Skip to content

The Hidden Culprit of Teen Troubles

Whether or not you think it can happen in your Christian home, your teenager is most likely experimenting with drugs or alcohol.  I say that because you probably wouldn’t be reading this article unless you were already having problems with your teen.

It’s always surprising to me when parents ask for my help, and then list their teen’s issues, all pointing clearly to drug use:

“My son is truant, lies, steals, runs away, is disrespectful, deceitful, has anger issues, failing school, has the wrong friends, and seems to hate our family.”  Or, “My child has stolen my car, my wallet, my cell phone, left his relationship with God behind, is cutting, has depression, ADD, ODD, or seems to have identity issues. He is a great kid but has turned into someone we don’t recognize.”

Fact is, parents are facing a difficult battle of raising kids in a teen culture bent on experimenting with every possible drug.  In addition to alcohol and the common illegal drugs we all know about, teens today are learning from the Internet and from their peers about every other way to get high, including potent concoctions of common items and prescription drugs readily available in your home and even some of the plants found in your yard.  Though usually less addictive, some of these are even riskier to your teen’s health and mental stability than the better known street drugs!

What these parents don’t seem to realize is that hidden drug use may be the underlying reason they are seeing behavioral issues in their teen. In fact, unless the possibility of drug use is first ruled out, all the counseling help in the world will have no positive effect.  Your teen will continue to struggle with life for as long as they are taking drugs, and usually for many months thereafter.

Is drug use happening right under your nose? Possibly. No, it’s more like a real probability if you’ve seen drastic and unexplainable changes in a teen’s thinking, behavior, grades, or circle of friends. You may be fortunate and discover your teen is just in the early stages of experimentation, or you may be shocked to find they have been at it in secrecy for quite some time.  In either case, the key is to find out, for sure.

Any behavioral issue that remains unresolved, despite repeated attempts to address it with differing approaches is one indicator you may be dealing with a teen who is abusing drugs in one form or another.

A few other behavior signs of undetected drug abuse include:

Lying – not just once or twice, but chronically, especially if lying is new for your teen.

Breakdown in normal habits – drastic changes in sleep, appetite, the ability to complete schoolwork, loss of interest in things they once loved, extreme forgetfulness, and no longer keeping themselves clean.

Change in friends – they exchange healthy friendships for fierce loyalty to unhealthy relationships and friends you don’t even know. They may even run away, or disappear with their friends and you don’t know where they are for long stretches of time.

Stealing or sudden wealth – shoplifting, credit card abuse, things disappearing without explanation, joyriding, money or valuables missing. Or, you may see unexplained money, jewelry, new clothes, or new gadgets from the selling of drugs (even from selling your prescriptions).

Change in schedule – up all night, or up very late at night, sleeps for days, misses work, misses appointments, misses school repeatedly, wants to be on the phone late at night or regularly wants to stay overnight at a friend’s house.

Aggression, anger, mood swings, disrespect, and blaming – to an unreasonable degree, and directed against you and your family or other authorities.

And, look for homemade drug paraphernalia, like: pincers or paper clips for smoking, empty or disassembled pen cases for snorting, credit cards or razors for sniffing, empty aerosol cans for huffing, match piles and lighters, bags of unknown leafs, burnt spoons, homemade pot pipes, steel wool, hypodermic needle parts, unknown prescription bottles, unexplained empty cold remedy blister packs, empty alcohol cans or bottles, missing glues or solvents, or knives and spoons for crushing pills repeatedly show up in their room.

Do you want to know one of the main sources of drugs for teens today?  The evidence of your teen’s use can be seen in the dwindling supply of prescription meds you have in your medicine cabinet.  Some kids are even getting a buzz off of massive doses of certain vitamins, or they are consuming mega doses of vitamins, teas and herbs in attempt to mask their drug use in drug tests.

The problem lies not in recognizing how drugs might be affecting your child’s behavior. It’s easy to identify bad behavior and blame it on normal teenage emotions. The real dilemma comes from the parent not believing their child might be experimenting with or using drugs in the first place. It’s simply called denial.

You may not understand the reason your child has chosen drug use as their way to “cope” with some giant in their life, but that’s another matter altogether. And because it is inconceivable that your child would ever do such a thing, you may fail to consider it, discuss it with him or drug test him to find out.

Don’t stick your head in the sand and pretend that your teen knows better than to try drugs. If you are dealing with an out of control teen, and there have been no other traumatic events or psychological problems in your child’s life, you are probably dealing with drugs or alcohol in one form or another.  The sooner you know what you are dealing with, the better the chance you’ll have for finding the right kind of help for your child.

So, here’s the answer. If your teen is showing some of the signs I’ve already mentioned, I recommend that every few weeks, unannounced, you drug test your teen. Do it even when they squeal in protest and are disappointed that you don’t trust them. Easy to use home drug and alcohol test kits can be bought in almost any drug store.  And when you test them, stay in the room.  Don’t trust them to give you a valid sample.  If they are getting caught up in that culture, they’ll also know ways to get around the test and they’ll have no trouble lying to you about it.

Overall, they need to know you will do everything in your parental power to keep drugs from becoming a part of their history, even if it means putting them in a drug rehab program or even reporting them to the authorities and landing them in jail.

Better a few days in jail than a life in the grip of drugs.

If your teen is acting up, act now to drug and alcohol test them, not later. Every day you wait is possibly another step closer to your teen becoming a drug addict or alcoholic, or worse yet, overdosing and dying. Sadly, it happens every few minutes of every day to a family just like yours.



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.

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.