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How to Spot Signs of Addiction in Your Child

You would do anything to keep your child safe, protecting them from everything from stranger-danger to the common cold. Unfortunately, today's dangers to your child are even more subtle than they used to be. Many parental fears these days related to substance abuse. Perhaps it’s something as simple as smoking marijuana recreationally or underage drinking, or as serious as hard-core drugs like cocaine or ecstasy. Even prescription drugs in your own medicine cabinet can lead to addiction.

Fortunately, there are warning signs you can spot in your child, to tell you that something is wrong. Here are a few warning signs to look for in your child:

Physical Changes

If your child typically dresses well and presents him or herself neatly—hair brushed, styled or gelled, clothes fresh and clean, and makeup if that is typical—and that commitment to basic hygiene shifts gradually or quickly, that can be a major warning that something tumultuous is going on with your child. If your adolescent is experiencing challenges with addiction, depression, anxiety, or other mental or emotional illnesses, lack of basic hygiene and indifference to appearance is often one of the earliest warning signs.

  • Wearing dirty, wrinkled, or mismatched clothes (especially if that is an unusual change in your child's wardrobe choices)

  • Wearing the same clothes multiple days in a row

  • Not brushing hair or teeth

  • Noticeable changes in bathing/showering habits—showering less often or not at all

If you notice two or more of the above in your children, make an effort to sit down talk with them. Make sure you talk gently and without judgement, and ask if there’s anything they want to talk about, or anything you can do to help.


Emotional Changes

Adolescence is often accompanied by a tendency towards moodiness, irritability, and—in some teenagers—isolation. However, you as the parent have the most unfettered access to your child's psyche, and if any or all of these symptoms appear suddenly, increase dramatically, or seem to be plaguing your child more than usual, you have reason to be concerned.

Some emotional signs to look out for include:

  • Increased irritability

  • Making caustic remarks more frequently or with more bite than usual

  • Drastic mood swings

  • Increased nervousness

  • Lack of interest in daily activities, particularly in activities or subjects that they used to enjoy

  • Increased paranoia

The last sign is one of the most indicative of addiction in particular. Paranoia could show itself through defensiveness, lying, hiding behind locked doors, and a general increase in secretive behavior.


Some of these physical and emotional signs do not only indicate addiction, since many of them can also be indicative of mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. However, all of these signs can help you spot potential addiction issues in your child and should be taken seriously (even if it’s a mental health issue).

Dealing with addiction in children is challenging for both the child and the parent, but by looking for signs vigilantly, you’ll be able to help your child or seek the help necessary for their recovery, be that through addiction treatment centers or more intense rehabilitation.

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