4 Ways Teens Are Diagnosed With Substance Use Disorder

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Teenagers sometimes exhibit seemingly odd behaviors as they learn how to become independent beings throughout their teen years. Teenagers are also prone to experiencing mood swings as their bodies mature on behalf of fluctuating hormones. Because normal teenage behaviors can closely resemble those associated with addiction, sometimes it can be difficult to determine whether a teen is suffering from substance use disorder.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with substance abuse, call our 24/7 confidential helpline right away at (800) 407-7195. Our caring treatment specialists will help you find rehab centers or detox centers devoted to helping you or your loved one overcome addiction.

Here are four criteria most rehab and addiction treatment centers use when diagnosing teens with substance use disorder.

1. Risky Behavior

Teenagers who suffer from substance abuse often exhibit riskier behaviors than their peers. These behaviors may involve crime and/or violence, and lead to more serious problems down the road. Addiction treatment centers that help teenagers can often distinguish between typical teenager behaviors, and risky behaviors associated with substance abuse.

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Typical teen behaviors include changing one’s physical appearance, withdrawing slightly from family life, and experiencing emotional ups and downs. But destructive behaviors such as stealing and vandalizing could indicate substance abuse or another serious problem. In many cases, teens are more prone to risky behaviors when using drugs since the areas of the brain that control decision-making and judgment are still in development.

Teens Are Diagnosed

Skipping school is a common indicator of drug abuse.

Here are examples of behaviors often linked to substance abuse in teens:


  • Skipping school
  • Causing trouble at school
  • Loss of money, valuables, and prescription drugs
  • Starting fights
  • Locking doors
  • Demanding more privacy
  • Sudden change in friends, interests, and hobbies
  • More frequent use of perfume, cologne, or air freshener
  • Use of eyedrops
  • Sudden outbursts of anger or laughter
  • Periods of unusual hyperactivity

2. Tolerance

Teenagers are more likely to quickly develop a tolerance to substances, especially when moving from experimentation to regular use. Teenage bodies are relatively young and often have little to no history with drug or alcohol use — which is why experimenting with these substances can lead to increased tolerance within a short period of time, as well as the risk for intoxication or an overdose. Medical staff at addiction treatment centers often take tolerance into consideration when diagnosing teens with substance abuse.

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3. Alcohol and/or Drug Cravings

Teens who suddenly stop using alcohol and drugs may experience intense cravings for these substances — especially when using highly addictive substances such as opioids. Medical staff at teenage rehab centers can often determine whether teens are legitimately experiencing cravings during assessments.

Drugs of Abuse in your Home: Teens and Cough Syrup

4. Withdrawal Symptoms

Most teens experience minor withdrawal symptoms after quitting substances, since severe symptoms are associated with heavy, long-term use, which is more common among adults. Some minor withdrawal symptoms are similar to symptoms associated with common ailments, such as runny nose, tearing, and fatigue — which can make it difficult for general physicians to detect problems with substance abuse. However, medical staff trained in treating teens for substance use disorder can perform evaluations to determine the root cause of symptoms.

If your teen is struggling with substance use disorder, or you’re a teen who needs help, call our 24/7 confidential helpline at (800) 407-7195. Our experienced addiction specialists will help you find alcohol or drug rehab centers that specialize in teen addiction treatments.

the Take-Away

If your teen has been acting up and you’re not sure if it’s their hormones or drug abuse, learn the ways in which you can diagnose a substance use disorder.