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Identifying Teenage Substance Abuse: Tips School Counselors Can Share with Parents

A sudden change in behavior may signal a teen is experimenting with drugs or alcohol. Counseling professionals can help parents learn the signs.

The teenage years are a tumultuous time for children, and also for parents, who may agree with the late author Nora Ephron when she wrote, “When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.”

During their teen years, children experience powerful hormonal and developmental changes and may ricochet from mood to mood, and from demanding independence to craving dependence. It’s a time when peers, social pressures, and the cyber world exert extraordinary pressure and influence. It can be a passage marked by confusion for every member of the family. For parents, there is often concern about the risk of drug and alcohol use and whether their child’s behavior is typical of adolescent development, or the result of drinking alcohol or using drugs.

Identifying Teenage Substance Abuse: Tips School Counselors Can Share with Parents

School counselors can serve as a vital resource for parents concerned about teenage substance abuse. These tips from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which operates under the umbrella of the National Institutes of Health, are the kind of helpful information counselors can share with parents who want to know how to identify signs of drug or alcohol abuse:1

If an adolescent starts behaving differently for no apparent reason—such as acting withdrawn, frequently tired or depressed, or hostile—it could be a sign he or she is developing a drug-related problem. Parents and others may overlook such signs, believing them to be a normal part of puberty.

Other signs include:

  • A change in peer group
  • Carelessness with grooming
  • Decline in academic performance
  • Missing classes or skipping school 
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Trouble in school or with the law
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Deteriorating relationships with family members and friends 

Teens Talk About Drug and Alcohol Use

While parents are sure to worry about teens and substance abuse, school counselors and parents alike may find cause for optimism in a 2017 study measuring teen use of and attitudes toward drugs and alcohol. The Monitoring the Future survey of 43,703 students in the eighth, 10th, and 12th grades found cigarette, methamphetamine, synthetic cannabinoid, and heroin use at their lowest levels since the survey began in 1975.

Results from the survey, conducted in Ann Arbor, Michigan, can help school counselors stay current on alcohol and drug use trends among teens—information they also can use to educate parents. Findings, as presented in the survey, include:2

  • 71% of high school seniors do not view regular marijuana smoking as being very harmful, but 64.7% say they disapprove of regular marijuana smoking.
  • Teens are more likely to use marijuana than cigarettes.
  • Binge drinking appears to have leveled off after years of decline, but this year but is significantly lower than peak years.
  • Nearly one in three students in 12th grade report past-year use of e-vaporizers, raising concerns about the impact on their long-term health.

Where Can I Pursue an Online Counseling Degree?

If you are interested in working in the in-demand field of school counseling, Walden University offers a master’s in school counseling online. Depending on your career goals, you may choose a general program or specializations in career counseling, crisis trauma, military families and culture, or addiction counseling. Times to completion vary; however, there is an accelerated track if you want to earn a degree more quickly.

Walden’s master’s in school counseling online degree program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), a specialized accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

Walden’s online counseling degree program is designed for working professionals like you who have a vision of being of service in an educational setting. With an MS in School Counseling, you can play a vital role in helping to educate teens and parents about the dangers of substance abuse. And when you become a school counselor, you move into a dynamic field where you have the potential to make a lasting difference in the lives of children, teens, and parents.

If you wish to broaden your counseling career further, you may wish to consider earning Walden’s MS Dual Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and School Counseling degree.  Upon successful graduation, you will have earned two degrees from an accredited program and be able to pursue licensure or certification as both a mental health counselor and a school counselor.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in School Counseling online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.


1Source: www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/treatment/what-to-do-if-your-teen-or-young-adult-has-problem-drugs
2Source: www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/infographics/monitoring-future-2017-survey-results

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

Walden University’s MS in School Counseling program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), a specialized accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). CACREP accreditation is a requirement for licensure in many states.

The MS in School Counseling program is offered by Walden University, an institution accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), which is a requirement to practice as a school counselor in some states. The MS in School Counseling program meets the standards for school counseling licensure or certification and is a state-approved program in Minnesota and Ohio. The MS in School Counseling program is accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), a specialized accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which also may be a requirement to become licensed or certified as a school counselor in some states. In addition, some states require school counselors to have an existing teaching license or certification, and teaching experience, in order to be eligible for a school counseling certification/license.

Further, many states require school counseling programs to be approved in at least one state, either their own or another state. The MS in School Counseling program is approved by the states of Minnesota and Ohio, and while this approval is accepted by the majority of states that require state approval, it may not be accepted by all states.

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