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Contact Adolescent Substance Abuse Program (ASAP)

  • 617-355-2727
  • International: +1-617-355-5209
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Parent Resources

What causes kids to develop substance use disorders?

Substance use disorders in adolescence are caused by multiple factors, including the following:

  • Age: The younger kids start using alcohol and drugs, the more likely they are to develop a substance use disorder.
  • Genetics: Kids with family members who have substance use disorders have been shown to be at a higher risk for developing problems themselves.
  • Environment: Kids who live in environments when drugs are prevalent may be more likely to try substances and develop substance use disorders.
  • Abuse and Trauma: Adolescents who have experienced trauma, or who are victims of physical, sexual, or psychological abuse may be more likely to develop a substance-related disorder.
  • Other health concerns: Adolescents with mental or physical health problems may be more likely to develop a substance-related disorder.

Signs and symptoms

Certain symptoms and behaviors are red flags for drug use. But keep in mind they may also indicate other problems, such as depression or in some cases a combination or problems.

Look for:

  • Alcohol, smoke, or other chemical odors on your teen’s breath or clothing
  • Obvious intoxication or bizarre behavior
  • Changes in dress and grooming
  • Changes in choice of friends
  • Frequent arguments, sudden mood changes, and unexplained violent actions
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Sudden weight gain or loss
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Problems at school, such as truancy or failing grades
  • Runaway and delinquent behavior
  • Suicide attempts
  • Possession of drug or paraphernalia (be suspicious if you find cough medicine or any unusual collection of items such as cleaning fluids, lighter fluid, body spray that can be used as inhalants in your child’s room)

Remember that your child’s doctor has the knowledge and experience to help you find out if your child has a drug or alcohol problem and how to help your child.

We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

Boston Children's Hospital 300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115 617-355-6000 | 800-355-7944

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