Skip to content

Deceptions of Teen Drug Use

When it comes to drug or alcohol use, we parents want to give our kids the benefit of the doubt. But for some kids, there are signs that something is different, and that’s when we should be on our toes. The phrase benefit of the doubt is defined as, “a favorable opinion adopted despite uncertainty.” Do you experience uncertainty? Do you wonder if your child has been using drugs or alcohol? Does he or she act, speak, reason or look differently?

Statistics show that 1 in 4 high school seniors use an illicit drug once a month; 1 in 5 use weekly; 1 in 10 use daily. Drug use is no respecter of religious versus non-religious, public versus private school kids.  And because today’s drugs, especially pot, are far more potent than in the 70’s, teenagers become addicted more quickly and overdose more easily. But the fastest growing “drugs” of choice today are common household items like aerosols, glues, prescription drugs, pain killers, cold medications, and prescription medications used to treat anxiety or Attention Deficit Disorders.

Teenagers use drugs for many reasons that have to do with how they feel about themselves, how they get along with others, and how they live. They generally use drugs or alcohol to either fit in or to dull the pain they feel in their life.  No one indicator will determine who is using drugs and who is not, but here are some signs to watch for, beyond simply finding drugs, drug paraphernalia or obvious physical symptoms:

  • Dropping grades and lack of concern for school performance.
  • Suddenly aggressive or unusually rebellious behavior.
  • Excessive influence by new friends and a need to be with them at all hours.
  • Disconnection from family and from old friends.
  • Turning away from everything they once held dear.

If you ask a drug or alcohol abusing teenager how it has affected their life, they probably won’t know and won’t care very much. But if you ask them if using drugs has changed their relationships, they will undoubtedly say “yes.” So look for this one important key to discovering if your child is using drugs. Keep an eye on their relationships.

It is easier to trust your child wouldn’t lie about taking drugs, but all drug abusers are proficient liars. They’ll look you straight in the face and not flinch, while claiming that they wouldn’t think of using drugs. That’s probably why the average parent fails to confirm their teenager is using drugs until their teen has already been using for two years. That’s long enough for casual use to turn into regular use, or for the teen to step up to more dangerous drugs.

The fact of the matter is that addicts must lie if they are going to protect their ability to continue to use. Lying, deceit, cheating and dishonesty are part and parcel of drug use, not because your teen is a born liar or a born cheat, but because the addicted body needs drugs or alcohol in order to function. Lying is one way to protect oneself and avoid detection.

Always remember this: for an addicted person symptoms of withdrawal are like poison. But withdrawal is also the cure. What hurts the brain also makes the brain feel better. What hurts an addict in the short run can heal an addict in the long run.

Addiction literally rewires the brain. The addiction says, “Give me more or you will go through pain.” The addict knows the pain of not using (withdrawal) and they’ll do or say anything to those they love, just to avoid being caught.

Parents must play a key role in intervening and getting the right kind of help for themselves and for their teen.

When you suspect your child might be using drugs, the faster you can find out for sure, the better. Jump in and be authoritative, decisive and strong, like a man or woman of steel when facing down drug use or drug addiction. When they are using alcohol or drugs on a regular basis, kids can be incredibly manipulative and they will lie. They will shift the blame and make it your responsibility or fault. They become masters of deception, and their angry outbursts over your “distrust” of them can be dismaying.

Parents of drug or alcohol abusers need to remember their parental role. They need to rise above their anger and not take it personally. This will help them be more effective in their efforts to test for drugs and to get their teen some help if drug use is discovered. To tell your teen to stop, to threaten consequences, or to separate them from their friends probably won’t be an effective deterrent if the teen has been using for any length of time.

Remember this; the addicted teenager who is screaming at you, breaking your rules, or lying to your face, is under an intoxicating influence, even when they are not intoxicated. These influences can continue for months after the teen stops using. So, your enemy is not your child. Your enemy is the cravings that have taken over your child’s life, heart, and spirit. And for that, you’ll probably need some outside help.

Be honest with yourself about your own rationalizations, fear, and denial. Chances are, you are trying real hard to talk yourself out of your fears, or making excuses for your child such as blaming it all on your child’s friends, or dismissing their casual pot use as a teenage fad. None of that is going to help your child.

If you suspect your teen may be involved in drugs or alcohol, don’t wait. Find a way to get them tested. There are over the counter drug tests at your local pharmacy. An instant and inexpensive home urine test will determine what drugs have been used, if any, in the past 30 days.  Or, with a few hair follicles from a comb or brush, you can discretely test your child for drug use. The hair follicle test can discover drugs used in the past 90 days.

Some Important and Startling Facts

  • The average age for kids to begin experimenting with illegal substances is age 13.
  • 60% of youngsters who use marijuana before age 15, go on to use cocaine.
  • Marijuana users are 85 times more likely to use cocaine than their non-marijuana smoking peers.
  • The potency of marijuana (THC) levels today is 15-20 times stronger than in the 1970’s.

Concerning a Parent’s Responsibility Did You Know:

  • Most medical insurance policies have a clause that allows them to not pay a medical claim “if there is an illegal substance in the system, or an illegal act is being performed at the time of the loss.” Parents can be held legally responsible for those medical bills.
  • If a child brings any amount of a controlled substance into their parent’s home or auto, the parent could have that home or auto seized, regardless of having no knowledge of their child’s behavior.
  • Average cost of drug rehabilitation is more than $20,000 a month, with few medical insurers paying anything on such a claim.

Parents of drug or alcohol using teenagers often feel intimidated, and face a lot of frustration. They face heartbreaking days ahead if their teenager is caught in the web of addiction. The key is to catch drug use and put a stop to it before it turns to addiction.

As always, we’re here to help. Call our Helpline at 866-700-3264 or visit our Family Crisis Coaching web page for more information.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, national radio host, and the founder of the Heartlight Residential Counseling Center for Struggling Teens. More teen parenting articles and online audio resources can be found at

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.