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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 using alcohol or 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If an adolescent starts behaving differently for no apparent reason—such as acting withdrawn, frequently tired or depressed, or hostile—it could be a sign he or she is developing a drug-related problem.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

The Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey has been measuring teen use of and attitudes toward drugs and alcohol since 1975.

Results from the 2019 MTF—which surveyed 42,531 students in eighth, 10th, and 12th grades—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

  • 79.7% of high school seniors do not view regular marijuana smoking as being very harmful, but 63% say they disapprove of regular marijuana smoking.
  • Prescription drug misuse continues to decline from peak years.
  • Levels of nicotine vaping increased dramatically across all three grades—one of the largest increases ever recorded for any substance in MTF survey history. 
  • Most other forms of tobacco use—such as cigarettes, hookah, and smokeless tobacco—continue to decline.
  • Alcohol continues to be the substance most widely used by teens.

Where Can I Find Counseling Degree Programs or Individual Courses Online?

If you are interested in working in the in-demand field of school counseling, Walden University offers an array of options. In the CACREP-accredited MS in School Counseling program, you can choose from four specializations—including Addiction Counseling—to align your coursework with your career goals. Walden also offers an MS Dual Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and School Counseling for those who which to pursue licensure or certification as a school counselor and a mental health counselor.  

If you would prefer professional development opportunities, you can enroll in an individual counseling course, such as ASCI 2000 – The Neuroscience of Addiction. In this course, offered by Walden’s School of Lifelong Learning, you will explore the latest scientific findings on addiction and the brain, as well as the research being used to develop and enhance treatments. 

Begin Your Lifelong Learning Journey With Walden’s Online Classes and Programs

At Walden—an accredited university—you can advance your professional development and gain the in-demand skills and credentials you need to prepare to become a school counselor. Complete individual courses online or earn your master’s in school counseling while you continue to work full time. With online education, you can take your online classes at whatever time of day works best for you as a working professional.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering high-quality online degree programs, including an MS Dual Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and School Counseling. Walden’s School of Lifelong Learning offers individual courses online as well. Expand your professional development and career options 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/sites/default/files/nida_mtfinfographic2019_fullgraphic.pdf

Notes on Accreditation and Licensure
MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling:
Walden University’s MS in Clinical Mental Health 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), which is a requirement for licensure in many states. The MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program is designed to prepare graduates to qualify to sit for licensing exams and to meet the academic licensure requirements of many state counseling boards. Because no graduate program can guarantee licensure upon graduation, we encourage students to consult the appropriate agency to determine specific requirements. For more information about licensure, students should visit the National Board for Certified Counselors at www.nbcc.org/search/stateboarddirectory and/or the American Association of State Counseling Boards at www.aascb.org, and contact the appropriate licensing body. International students are encouraged to identify and contact their appropriate licensing body. Learn more about professional licensure

MS in School Counseling: 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 for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), a specialized accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which may also 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. Learn more about professional licensure. 

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.


Walden is not approved to offer the MS in School Counseling degree in Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Mexico, or Tennessee, so if you reside in one of these states, you will not be eligible for the dual degree.

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