There can be many warning signs for substance use — and while it’s good to look out for them, one or even multiple warning signs don’t necessarily mean a teen is using harmful substances. 

Noticing changes in a teen’s behavior should prompt you to start a conversation, though. Signs that the teen in your life might need help:

Father and son work together in a wood shop.

They have lost interest in hobbies

Keep an eye out for your teen to suddenly drop interest in activities. For instance, if you have a student who is really involved in activities inside or outside of school, like playing a specific sport, participating in school theater, gaming with friends, or participating in a community faith group, and you see that they start losing interest or pull away from that core activity.

They are acting differently

Teens go through natural emotional changes, so it’s important to be aware and take note of changes in their behaviors and habits that are out of the norm. You might notice changes in their mood, personality, physical appearance, or being more secretive. 

When you notice changes, it’s important to start a conversation with your teen. 

According to child mental health expert Camille Harding, LPC, “Noticing something about your teen and talking with them about it is a really effective strategy. ‘I’m noticing that you’re sleeping a lot.’ ‘I notice that you spent a lot of time in your room.’ ‘I’m noticing that you’re not doing the sort of activities that you normally like to do.’ Being curious and noticing how their behavior may have changed is a great way to start the conversation.” 

Mom and Preteen Daughter Have a Serious Conversation

Their social habits change suddenly

A common concern among involved adults is that their teen “falls in with the wrong crowd.” While it’s natural, and even desirable, for teens to make new friends and change up their friend group, an abrupt change in their social circle is something to tune into.

You should also ask questions if you notice them acting differently with family members. Changes worth asking about might be sudden decisions to not join family meals, avoiding eye contact, or avoiding conversation.

Changes in your teen’s habits and behavior can be caused by various factors, and there’s no single sign that a teen is using harmful substances. When you notice changes, start a conversation with your teen at a time when you are both calm and present. You may find your teen is going through a very natural shift in interests or friend groups — or that they are trying to cope with mental health challenges or social pressures. If you’re concerned about changes to your teen’s behavior, here are some resources to help guide you both.

Navigating the topic of substance use with teens can be challenging. Click here to find Colorado organizations and resources that can help with substance use counseling, treatment and support.

Click here to learn about how to talk with your teen about substance use.

Click here to learn how you can support young people to cope with negative emotions - without turning to substance use.