How to Spot Drug & Alcohol Use

5 Ways to Find Out if Your Child is Using Drugs or Alcohol

Think your teen has been using drugs or drinking? Here are 5 ways to find out if your hunch is right. And remember: Even if you can't find evidence, it's important for parents to always trust your gut -- and take action by talking with your child and seeking help if necessary.

  1. Use Your Nose. Have a real, face-to-face conversation your teenager comes home from a night out with friends, If your child has been drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, or smoking marijuana, the smell will be on his breath, his clothing and his hair.
  2. Take a Closer Look. When your teenager gets back from going out with her friends, take a close look. Pay attention to her eyes (her eyes will be red and heavy lidded, with constricted pupils if she's been smoking marijuana); her pupils will be dilated, and she may have difficulty focusing on you, if she's been drinking. In addition, if she has red, flushed color to the face and cheeks she may have been drinking.
  3. Watch for Mood Changes. How is your teen acting after a night out with friends? Is he loud and obnoxious, or laughing hysterically at nothing? Is he unusually clumsy to the point where he's stumbling into furniture and walls, tripping over his own feet and knocking things over? Is he sullen, withdrawn, and unusually tired and slack-eyed for the hour of night? Does he look queasy and stumble into the bathroom? These are all signs that he could have just been using some kind of illegal substance: alcohol, marijuana, or something else.
  1. Monitor Driving and the Car. If you suspect your teenager has been using illicit substances recently, see if the car has any clues to offer. Is her driving is more reckless when she's coming home after being with her friends? Is there a new dent in the front of the car and she claims she knows nothing about it. If you're suspicious, examine the inside of the car too; Does it smell like marijuana smoke or alcohol fumes? Are there any bottles, pipes, bongs, or other drug paraphernalia rolling around on the floor or hidden in the glove box? If you find anything, challenge her on it immediately: be forthright, and tell her exactly what you've discovered and why you're concerned.
  2. Keep an eye out for deceit or secretiveness. Are her weekend plans starting to sound a little fishy? Is she being vague about where she's going? Can she describe the movie she supposedly just saw? She says that parents will be at the parties she's going to but can't give you a phone number, and comes home acting intoxicated. She gets in way past her curfew or estimated time, and she's got a seemingly endless string of excuses to justify her behavior. When excuses fail, she'll respond to your inquiries and concern by telling you that it's none of your business. Something is wrong, and you need to figure out what she's really up to.

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