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Warning of Teenage Substance Abuse

    PHYSICAL: Fatigue, sleep problems, repeated health complaints, red and glazed eyes, and a lasting cough.

    EMOTIONAL: Personality change, sudden mood changes, irritability, irresponsible behavior, low self-esteem, poor judgment, depression, withdrawal, and a general lack of interest.

    FAMILY: Starting arguments, breaking rules, or withdrawing from the family.

    SCHOOL: Decreased interest, negative attitude, drop in grades, many absences, truancy, and discipline problems.

    SOCIAL/BEHAVIORAL: Peer group involved with drugs and alcohol, problems with the law, dramatic change is dress and appearance.

What are the early signs of risk that may predict later substance abuse? Some signs of risk can be seen as early as infancy or early childhood, such as aggressive behavior, lack of self-control or difficult temperament. As the child gets older, interactions with family, at school, and within the community can affect the child's risk for later substance abuse.

Children's earliest interactions occur in the family; sometimes family situations heighten a child's risk for later substance abuse, for example, when there is a lack of attachment and nurturing by parents or caregivers, ineffective parenting, and/or a caregiver who abuses drugs. But when families provide a strong bond between children and parents, parental involvement in the child's life, and set clear limits and consistent enforcement of discipline, they can provide protection from later substance abuse.

Interactions that take place outside of the home including poor classroom behavior or social skills, academic failure, and association with substance-abusing peers can also increase the risks for both children and adolescents of substance abuse.

Association with substance-abusing peers is often the most immediate risk for exposing adolescents to substance abuse and delinquent behavior. Other factors that increase risks for young people to start abusing substances include drug availability, trafficking patterns, and beliefs that drug abuse is generally tolerated.

The highest risk periods for substance abuse among youth are during major transitional periods in their lives. The first big transition is when children leave the security of their homes and enter school. Later, when they advance from elementary school to middle school, they often experience new academic and social situations, such as learning to get along with a wider group of peers. It is at this early adolescent stage that children are most likely to encounter substance abuse for the first time.

When they enter high school, adolescents face additional social, emotional and educational challenges. They are also exposed to a greater availability of drugs, substance abusers, and social activities involving substance abuse. These challenges can increase the risk that they will abuse alcohol, tobacco and other substances.