If you’ve noticed changes or behaviors in your child, don’t be afraid to err on the side of caution. Prepare to take action. Start a conversation during which you can ask direct questions like, “Have you been drinking or using drugs?” While no parent wants to hear “yes,” being prepared for how you would respond can be the starting point for a more positive outcome.

Of course, not every child is inclined to confess. A “no” could also mean they’re in need of help for other reasons, including a mental health issue. In either case if you notice warning signs, experts strongly recommend that you consider getting a professional assessment with your child’s primary care doctor or a clinical psychologist to find out what’s going on. Here are some things to look for.

Behavioral changes

Pay attention to your child’s behavior and anything out of the ordinary. Behavioral changes such as changed relationships with family or friends, increased secrecy such as avoiding eye contact, locked doors, and secretive phone calls as well as odd physical behavior like a suddenly large appetite or erratic sleeping periods can all be cause for concern.

Mood and personality shifts

Does your child seem to be not themselves? Sudden mood swings, hostility, unusual elation, deceitfulness and hyperactivity that seem to come from nowhere could indicate substance abuse.

Hygiene and appearance problems

Sometimes a change in physical appearance or cleanliness could indicate an issue. Pay careful attention if they suddenly seem to be skipping showers or smell like smoke. Some signs could be less obvious, like strange burns on the lips, or hidden marks on arms.

Health issues

Does your child seem to be suffering from health issues without a specific cause? They may appear lethargic and unusually tired or be suffering from more serious physical symptoms such as nosebleeds, seizures or sudden dramatic changes in weight.  

School and work concerns

A lack of interest or motivation in normal activities could be a sign that something is not right with your child. Substance abuse can have serious detrimental effects on your teen’s schoolwork, including a sudden loss of interest in activities or schoolwork. Pay attention to complaints from teachers or reports of intoxication at school or work as well.

At home and in the car

Pay attention to the objects in your home. Do you notice anything unusual or anything missing? If you notice missing prescription pills, alcohol, cigarettes, or money, it could be time for a conversation with your child. You may also notice unusual packages arriving in the mail, or paraphernalia around the house.