Student Drug Use and Signs to Look Out For

High school students use drugs and alcohol at high rates.

According to the 2015 Monitoring the Future survey, 23.6 percent of 12th graders and 16.5 percent of 10th graders reported past-month illicit drug use. These substances included marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy. Also, 35.3 percent of 12th graders and 21.5 percent of 10th graders reported past-month alcohol consumption, the survey found.

Teen substance abuse may be difficult to spot. However, there are numerous signs indicating student drug use. These indicators may be physical, behavioral or psychological.

Physical signs of substance abuse include:

  • Bloodshot eyes or enlarged pupils
  • Untidy appearance
  • Unusual odors on breath, body or clothing

Marijuana, in particular, has a distinct smell similar to pine. Students may use cologne, breath mints or hand sanitizer to hide this stench. If the physical signs aren’t present, focus on the student’s behaviors.

Behavioral signs of drug or alcohol use include:

  • Skipping class or declining grades
  • Loss of interest in after school activities such as sports
  • Constant arguments with teachers

Substance abuse can cause volatile behaviors. For example, students who drink may misbehave, struggle to socialize with their peers or engage in suspicious behaviors. They may also show up to class late, if at all, or hide alcohol in their backpacks or lockers.

In a school setting, students have weaker constitutional rights. Therefore, a school official can search a student’s backpack or locker for drugs or alcohol if there is reasonable suspicion that the student is violating school rules. For example, reasonable suspicion is warranted if the student has a history of drug dealing and exhibits symptoms of substance abuse.

Drug and alcohol use may alter a student’s psyche as well. Students who drink are more argumentative, short tempered and withdrawn.

Other warning signs may include:

  • Sudden changes in mood
  • Inability to focus on classwork
  • Anxious or fearful for no apparent reason

Psychological changes may be the result of a substance use disorder, a brain disease that causes compulsive behaviors. Addiction changes the brain, causing constant cravings for the substance. The disorder affects the part of the brain that controls coordination, motivation and emotion.

Treatment is needed for any student with a substance use disorder, and numerous rehab centers across the United States cater to teens with addiction. For example, Next Generation Village in Sebring, Florida, offers a continuum of care to young adults aged 13–17. The facility even provides tutors who work with the students’ school district to maintain their education during treatment.

Keeping a close eye on physical, behavioral and psychological signs of substance abuse may save students from a lifetime of consequences.

The author, Mitchell Bishop is with , an organization that provides information and answers for people fighting addiction.

Ehlenberger, K.R. (2002, January). The Right to Search Students. Retrieved from

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. (2015, April 26). For Parents: What To Look For. Retrieved from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015, December). Monitoring the Future 2015 Survey Results. Retrieved from

Price, S. (2009, December 31). Searching Students For Drugs. Retrieved from