Drugs and Teens

Cary Quashen, a certified addiction specialist, has dedicated the past 20 years of his life to helping troubled teens and dysfunctional families. He’s the president and CEO of Action Family Counseling, Inc. and offers the following advice about teens and drugs.

During adolescence, drug experimentation often becomes part of what might otherwise be a normal developmental process. However, it is difficult—sometimes impossible—to determine where normal developmental behavior stops and chemical dependency begins. The addictive properties of some drugs can take teen experimentation to a level no one expected or intended.

Cary Quashen's List of Warning Signs

Early Teen Characteristics:

• Experiences extreme emotions
• Asserts self as an adult
• Shifts from mature to childish behavior
• Is concerned about appearance to others
• Searches for self-understanding
• Is often happy and outgoing
• Relates successfully to adults and peers
• Is often sensitive
• Likes developing own ideas

• Has worries rather than fears

Later Teen Characteristics:

• Displays a somber, quiet demeanor
• Establishes own beliefs
• Develops own stand on issues
• Is relatively uncommunicative
• Resents infringement on freedom
• Divorces self from family activities
• Has group friendships
• Is in the first stage of real independence
• Has increased sexual activities
• Is more independent from parents

Now What?

If you suspect your child is using drugs, Dr. Phil has resources that you may find helpful. Brandon, a former addict reveals how he kept his addiction a secret and offers tips on what parents should look for they suspect their child is using drugs. MORE...

Some normal teen traits are difficult to live with and may be hard to distinguish from indicators of drug or alcohol abuse. Troubled or dangerous use includes use of drugs and alcohol to feel accepted by others, alleviate uncomfortable feelings (which may be related to the characteristics listed above, or related to depression or other psychiatric disorders), or to make oneself feel good or less inhibited.


• Becomes more egocentric and self-involved
• Anticipates consequences of actions
• Respects “fairness”; can detect logical inconsistency
• Is preoccupied with own thoughts
• Is somewhat withdrawn and isolated
• Is moody
• Has intensified feelings
• Debates and argues for the sake of argument
• Questions adult decisions and authority
• Changes previously held values

• Questions values and family rituals

Chemically Dependent:

• Cannot see the reality of his or her own condition
• Confuses “what I am” and “what I do” and sees the drug as “me”
• Blames others for his or her own feelings
• Identifies as a “druggie;” is obsessed with drugs and drug-using activities
• Is socially withdrawn
• Becomes excessively moody due to chemical use
• Has inflated sense of his or her importance
• Feels indifferent to criticism
• Debates and argues with authority figures
• Rejects previously held values and authority
• Rejects previously respected authority figures
• Remembers selected information