Girl holding several d... Girl holding several d...

Does Your Child Have a Substance Abuse Problem?

Girl holding several different pills in her handSubstance abuse is a serious problem in the United States. A survey done by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2009 found that 23.5 million people abused alcohol or drugs. Addiction can lead to ruined lives, legal issues, job loss, financial ruin, serious health problems, cognitive impairment, destroyed relationships, even death.

People tend to start drinking or using drugs for various reasons. Some may seek to self-medicate due to feeling isolated, depressed, or anxious. Others may use substances to relieve pain, escape from problems, attain ecstatic states, or feel more socially or spiritually connected. Adolescents often experiment with drugs because of peer pressure or wanting to fit in.

Mood-altering substances have been used since the beginning of time and continue to be used in certain parts of the world for spiritual ceremonies. Individuals have employed them to try to attain mystical insight and altered states of consciousness. Within this context, substances tend to be abused less, but in many other environments, they often destroy or devastate the lives of those who abuse them, as well as those of their families and loved ones.

Because addiction can cause so much suffering, prevention is critical in order to avoid problems to begin with. As early as possible, parents need to try to educate their children about the serious potential consequences of drinking and abusing drugs. There are many helpful videos available online that parents can use to show their children some of the harmful effects associated with substance use.

In addition, parents need to be on the lookout for any warning signs that their child may have started drinking or using drugs. Some of the red flags that should be taken seriously include:

  1. Unusual behavior. If your child has started acting in ways that are out of the ordinary, this could indicate there might be a problem. Some substances, for example, can cause an increase in aggression; others might cause agitation or lethargy. Any changes in normal behavior should be explored with your child.
  2. Physical signs. If you suspect your child may be drinking or using drugs, be on the lookout for signs that might indicate this, such as red eyes, dilated pupils, slurred speech, unsteady gait, or appetite changes.
  3. Lower grades. Becoming involved with substance use may affect your child’s grades at school, so this should be a warning sign as well. If your child appears to be struggling academically, try talking to them to find out if they may be experiencing any problems you are not aware of, such as bullying, relationship issues, or feeling socially isolated.
  4. Changes in mood. If your child appears to be struggling with depression, anxiety, or feelings of inadequacy, they may be more prone to use substances as an unhealthy way to try to cope with their feelings.
  5. Family use of substances. Children are much more likely to use substances if someone else in the family has a drinking or substance abuse issue. Alcohol and/or drugs tend to be more accessible when used by another member of the family and may be seen by the child as an acceptable way of dealing with problems.

If you discover that your child has a substance abuse problem, obtaining treatment as early as possible is extremely important. Treatment recommendations include individual therapy, as well as family therapy (which can be helpful to learn to understand the addiction and to repair any damages to relationships that may have occurred). Attending a 12-step meeting, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, can also be beneficial for ongoing support with sobriety. For some types of addiction, medical detoxification in a hospital setting may be needed prior to seeking out other forms of treatment.

Substance abuse can be a serious issue, which can have devastating effects on the individual as well as on their families and loved ones. Taking steps to try to prevent people from becoming addicted, as well as treating those who have already developed an issue, are both extremely important in order to work toward stopping the damage that can be caused from substance abuse.


National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Treatment Statistics. Retrieved from

© Copyright 2016 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Wendy Salazar, MFT, Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Hilda

    March 28th, 2016 at 8:25 AM

    I wonder how often parents will chalk all of the unusual behavior up to fact that they are just being teens and it is really not all that serious. I am not a parent so I haven’t been in that situation but I think that if I were I would probably be one of those who would just try to wait it out and think that they are just being like other teenagers. I know that this would be the wrong thing but there comes a time I am sure in parenting where you think that you don’t want to step on their toes and just try to give them a little freedom.

  • judith

    March 28th, 2016 at 3:09 PM

    I wish that I had not buried my head in the sand and pretended that everything was okay with Chad when clearly it wasn’t.
    Everyone tried to tell me that they thought he was too young to be drinking like that but I always just thought that it was a little here or there, just to let off a little steam of a rough day.
    I had no idea and I guess I chose not to see the depth of his problem until it was too late.

  • Markie

    March 28th, 2016 at 4:47 PM

    There are so many programs and resources now available for substance abusers. All they have to do is look not even quite so hard and there is help to be found. The problem is that most of them are not yet ready to admit that they have a problem and that it is one that will require them to ask for help. And until they are ready to do that, then you can only shake your head at the sadness.

  • Agnes

    March 29th, 2016 at 10:48 AM

    I would keep a very close eye on the other people that they are hanging out with. Usually this is where they start to be influenced, by the kids that they are around all the time. I would not have a problem at all if I thought that these kids were going to cause trouble to tell mine that they are no longer going to be able to hang out with them. This might be harsh, but we have to look out for our children especially if they are prone to being a follower. And you can always see that in your child if this is their truth.

  • shaun

    March 29th, 2016 at 3:55 PM

    This is one thing that you never want to mess aorund with.
    If you believe that they have a problem with substance abuse then by all means you have to confront them and find out the truth. It might be hard to come face to face with, but the sooner you help them get help them the better their chances will be to overcome this.

  • Tonia

    March 30th, 2016 at 4:04 PM

    I don’t mean to seem self righteous but I think that I would just know if my kid had a problem like this. I am pretty in tune with them as people and I think that I would see pretty quickly if they had a problem.

    And if they did? well I wouldn’t just ignore it like I think that there is a tendency to do! This is serious business people, this is something that could kill them if left untreated and even then, you are still looking at years and years of hard work ahead.

    I just think that I know my children well enough to know and to see if they were using drugs.

  • maisie

    March 30th, 2016 at 6:05 PM

    look for those changes that could be your signal that there is something going on that you were not aware of before

  • Oscar

    March 31st, 2016 at 8:46 AM

    It is the most helpless feeling in the world to know that someone you love has a problem and that there is very little that you alone can do to fix it. This is one of those things that they can use your love and support, but addiction? They have to be ready to fight that battle on their own, because they will be the only ones who can make all of the necessary choices that have to be made to overcome addiction.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.