Parents with teenagers often worry about drug and alcohol use. There's good reason for this. A survey funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found that in 2013: Almost 23% of high school seniors had used marijuana in the past month 15% of seniors had used a prescription drug illegally 22% admitted to binge-drinking alcohol Other common drugs abused by teens included cough and cold medicines, cocaine, and synthetic marijuana Many teens try drugs or alcohol and stop short of getting in trouble or becoming addicted. Others do get into trouble and may move on to more dangerous drugs. This can lead to problems, such as failure at school, accidents, violence, unsafe sex, legal problems, and suicide. So how do you know if your teen has a drug or alcohol problem? Read on to learn the risks, signs, and what to do if you suspect your teen is using drugs or other substances. Substance Abuse Risks In the NIDA survey, 7% of 8th graders said they had used marijuana in the past month. The average age that kids start using marijuana is about 14. Trying alcohol often starts earlier. Young people are more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol if: Someone else in their family has abused drugs or alcohol They don't seem to fit in at school or have few friends They don't feel good about themselves and lack confidence They are depressed When teens abuse drugs or alcohol, they are at risk of developing a variety of problems. Teens who abuse are more likely to have: Academic problems—doing poorly in school, skipping school, and dropping out before graduation Mental problems—depression, problems with long-term memory or thinking, and developmental delays Physical problems—liver damage, growth problems, sexually transmitted diseases, injuries, accidents, suicide, and death Social problems—alienation, family problems, financial problems, and involvement in the juvenile justice system Signs of Substance Abuse Recognizing signs of substance abuse early is vital for parents and adult mentors. This can allow you to get help for your teen before things get worse. Here are 10 red flags to look for: Being secretive or withdrawn Borrowing or missing money Breaking family rules or avoiding family activities Changes in friends, dress or activities Doing poorly at school or getting in trouble at school Dropping hobbies, sports, or other favorite activities Exhibiting irresponsible behavior or poor judgment Frequent use of mouthwash, mints, or room deodorizers Mood swings, irritability, or depression Physical complaints, fatigue, red eyes, or persistent cough Keep in mind that these may also be signs of other problems. Have an open discussion with your child as soon as you notice any signs or think your teen has a substance problem. Getting to the bottom of noticeable changes can put you on the road to getting help for whatever your teen is experiencing. Confronting Substance Abuse If your teen is using drugs or alcohol, get help. Consider involving your child’s doctor, close family, clergy, or a substance abuse counselor. Getting to the reasons your teen is abusing is key to recovering. You will also need to set firm boundaries and monitor the child's activities carefully. If these strategies don’t work, ask what medical treatments might help. Don’t ignore the problem. Continued family support can make a difference. Preventing substance abuse to begin with is ideal. Research has shown that there are protective factors that counter the risk factors for substance abuse. These protective factors include: High commitment to school and academics Parental involvement and monitoring of friends and activities Parental disapproval of teen alcohol and drug use Peers who are committed to school and who do not use or abuse School anti-drug policies Strong attachment to the community—through civic, religious and volunteer organizations Strong parent-child relationship Teaching kids to have self control—the earlier in life the better Parents are the key to helping children avoid the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse. Remember, that you are a strong influence on your child. Your involvement in your child’s life doesn’t guarantee that your child won’t use substances. But it greatly increases the likelihood of your teen staying clean and sober.