Is My Teen Using Drugs Recreationally or Abusing Them? 5 Tips to Spot the Difference

Is My Teen Using Drugs Recreationally or Abusing Them? 5 Tips to Spot the Difference

In today’s society, the majority of teenagers have tried some kind of drug, including alcohol, for recreational purposes. Even when parents have had plenty of talks with the teen about the dangers of drugs, it’s not uncommon for a teen to experiment.

The most common reasons that teenagers try drugs is because of peer pressure and curiosity. If their friends are doing it, they want to join in and do it as well. Many teenagers do not realize the long-term effects and dangers of using a drug and as a parent, it’s best if you can spot the difference between recreational use or addiction.

If you’ve ever though, “Is my teen using drugs recreationally or abusing them?” Here are 5 tips to spot the difference:


  1. Check their performance in school

Are your teen’s grades dropping? Is their attendance rate plummeting? Are they getting in more and more trouble at school? If you believe your teen is abusing a substance, one of the first tell-tale signs will be their performance at school.

  1. Gauge attitude and/or mood changes

Since many teens try drugs for recreational purposes and not on a regular basis, their attitude or behavior will probably not change. They’re just trying it out. If you begin to notice a significant change in your teen’s attitude or mood (e.g., agitation, frustration, inability to focus) this could mean that your teen is abusing a substance.  Your teen can no longer control their feelings or behavior without the drug in their system and will be looking for ways to attain the drug of choice.

  1. Notice your teen’s relationships

Has your teen recently started hanging out with a new friend or group of friends when the attitude changes started? Are your teen’s relationships with their old friends dying? Pay attention to your teen’s relationships with you, their siblings, their pets, and any other person who has been close to them. See who they are hanging out with. Get to know them. On the flip side, some addicts will begin to isolate and stop hanging out with friends and family. They’ll spend a lot of time alone at home or out and about. Both can indicate problems with substance abuse.

  1. Look for changes in your teen’s everyday life

Anytime you notice a change in your teen’s everyday life and habits, it is important as a parent to pay attention and figure out what is going on. Did your teen used to love going to the library to study? Taking the dog for a walk? Did your teen used to love family night and are no longer participating? Is their appearance disheveled? This could be because your teen is only able to focus on substance abuse and self-care is not as important to them.

  1. Pay attention to your teen’s health

Drug abuse can cause emotional and physical health problems. If you notice your teen feeling agitated, depressed, highly anxious, apathetic, and lethargic, it may be time to have a real heart to heart with him. Let him know your concern.  Recreational substance use doesn’t usually affect a teen overall. But, abuse will certainly catch up to them emotionally and physically, so be observant.

As a parent, you want the best for you teen. It’s very common to wonder if your teen is using drugs. If so, you may want to know is he or she using them recreationally or abusing them? Sometimes it’s challenging to know for sure, and coming right out and asking your teen may not be the solution. Yes, you can and should if you suspect this, but be prepared for him to lie. At the same time, take these tips into consideration to see if you can get a clearer picture of substance use.

Contact Us

Contact us to learn more tips for recognizing and spotting if your teen using drugs recreationally or abusing them. We serve families of San Diego County, including Carlsbad, Encinitas, Rancho Santa Fe, Escondido and surrounding cities.


Is My Teen Using Drugs Recreationally or Abusing Them? 5 Tips to Spot the Difference

About Susan Gehrig, PhD

Susan Gehrig, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and founder of Paradox Psychological Services located in Carlsbad. She has a passion for supporting the wellbeing of children and teens. Her expertise is in child mindfulness and self-compassion, cognitive behavioral therapy, and child development. Dr. Gehrig provides psychoeducational testing and therapy services to help build a plan for success. Paradox provides services for families of San Diego North County and greater areas.

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