Skip to main content

Health library

Teen substance abuse assessment

Reviewed 10/5/2023

Teen substance abuse assessment

Are you concerned that your teen is using drugs or alcohol? Answering the following questions can help you learn more about the signs of substance abuse.

Note: This assessment is not intended to be a substitute for a visit with your healthcare provider.

Has your teen's attitude toward school changed? For example, are his or her grades falling? Did he or she quit playing sports or start skipping classes?

If you answered "yes." Substance abuse is almost always accompanied by a drop in motivation. Teens may lose interest in hobbies or sports that were once important to them, or they may skip classes so they can get drunk or high. However, any of these things could instead be signs of less-threatening teenage rebellion.

Has your teen suddenly started using eye drops, breath fresheners or air fresheners?

If you answered "yes." Red eyes, bad breath and smoky odors can be signs of substance abuse. Your teen might be using these products to mask his or her activities. Air fresheners and breath mints could be used for many reasons, of course.

Have prescription pills, money or valuable items gone missing in your house?

If you answered "yes." More than 15% of teens have abused or misused a prescription drug in his or her lifetime. If you notice missing pills or valuables, take the opportunity to talk with your teen. Storing your prescription drugs in a secure place can help stop others from misusing them.

Has your teen's appearance changed for the worse?

If you answered "yes." Substance abuse can cause changes in looks, including poor hygiene or a messy appearance. Red marks or open sores on arms or legs can be signs of intravenous drug use. (Long sleeves can cover these.) Burns and soot on fingers or lips—caused by joints—can also indicate drug use.

Have you noticed abrupt changes in your teen's behavior?

If you answered "yes." Abnormal giddiness, hostility, lack of focus and loss of inhibitions all can be signs that your teen is using drugs or alcohol. Exhaustion can be due to a hangover or cocaine use—or amphetamines or pain relievers. Some drugs can cause periods of abnormally high energy that require long periods of sleep for recovery.


Each question to which you answered "yes" is one sign of substance abuse. You might want to talk to your teen—and his or her doctor—about each of these signs.

If you answered "no" to each question, your teen doesn't appear to be showing signs of a substance abuse problem. Still, it is important to keep an eye on changes in your child's behavior and appearance that could indicate a pattern of drug and alcohol abuse.


Related stories