Signs and Symptoms of Adolescent Chemical Dependency

adolescent-resourcesAddressing a teen’s struggle with substance abuse means understanding the emotional, developmental, physical, psychological, familial, social and cultural factors involved in their addiction.

If you are concerned about a change in a young person close to you, it is important to know the signs and symptoms of adolescent substance abuse to determine if they need treatment.

When trying to determine if an individual is addicted to alcohol or drugs, addiction counselors and other mental health professionals generally look for a pattern of the following:

  • Negative consequences of alcohol/drug use
  • An inability to quit or control alcohol/drug use
  • A pattern of increased amounts and/or frequency of use

There is no single item that makes a person an alcoholic or drug-addicted. It is a combination of areas that help a counselor to determine if someone meets the diagnostic criteria for alcohol or drug dependence. (Alcohol dependence and drug dependence are just different ways of saying someone is an alcoholic or addicted.)



  • Unexplained extreme mood swings
  • Tired and noticeable change in sleep patterns
  • Dilated pupils and bloodshot eyes
  • Loss of appetite, yet periods of binge eating
  • Changes in dress or appearance
  • Threats/attempts of suicide


  • Tells lies to parents
  • Ignores curfews and other house rules
  • Isolates from family members and is rarely home
  • Collects alcohol and other drug paraphernalia


  • Misses excessive time from school
  • Fails to turn in assignments
  • Sleeps in class
  • Exhibits persistent behavioral problems
  • Reduced grades
  • Increased tardiness
  • Reduced interest in extracurricular activities


  • Changes in friends including secret calls and visits
  • Avoids contact with concerned persons
  • Loses interest in hobbies/activities
  • Becomes secretive and defensive regarding actions and possessions


  • Steals money or objects from family and friends
  • Develops unexplained shortages of money
  • Loss of possessions
  • Increased amounts of alcohol missing in home


  • Runs away from home
  • Increased involvement with police, such as having parties/social functions broken up by the police
  • Arrested for alcohol or other drug related charges