Signs of teen drug and alcohol use can be hidden in plain sight. Recognizing the physical signs of teen substance abuse is crucial to providing the help that your teenager needs to live a happy, healthy and substance-free life.

Raising a teenager is hard work, and the accessibility of alcohol, tobacco and drugs makes it much harder.

It can be very difficult to recognize the signs of drug use in teens, especially in your own child. A national survey conducted by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids has indicated that, while only 14% of parents acknowledge the possibility that their teen has tried marijuana, 42% of teens polled admitted to having smoked marijuana. These findings demonstrate there is a wide gap in parents recognizing teen drug use.

Simply taking a walk through your teenager’s bedroom and looking for physical signs of drug use besides overt drug paraphernalia can be eye-opening. Signs of drug use can be hidden in plain sight. Understanding common clues that might indicate your teen is abusing drugs or alcohol is a crucial step in providing appropriate intervention and support for your child.


Bloodstains are often regarded as a potential clue of drug usage. While bloodstains and blood droplets would be alarming to any parent, many times they can easily be explained away as coming from a nose bleed or common accident. However, a seemingly innocent blood stain could actually be an indicator of teen heroin or crystal meth use.

Injecting drugs requires other supplies such as syringes, spoons and other drug paraphernalia, but these are typically hidden away. Your teen may not realize they are leaving blood stains or droplets on their clothes, bedding or carpet. Frequent bloodstains may potentially be an indicator that your teenager is struggling with drug abuse.

Excess of Air Fresheners

Air fresheners, incense or dryer sheets are commonly used ways to cover up the smell of weed; an excess of these items could indicate marijuana use in teens. While these may be items that would be common on any grocery list, it is important to know that they can also be used to conceal the smell of marijuana. If you notice an abundance of air fresheners, dryer sheets or incense products in your teen’s bedroom it might be smart to further investigate for signs of marijuana use.

Pro-Drug Decor and Merchandise

There is a sizable retail market that caters to the youth and drug culture. Common examples of this merchandise includes posters, t-shirts, hats, stickers and other items. The date April 20th has become designated as the “counterculture” holiday to celebrate the use of marijuana and 420, 4:20 and 4/20 are commonly used as code for marijuana or a time to get high. If you see some usage of this number – for example, on a lock combination or password – it may be a red flag.

Other pro-marijuana sayings and slang terms for THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) include dab city, hash oil, honey oil, wax, 710, budder or shatter. Be sure to be vigilant with your teenager’s choices of clothing and room or locker decor as incorporating this slang could be a subtle sign your teenager is using drugs.

Eye Drops

Bloodshot or watery eyes in your teenager could be caused by fatigue or allergies, but they can also be a sign of teen alcohol abuse or teen marijuana use. Kids smoking weed or abusing alcohol commonly use eye drops to hide the effect of bloodshot or watery eyes caused by excess drinking and marijuana use.

If your teenager is using eye drops for drug use, they are possibly resorting to devious and dangerous methods of using alcohol or drugs which could include driving while under the influence.

Excess Candy

While having a sweet tooth is not typically thought of as an indicator of drug abuse, candy is commonly used for a number of purposes by users of drugs.

Sometimes users will hide ecstasy pills or other drugs that look like candy among similarly colorful candy in order to conceal them. Gummy items, like gummy bears, can be soaked in alcohol and then eaten. Also, one of the side effects of molly or ecstasy is that it causes users to tightly clench their jaw. Lollipops and jawbreakers are commonly used to alleviate this effect. Also, hard candies are sometimes used to add color and taste in a popular concoction called “Purple Drank” which is a slang term for a mixture of cold medication, soda and ice.

With the increasing availability of marijuana edibles, it is important for parents to be aware of the possible dangers associated with the effects of edible drugs. Most of the time, edible drugs have a slower onset of action because they must be digested in order to release the effects of the drug. Teens will often become impatient and consume too much, resulting in an overdose of the edible drug. Candies, lollipops and baked goods are just some of the examples of the edible drug products available.

It is important for parents to be vigilant and knowledgeable and to maintain an open dialogue with their teenagers. Teenagers have access to a wealth of information and products online so it is important for parents to keep current with teen drug abuse trends.

If you suspect that your teenager is struggling with alcohol or drug abuse, your first step should be to reach out to a professional. Advice from your child’s doctor, a guidance counselor, or one of the addiction specialists at The Recovery Village, can help you assess the situation and determine any next steps that should be taken.

If you suspect your child is abusing drugs or alcohol, it is important to trust your instincts, closely monitor your child’s activities and understand that privacy does not become the priority over ensuring your child’s safety. It can be helpful to talk to your child’s pediatrician or reach out to a trained professional when determining how to move forward in addressing drug abuse with your teenager.

Help is always available and if you think your teen needs help, call The Recovery Village to speak with a representative about a personalized and comprehensive treatment plan that best meets the needs of your child.

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Editor – Renee Deveney
As a contributor for Advanced Recovery Systems, Renee Deveney is passionate about helping people struggling with substance use disorder. With a family history of addiction, Renee is committed to opening up a proactive dialogue about substance use and mental health. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Kathleen Oroho Linskey, PharmD
Kathleen is a licensed pharmacist in New Jersey. She earned her Doctorate of Pharmacy from Rutgers University. Read more
Sources “Drug Abuse Prevention Starts with Parents.” (n.d.) Accessed August 2, 2019. “Intervention Strategies for Concerned Parents.” (n.d.) Accessed August 2, 2019.

Omni Youth Programs. “A Parent Guide to Drug Paraphernalia & Physical Evidence of Teen Drug Use.” (n.d.) Accessed August 2, 2019. “Hidden in Plain Sight.” (n.d.) Accessed August 2, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.