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Signs, Symptoms and Consequences of Adolescent Substance Abuse

Signs, Symptoms and Consequences of Adolescent Substance Abuse

Young woman holding mirrored tray with pills

Signs & Symptoms

Those who interact with adolescents in the home or community need to be alert to changes in an adolescent’s behavior and appearance that may signal substance abuse. By recognizing the potential warning signs and symptoms of substance use, you may be able to get help for a teenager in need of treatment. The following behavior changes, when extreme or lasting for more than a few days, may indicate alcohol related or drug-related problems and the need for further screening by a professional.

  • Sudden changes in personality without another known cause
  • Loss of interest in once favorite hobbies, sports or other activities
  • Sudden decline in performance or attendance in school or work
  • Changes in friends and reluctance to talk about new friends
  • Deterioration of personal hygiene
  • Difficulty in paying attention, forgetfulness
  • Sudden aggressive behavior, irritability, nervousness, or giddiness
  • Increased secretiveness, heightened sensitivity to questions about his/her behavior

Consequences of Adolescent Substance Abuse

Traffic Accidents

Nearly half (45 percent) of all deaths from traffic accidents are related to the consumption of alcohol and an estimated 18 percent of drivers age 16 to 20 drive under the influence of alcohol.

School-related problems

Adolescent substance abuse is associated with falling grades, absenteeism, and dropping out of school. Cognitive and behavioral problems experienced by teens abusing substances can interfere with their academic performance.

Risky Sexual Practices

Adolescents who use drugs and alcohol are more likely than non-using teens to have sex, initiate sex at a younger age, and have multiple sexual partners, placing them at greater risk for unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

Delinquent Behavior

Adolescents who use marijuana weekly are six times more likely than nonusers to report that they run away from home, five times more likely to say that they steal from places other than home, and four times more likely to report that they physically attack people.

Juvenile Crime

Adolescents age 12 to 16 who have ever used marijuana are more likely at some point to have sold marijuana (24 percent vs. less than 1 percent), carried a hand gun (21 percent vs.7 percent), or been in a gang (14 percent vs. 2 percent) than youth who have never used marijuana.

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Developmental Problems

Substance abuse can compromise an adolescent’s psychological and social development in areas such as the formation of a strong self-identity, emotional and intellectual growth, establishment of a career and the development of positive personal relationships.

Physical and Mental Consequences

Smoking marijuana can have a negative effect on the user’s mind and body. It can impair short-term memory and comprehension, alter one’s sense of time, and reduce the ability to perform tasks that require concentration and coordination, such as driving a car. Evidence also suggests that the long term effects of using marijuana may include increased risk of lung cancer and other chronic lung disorders, head and neck cancer, sterility in men, and infertility in women.

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