Spotting the warning signs of teen alcohol & drug abuse - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Spotting the warning signs of teen alcohol & drug abuse

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CARTERVILLE, Ill -- An estimated 1.3 million teens in the U.S. have a substance abuse problem, according to a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Some of the warning signs of alcohol and drug abuse can be easy to spot but are usually missed. "Hidden in Plain Sight" is part of the Gateway Foundation Adolescent Program and is designed to educate parents and teachers about signs and symptoms.

Gateway Foundation Outreach Coordinator Michelle Bertinetti uses a mock bedroom to demonstrate common ways that substance abuse is hidden.

Bertinetti says alcohol remains the number one drug of choice for young people and is easily disguised as energy drinks. Four Loko is a fruity malt liquor with high alcohol by volume and looks like a typical energy drink. Sports drinks and flavored drinks can be mixed with clear alcohol and brought undetected to an event.

According to Bertinetti synthetic and "designer drugs" have grown in popularity among teens and paraphernalia is easy to obtain. She says an assortment of pipes can be found at mini-marts and smoke shops. Bertinetti added that drugs can be concealed in everyday items, such as makeup cases, empty soda cans, even in the toes of shoes. 

Here are some common warning signs and symptoms of substance abuse.


  • Sudden changes in mood.
  • Defensiveness when the topic of alcohol or other drugs is raised.
  • Making pro-drug statements.
  • Disrespect/defiance toward teachers, rules or regulations.
  • "Joking" about another student's alcohol or drug abuse.


  • Sudden lack of interest in class material.
  • Undisciplined, doesn't get things completed on time or as specified.
  • A sudden drop in grades.


  • Wearing sunglasses in class.
  • Inappropriate clothing for the weather.
  • Redness around the nose and mouth.
  • Neglect of appearance. (Poor Hygiene, wearing same clothes frequently.)
  • Sweet, burnt odor.
  • Frequent use of eye drops.
  • Burns on hands or clothing.


  • Skipping classes or entire days of school.
  • Patterns of lateness especially in the mornings or after lunch.
  • Sleeping/nodding off in class.
  • Dropping out of sports or other activities.
  • Drug slang and phrases are written on notebooks or other materials.
  • Insomnia.

More information about signs, symptoms, and treatment can be found be here.

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