Substance Use Disorder in Adolescence

The teenage years of life tend to be some of the most stressful years. Between lowered inhibitions, peer pressure, bullying, and social structures, teenagers are at an extremely high risk of forming a substance abuse disorder. Substance abuse disorder in adolescence can affect much more than just their grades and showing a poor attitude at home—it can extend to a lifetime of health and behavioral problems. Knowing the risks and signs can help save your child from forming a life-long struggle with addiction.

Fast Facts about Substance Use Disorder in Adolescence

Here is information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about substance abuse disorder in adolescence:

  • Alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana are substances most commonly used by adolescents.
  • By 12th grade, about two-thirds of students have tried alcohol.
  • About half of high school-aged students reported using marijuana.
  • About 4 in 10 high school-aged students reported having tried cigarettes.
  • Among 12th graders, around two out of 10 reported using prescription medicine without a prescription.
  • About one-tenth of all alcohol consumed in the United States is by adolescents between the ages of 12 to 20 years old.

Risks of Substance Use Disorder in Adolescence

There are many risks that stem from substance abuse disorder in adolescence. Not only are there immediate health risks from drug and alcohol use, but there are also long-term health and behavioral problems that could arise.

Ways that drugs and alcohol impact the brain include:

  • Damaging the connections within the brain by interfering with neurotransmitters
  • Memory issues caused by this interference
  • Teaching the brain unhealthy coping mechanisms and unhealthy habits
  • Inability to perceive things correctly or problem-solve complex issues

Health Risks of Teens with Substance Use Disorder

Substance use disorder in adolescence poses many health risks, some that can last a lifetime. Examples of health risks due to substance use disorder at a young age include:

  • Experiencing violence, assault, sexual assault or another type of trauma
  • Sexually transmitted disease or unwanted pregnancy
  • Delayed puberty
  • Low bone mineral density
  • Higher levels of liver enzymes that can lead to liver damage
  • Reduced growth, including shorter limbs
  • Heart problems
  • Overdose
  • Death and suicide

Behavioral Risks of Teens with Substance Use Disorder

During the teenage years, the brain is still forming important cognitive functions. When heavy drug and alcohol use interferes with this process, it can slow it down or bring it to a complete stop. This causes long-term behavioral issues, as the brain was never able to fully form to an adult level.

Some long-term behavioral risks associated with substance abuse disorder in adolescence include:

  • Increased risk of mood, anxiety, psychotic and other mental health disorders
  • Inability to problem-solve
  • Impaired emotional development
  • Difficulty recalling memories, people or events
  • Lack of motivation
  • Lowered inhibitions and increases in risky behaviors
  • Anger issues
  • Educational impairment, sometimes resulting in not getting into college or negatively impacting a career path
  • Inability to form relationships, trust, and bonds with others

Signs of Substance Abuse Disorder in Adolescence

If you are worried that your teenager might be experiencing a substance use disorder, keep an eye out for these signs and symptoms:

  • Losing interest in activities, sports or hobbies they once enjoyed
  • Adopting a new social circle and dropping old, long-time friends
  • Exhibiting aggressive behavior or increased anger
  • Increased anger
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Breaking rules in the home or at school
  • Ignoring discipline
  • Bringing home poor grades, getting into detention frequently, being suspended, ditching class or getting expelled
  • Hearing from others who express concern
  • Stealing
  • Frequently asking for money
  • Locking their bedroom door
  • Sneaking out of the house
  • Acting secretive on the phone or with friends
  • Isolating from the family and no longer attending important events or leaving early
  • Lying about whereabouts

Physical Signs of Drug or Alcohol Use in Teenagers

In addition to behavioral symptoms of substance abuse, here are physical indicators that your teenager is using drugs or alcohol:

  • Marked weight loss
  • Frequent runny nose and/or nosebleeds
  • Bloodshot or watery eyes
  • Heightened anxiety and fidgeting
  • Track marks on arms or legs, or wearing long sleeves at inappropriate times or weather
  • Scabs on face or body from picking
  • Poor hygiene
  • Face is puffy, swollen, red, or sunken in
  • Smell of alcohol or drugs

Intervene When Your Teenager Has a Substance Use Disorder

Substance abuse disorder in adolescence puts young people at a high risk of experiencing lifelong health and behavioral issues. Luckily, the quicker you are able to intervene and get help, the more likely your teenager will be able to recover from alcohol and drug abuse. Cliffside Malibu and other reputable recovery centers have numerous treatments and levels of care in case you need to turn to professional resources.

About Cliffside Malibu

Since no two addictions are the same, Cliffside Malibu offers an individualized treatment plan for every client. We are committed to providing evidence-based treatment through a continuum of care model including medically supervised detox, residential treatment, day treatment, and outpatient services. Our program also includes family therapy and holistic therapy. Whether an individual is experiencing struggles with substance abuse and/or alcohol addiction, our programs are structured to create a supportive environment where healing can begin.

In addition to world-class treatment, Cliffside Malibu offers luxury accommodations, a serene environment, five-star dining, and plentiful amenities. We understand that addiction treatment is a rigorous process. Therefore, we provide for your comfort and relaxation at every turn, allowing you to rejuvenate, and meet the demands of treatment with your greatest energy and attention.

Get more information about Cliffside Malibu, visit