Teenagers throughout America are at a high risk of substance abuse, especially legal and illegal drug abuse. According to the CDC, 15% of high school students1 have used illicit or injection drugs, including cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines. 14% of students report abusing prescription opioids. Current alcohol use for teens is 19.5%, and marijuana use is 12.8%.
Regardless of the specific drug used, youth drug use is associated with increased risk-taking behaviors and long-term negative health effects. In fact, teens can be actively affected by drug abuse in various ways.
The Warning Signs of Teen Drug Use
The warning signs of drug use in teens can vary, but they can be noticed by parents, teachers, fellow students/peers, and siblings. Common physical signs of teen drug use include but are not limited to:
- Consistent fatigue
- Red eyes or glazed eyes
- Lasting coughs
- Health complaints
- Weakened immune system
In addition to physical warning signs of teen drug use, emotional and mental health signs may appear. These signs include personality changes, mood swings, irritability, irresponsible behavior, increased risk-taking behavior, depression, and low self-esteem.
If you’ve noticed one or more of these symptoms in your teenage child, it could be a sign that they need your intervention and the assistance of an effective teen addiction treatment program.
Physical Effects of Drug Abuse for Teens
When teenagers use drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamines, alcohol, and opiates, they may encounter severe and negative physical health effects. Common physical effects of drug use for teens include but are not limited to:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Physical addiction or dependence, which causes withdrawal symptoms like nausea, confusion, and anxiety when a drug is not taken
- Vomiting or nausea
- Sexually transmitted diseases, which stem from increased risk-taking behaviors
- Brain damage, which may result in mental disorders or irreversible damage to the nervous system or brain
- Physical injuries, such as broken bones, lacerations, and TBIs/traumatic brain injuries like concussions. These may stem from traumatic incidents and events like car accidents
In general, teenagers who use drugs are at a greater risk of physical altercations or harmful incidents because they can’t assess risk properly, or drugs may cause them to make bad decisions. For example, a teenager under the influence of an illegal drug may decide to drive riskily, causing an accident and injuring themselves and others.
Mental Effects of Drug Abuse for Teens
While the physical effects of drug use for teenagers can be devastating and even lead to serious injuries, mental health effects can be just as severe and debilitating. Common mental effects of drug abuse among teenagers include but are not limited to:
- Brain shrinkage, which can lead to memory problems or amnesia
- Difficulties with perception and intuition
- The development of depression and/or anxiety and associated symptoms, like low energy, low self-esteem, etc.
- Difficulties learning or absorbing new information, which can influence school performance and one’s life opportunities later on
Many of the mental effects of drug abuse for teenagers are closely linked to emotional problems and symptoms.
Emotional Effects of Drug Abuse for Teens
Many teenagers who take drugs experience emotional problems that can damage their familial or friend relationships and lead to other lasting effects, such as:
- Mood swings and intense irritability
- Difficulty cooperating with others
- Decreased socialization in general – teenagers on drugs may find themselves withdrawn and may have difficulty forming friendships or participating in social activities
- Suicidal ideation
- Violent tendencies or urges
- Broken familial relationships
- Increased rule-breaking desires
Long-Term Effects of Teen Drug Use
In the long term, consistent drug use among teenagers is correlated with negative life and health effects. Teenagers who use drugs are more likely to become addicted to them, which can impact their job opportunities, their grades in school, which colleges they attend or even if they attend college, and much more.
In addition, teenagers who use drugs are more likely to engage in risky activities like unprotected sex. Unprotected sex can lead to the transmission of diseases like HIV, as well as lead to unwanted pregnancies.
If left unchecked, teen drug use can derail a teenager’s life and lead to long-term difficulties as they get older. Drug abuse tends to be more difficult to stop as one gets older and as the abuse continues.
Residential Treatment Options for Teen Substance Use
Teen drug use is a major problem, but there are helpful solutions that you or a loved one can take advantage of. At Ember Recovery, we offer residential inpatient programs for boys, girls, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
In each program, patients stay at a residential treatment house designed to be comfortable and safe throughout the process. We leverage gender-responsive treatment programs to help teenagers overcome both drug use and underlying mental or emotional conditions and issues.
Many of Ember Recovery’s patients arrive with mental or physical trauma, and our specialists can work closely with your teen to ensure they get the help they need. To that end, we leverage dual diagnosis treatments to determine whether a patient’s underlying mental health condition puts them at a greater risk for drug abuse. Alongside our primary treatment plans, we offer individualized recovery plans and supplemental services like psychiatry and medication management.
Long-term drug use can lead to devastating consequences, but you can put your teen back on the right path with Ember Recovery’s help. Contact us today to learn more.
Andrea Dickerson is a Licensed Therapist and Certified Substance Use Counselor who has worked in behavioral health since 1997. Currently, Andrea is the Director of Behavioral Health, overseeing the Ember residential treatment programs and YSS outpatient counseling clinics throughout Central and North Central Iowa. She became a Motivational Interviewing (MI) trainer in 2006 and provides MI trainings throughout Iowa.
Andrea specializes in working with adolescents and their families and enjoys seeing the family relationships grow through therapy. Andrea is also a CARF International Surveyor, going around North America ensuring behavioral health organizations are meeting required standards.
In her free time, Andrea enjoys cheering on the Iowa Hawkeyes and Chicago Cubs, as well as being an active member of Soroptimist International of the Americas (SIA), a global organization that provides women and girls with access to the education and training they need to achieve economic empowerment. She has been a member of the SI of Des Moines club since 2012 and has been actively involved at the regional level, currently serving as Co-Governor of the Peaks to Plains Region.
Through her involvement in SIA, Andrea has been actively involved in the Dream Programs, coordinating annual Dream It, Be It: Career Support for Girls projects, which give girls the tools they need to achieve their education and career goals, empowering them to break cycles of poverty, violence, and abuse.