Ask Tatiana: Trends in Teen Substance Abuse

Tatiana asked one of her co-workers to share with us an article regarding trends in teen substance abuse. I am so thankful for her desire to help our community with mental health issues……

By Erin Mills, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Atlanta Specialized Care

As an addiction therapist who works with teens and young adults, I have a seen a huge shift in teen substance use within the past few years. Of course, the staples still remain; marijuana, alcohol, LSD, and ecstasy to name a few. But because teens today have access to so much more information and resources, the substances that are being used are newer, more powerful, and easier to obtain.

The popularity of vapes has had the largest impact on teen substance use within just the past few years. Vapes, e-cigs, personal vaporizers (or Mods), and Juuls have gained massive popularity and have become something of a fashion accessory to kids today. These devices produce an odorless vapor, are small, easily concealable, and look like everyday objects like USB sticks. Various chemicals can be inhaled including nicotine and marijuana compounds like THC and CBD. Vaping has become such a norm that it has become a way connect socially and often makes teens feel included or “a part of.”  

Synthetic, “designer drugs” are also continually being created and sold in gas stations, smoke shops, online, and in health food stores. Spice, K2, bath salts, kratom, caffeine pills and many more are labeled as “all natural” and are not easily regulated due to their ever-changing chemical compounds. Due to this lack of regulation, potency can vary and cause different experiences for the user each time.  

Prescription medications are also easily accessible and are widely abused by teens and adolescents. Stimulants like Adderall or other ADHD medications are commonly prescribed and misused. Opiate pain killers are also easily accessible and extremely dangerous as teen users are more likely to use heroin in the future. I encourage all parents to keep prescription medications locked away or kept in a private area of the home.

Many parents understandably feel overwhelmed with this information and wonder how they can tell if their teen is experimenting or using substances. Here are some warning signs parents should look out for:

  • Gut Feeling- if you suspect something is up, you are probably right. Trust your instincts as a parent.
  • Slipping grades- sudden grade changes can indicate a larger problem and should always be taken seriously.
  • Change in friends- a teens’ friend group can tell you a lot about what’s going on in your kid’s life. What are their friends like, who are they hanging out with and spending time with?
  • Change of attitude-if your teen suddenly appears withdrawn or depressed it could indicate something more serious.

If you are seeing some of these warning signs, there are a couple of things I encourage parents to do.

  • Talk to your kids. Give them an opportunity to be honest. Reward their honesty.
  • Involve a professional. Find a therapist that your teen feels safe to talk to and process with. A therapist can assist your teen with figuring out what they’re feeling and thinking and can teach positive coping and communication skills.
  • Provide accountability. Set boundaries and stick to them.
  • Provide encouragement & validation. Being a teen is hard! Acknowledge the pressure and influence your son/daughter must be feeling. Notice when they’re doing something well and tell them good job when you can.
  • Make sure YOU are getting support. Dealing with these issues can be confusing and overwhelming. Make sure you have someone to talk to or lean on. This can be a friend, religious leader, therapist, or even a support group.

If you want to know more about this issue or would like to continue this conversation, I will be giving a presentation on trends in teen substance use in Dunwoody Monday March 23 7-8:30PM. For more information, contact Tatiana Matthews:

Atlanta Specialized Care