Teenage years feature intense curiosity and a drive to explore, but they are also associated with testing limits and pushing boundaries. Teenagers are at risk for drug and alcohol use. Substance use during teenage years can cause life-long, irreversible damage. Parents have a dual role during these years: advice-givers and gatekeepers.
Unfortunately, because teenagers are actively honing creativity and ingenuity, they might be attempting to hide drugs in the house or coming up with drug hiding spots that are everyday items.
Signs of Drug Use
Sudden behavioral changes can leave parents wondering if they are witnessing normal growth and development or if their teens are hiding drug or alcohol use. While there are rarely black-and-white answers, teen drug abuse often features several red-flags:
- Appetite changes: Alcohol and marijuana are well-known to increase appetite, whereas amphetamines (including popular “study drugs” or illicit methamphetamine) will decrease people’s appetite.
- Changes in friends: A teenager who suddenly stops hanging out with their old friends in favor of a new friend group may be at risk for experimenting with drugs or alcohol.
- Poorer grades: If your teenager is suddenly performing poorly in school, drug or alcohol use may be a contributing factor. Skipping school is a major red flag.
- Changes in physical appearance: Bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils are hallmark signs of substance use. Similarly, a lack of attention to personal hygiene, unusual bruising or a constantly running nose are also warning signs.
- Evasive behavior: Overt behavioral changes or paranoia are reasons to be concerned that your child is hiding something.
- Other changes: Other potential signs of drug use in teens include: Unusual containers, wrappers or paraphernalia; missing money, alcohol or prescription drugs; sudden disinterest in hobbies or extracurricular activities.
Respecting Privacy vs. Intercepting Drug Use
A challenge of parenting teens is giving them the trust and freedom they need to learn and grow without letting them slip into patterns of risky behaviors. Teen drug use is dangerous and has serious repercussions.
As your child enters the teenage years, maintain an open dialogue with them about your expectations from them and what they can expect from you. They should be aware that unusual behavior or poor reports from school will result in increased parental oversight. Whenever possible, discuss the consequences of misbehavior with your child before they misbehave.
If you are concerned that your teen is using drugs or alcohol, the most straightforward approach is also one of the most informative: Ask them directly. Try to maintain a non-judgemental demeanor and give them plenty of time to explain. NIDA’s Family Checkup tool has valuable information about how to prepare for and carry out complicated discussions with your teen.
Secret Stash Spots for Drugs
Teens hide drugs in creative ways, but don’t overlook simple or obvious spots either. The following list includes sites that teens have identified as some of the best places to hide drugs in the house:
- Toilet paper rolls
- Toothbrush holders
- Inside or under vanities
- Inside the toilet tank or under the lid
- Shaving cream cans that have screw-off bottoms
- Toothpaste or deodorant tubes that have fake bottoms
- Inside soap or shampoo bottles
- Hair brushes that have pop-off tops
Bedroom and Bedroom Furniture
- Hollowed-out candles or books
- Bed linens
- Underneath a mattress or inside a bed frame
- On top of a ceiling fan
- Inside a battery compartment in an unused remote control
- Inside a jewelry box
- Wall decor
Commercial products that are designed to hide small items are readily available. If your teen has a box of crackers or a tin of mints in their room that never moves, they may be stashing things in it. If you are concerned about alcohol use, check water or soda bottles for telltale odors.
Books, Writing Utensils and School Supplies
A backpack with an unfamiliar brand name may have been designed with a secret compartment. Commonly repurposed school supplies include:
- Pens and pencils
- Many teens have figured out ways to make Bic lighters or ChapStick tubes into stash spots
Inside the Home Itself
- Air vents
- Window frames
- Recessed lightbulb outlets
- Wall switch or electrical outlet covers
- Behind baseboards
Common car stash spots include:
- Under floor mats
- Inside the steering column
- Behind after-market stereo equipment
- In the back of the glove compartment are
Closets and Clothes
- Pockets of hanging or folded clothes
- Inside shoes or rolled-up socks
- Back corners of shelves
- Above the door frame
- On top of shelving units
Drug Hiding Containers
Commercially available products designed to hide small items are readily available online:
- Food and drink packaging
- Hygiene products
- Jewelry boxes
- Tissue box holders
Accompanying Drug Paraphernalia to Look For
Looking for drugs themselves may not be the most effective way to assess whether your teen is using drugs. The presence of harder-to-hide drug paraphernalia may be better indicators that your teenager is using drugs.
Common drug paraphernalia includes:
- Lighters or butane torches
- Vaping accessories
- Empty cans (especially if they have holes or scorch marks)
- Small mirrors
- Razor blades
- Glass or metal pipes
- Straws or pen cases
- Eyedropper bottles
Talking to Your Teen About Drugs
Teenagers are creative in how they hide drugs. The most effective way to determine whether your teen is using drugs or alcohol is to talk to them every day. Parents don’t need to be their children’s best friends, but the better you know your teen the more obvious drug or alcohol use will be.
There are resources for parents who are concerned about teenage drug use. Next Generation Village has experts who can provide guidance and support for parents and evidence-based methods to help their teen overcome drug and alcohol use disorders. Call today to learn how Next Generation Village can help.