Drugs, Alcohol & Substance Abuse​

Substance Abuse Problem

How to know when it's a problem

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Substance abuse is a severe and dangerous issue many face, either themselves or through a loved one. Some may seek counseling for their substance addiction, however, because the use of drugs and alcohol are often the most intricate attachment with ones self. This makes it very difficult for many to seek help when they need it most.  

Upwards of 90% of Americans have some sort of experience with alcohol and recent statistics show that as many as 9.4% of men and 5.2% of women have or had an official substance abuse disorder. According to the National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse, 25% of Americans who first smoked, used drugs or drank before adulthood now have a substance abuse problem. Therefore, it’s not uncommon for this to begin as a teen and grow worse with age. This is because your body gets less skilled at tolerating the substances that are addictive, compounding into a more negative effect. 

So what should you be looking out for? What are the  behaviors that may be displayed by someone who is addicted to drugs, alcohol or other substances?

The most common substance abuse signs are:​

  • Feeling that you need to use the substance daily or even multiple times a day
  • Using the substance to avoid thinking or dealing with certain thoughts, feelings and emotions
  • Eventually building a tolerance to the substance whereas you need to consume more each time to achieve the intended outcome
  • Avoiding situations where you find yourself without the substance on hand
  • Using money on the substance even when the money should or need to be used for something else, ex: rent, food, vehicle etc.
  • Avoiding social situations or family gatherings
  • Missing work or other expected obligations
  • Engaging in risky behaviors that when sober you would not normally do
  • Acknowledging the detrimental effects the substance has on your life but not being able to stop

What are the early warning signs a teen may be abusing substances?​

You may be noticing your teen seems off, or is exhibiting mood swings and you’re concerned about what this means. In most cases it’s not a cause for alarm, it’s usually just a normal cycle of growing up. All of us struggle trying to navigate lifes challenges, this is especially difficult for children and teens that don’t have the experiences we do to help them. Factoring in all those changing hormones, it’s entirely normal for your child to be a little off. It’s important to remember, none of us are perfect and your child is most likely just trying to come into their own. Given the nature of our demanding society it compounds things a bit more. For many children and teens, not only is there pressure from we parents, they may be feeling pressure from work at a job, their coaches, teachers and most of all, their peers. 

Pay attention to the signs

Where you will want to pay attention, though, is if your son, daughter, granddaughter or grandson is not only experiencing these common mood swings, but having changes in their behaviors and appearances as well. It’s important parents that you trust your instincts only you now your child best. If you are questioning your child’s well being, you likely have valid reason. At this point it’s helpful to know some of the most common signs that your teen could be abusing drugs, alcohol or medications. 

Be alert for sudden changes in grades, increased absences from school or a drop in their athletic performance. Also take attention to appetite changes, fatigue and insomnia.  Pay attention to the friends they keep, if they start spending time with new “friends” that could be cause for concern. If you have reason to suspect your teen is abusing drugs, alcohol or medications, it is important to take immediate action. It’s not always easy to confront a teenager about a risky behavior such as this but you must be honest and direct in your approach. Reach out to family and friends for support if needed. There are also many resources available to help teens who have gotten themselves into dangerous situations with drugs.

Indicators your teen is abusing Drugs, Alcohol or Medications​

  • Losing interests in activities they once cherished. Like sports, music, dancing, acedemics and so forth.
  • Changing up their friends for a new group of friends.
  • Isolating from others / ruining relationships with friends and family.  – be very cautious of who they are hanging out with and why.
  • Acting quite despondent, aggressive or angry.
  • Locking their bedroom door or making secretive calls.
  • Stealing or frequently asking for money.
  • Missing school or work and having slipping grades.
  • Acting irresponsibly or avoiding curfews.
  • Breaking rules with little regard and respect.
  • Big changes in their overall mood.
  • Poor hygiene.
  • Sleeping far more than they normally do. Perhaps they are extremely tired or extremely hyperactive.
  • Big changes in their physique such as sudden weight loss. Bloodshot or watery eyes, shakes, tremors or frequent nosebleeds.
  • Wears long sleeves in warm weather. Track marks on arms or legs.
  • Pupils larger or smaller than usual.
  • Difficulty staying on task / focused.
  • Sores on mouth or face.

Some additional factors that heighten the risks for addiction have been scientifically concluded as the acronym “FACTS”. Standing for Family History, Age of first use, Cravings, Tolerance and Surroundings. 

The risk of addiction can be heightened depending on the person’s FACTS profile. With a family history of alcohol or drug dependence, the individual is more likely to become addicted themselves if they engage in substance use. The earlier the age at which someone begins using substances, the greater their chances of becoming dependent on them.


When someone’s biological family such as their parents or siblings have a history of substance abuse, they are predisposed addiction. That person especially when younger will be statistically at greater risk of developing a disorder than an adolescent that did not have a family history.


The younger a person is when they first start using alcohol, drugs, or other substances, the more likely they are to develop addictions.

Cravings | Tolerance 

Tolerance goes hand in hand with cravings, as the more you frequently use something the more your body considers it to be normal. This leads to more cravings and the start of a very dangerous cycle as your body will require more and more to produce the desired effect.  Since adolescents have such developing minds and bodies, the physical cravings and tolerance cycle becomes very steep leading to a much faster addiction and scarier outcome.


This usually is something very easy to detect from the outside. Being exposed to drug and alcohol abuse through a family or peer group normalizes it’s use. The more you are in these surroundings, the more susceptible you become to trying something for the first time or continually.

What are some of the common myths about drug, alcohol and substance abuse?​

Remember even casual or experimental drug and alcohol use can spiral out of control if it’s ignored. Never assure yourself it’s just something your loved one is “experimenting with” or “just a phase”. Do not avoid having an open and honest discussion about this. This is something always best addressed head on and early as it’s far easier to turn around this behavior. When the situation escalates or perhaps an emergency situation occurs it may be to late. You can never intervene to soon and you should never be afraid to ask for a professional counselors help on this! 

Don’t fall for some of the common myths and stereotypes as it regards to substance abuse. 

  • If you are an addict you have no will power and are a weak person
  • Prescribed drugs are all safe drugs because it is given by a doctor
  • Marijuana and vaping are not addictive It is only a problem if they are “hard” drugs like cocaine and heroin
  • Addicts fit a stereotype like a certain group of people.
  • A person needs to hit rock bottom before recovery can start
  • Getting addicted was your choice. Remember no one sets out with the intention to become an addict.
  •  If you have a stable job and family life, you can’t be suffering from addiction within the family.
  • Going to treatment fixes the problem.
  • If you relapse you’re a lost cause
  • Addiction is treated behaviourally so it’s a behavioural problem.

You are not alone!

It’s important to remember, you are never alone. If you need immediate assistance, don’t hesitate to call 911.

Learn more about Northstar Counseling & Therapy and how we can help treat substance abuse problems.

There are many benefits to receiving therapy for substance abuse disorders.  What can be expected is addressing any underlying mental health issues, improving negative behaviors, and working toward healthy relationships and support system.  Lastly a key component to therapy is reducing the risk of relapse in the future with an individualized relapse prevention plan, specifically identifying triggers to the behavior and then a plan for each. Substance abuse treatment really does work, if you are struggling currently with an addiction, a rehab center may benefit you! Many states offer programs, it’s best to check locally what is available for you. Megan Corrieri, has extensive history working with addicts of all kinds. If you have any questions, please schedule a free consultation with her.


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Megan Corrieri

Megan Corrieri

Owner, Clinician, Wife & Mom

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