescents and teenagers find local support groups with meetings in your area. It also has additional information for young people who struggle with drug addiction.

SMART Recovery

TheSMART Recovery program helps teens recover from drug dependence via a support group. Meetings are available online and at various locations across the country. It also includes information and resources specifically for teens.

Help Teen Drug Abuse With Instant Drug Testing

While we never want to assume our children are using drugs, statistics show that it happens more often than parents want to admit. You can help your child by combating the problem now, while they’re young and still look to you for guidance.

Frequent home drug testing provides instant results that can help rest your mind about your child’s potential drug use. If your child’s test is positive, you can see which substances are a problem and address your concerns quickly. Use the additional resources we’ve included here to help your child find the help they need and quickly get on the road to recovery.