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Know the Signs: 5 Substances You Didn’t Know Your Adolescent Could Be Abusing

Signs of Substance Abuse

As parents, we always strive to ensure the well-being and safety of our teens. We talk to them about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, hoping they'll make the right choices. However, sometimes, despite our best efforts, adolescents may experiment with substances that fly under the radar. The world is a different place from when we were coming up and kids these days have access to a host of “legal highs.” These substances might not be commonly discussed, but they can still pose serious risks to our teens' health and futures.


1. Inhalants


Inhalants are everyday household products that are harmless when used as intended. However they do produce chemical vapors that, when inhaled, can produce mind-altering effects. Teenagers turn to inhalants as a way to get high because they’re legal, easily accessible, and are often misconstrued as a safe way to get high. Common examples of abused inhalants include certain types of glue, paint thinner, and household aerosol sprays. Inhalant abuse should not be taken lightly. It can lead to serious health issues including brain damage, heart failure, and even sudden death.

Signs of inhalant abuse may include:

  • Frequent headaches
  • Paint or chemical stains on clothing or body
  • Changes in mood or behavior, such as irritability or dizziness
  • Chemical odors on breath or clothing


2. Synthetic Drugs


Over the last decade there has been an explosion of synthetic drugs in the market. These substances, designed in a lab to mimic the effects of illegal drugs such as marijuana, amphetamines, and mdma are also known as “designer drugs.” The legality of these substances exists in a grey area due to their chemical make-up differing from scheduled narcotics. They are often sold in colorful packaging with misleading labels marketing them as a safe alternative to their counterparts. Often sold in gas stations, smoke shops, and online, they are easily accessible and can be extremely potent and unpredictable. 

Signs of synthetic drug abuse may include:

  • Sudden changes in behavior or appearance
  • Paranoia or hallucinations
  • Increased agitation or aggression
  • Unexplained financial difficulties


3. Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medications


Over-the-counter medications have come a long way. In the early 1900’s you could buy “tonics” containing opium and cocaine from just about any pharmacy around. While things are much more regulated today, there are still certain medications which can be bought and abused. Benadryl, caffeine pills, and cough medicines are the big three. Benadryl has become increasingly popular with videos of kids talking about their highs via tik tok. Cough medicine containing dextromethorphan (DXM) can be taken to achieve a high that includes hallucinations. When taken in large doses or combined with other drugs, these medications can wreak havoc on the body and brain causing potentially life-threatening harm. 

Signs of OTC medication abuse may include:

  • Empty or missing medication bottles
  • Sudden weight loss or changes in appetite
  • Slurred speech or impaired coordination
  • Secretive behavior regarding medication use


4. Tianeptine


Tianeptine is a drug that has been lurking under the radar for some time now. Created as a tricyclic antidepressant, at large doses it activates the brain’s opioid receptors leading to an opioid-like high. Easily purchased online and frequently found in gas stations under names such as “Tianaa” and “Zaza” it is highly addictive and is incredibly difficult to detox from. It’s been around for years but has only recently started to gain popularity. Tianeptine abuse is not to be taken lightly. Most users are unaware of the dire situation they are placing themselves into. 

Signs of tianeptine abuse may include:

  • Significant changes in social behavior
  • Financial difficulties
  • Failing to meet important responsibilities
  • Stealing/Theft
  • Mood swings or irritability
  • Withdrawal symptoms when not taking tianeptine


  1. Kratom


Kratom, like tianeptine, has been around for a while but has gained significant popularity over the last few years. Derived from a tree native to Southeast Asia, kratom is misleadingly marketed as a natural reliever and used for relaxation. Similar to tianeptine, kratom contains chemicals which produce an opioid-like high when consumed in large quantities. Adolescents may misuse kratom as a recreational substance, unaware of its addictive potential and the risk of adverse reactions. Withdrawal effects from Kratom can be quite unpleasant and may require a medical detox facility. 

Signs of kratom abuse may include:

  • Changes in appetite or weight loss
  • Mood swings or depression
  • Withdrawal symptoms when not using kratom
  • Social withdrawal or neglect of responsibilities


Get Help Today


While conversations about teenage substance abuse often focus on alcohol, marijuana, and harder drugs, it's essential to recognize that your teenager may be experimenting with a wide range of substances. Staying informed about the signs and symptoms associated with less commonly discussed substances, you can better support your child and intervene before experimentation turns into addiction or other serious consequences.

If you suspect that your adolescent is abusing substances, call Stonewater Adolescent Recovery Center today. Remember, early intervention can make a significant difference in preventing long-term harm and promoting overall well-being.