Is their substance use a problem?

Substance Use   ›   Is their substance use a problem?

Adolescence is at time for first parties and experimenting with substance use. This period of experimentation is completely normal for teens, but at what point should you intervene when their substance use becomes problematic?

Many teens will experiment with substance use during their adolescence. This period, when they are learning their limits often coincides with other firsts (first parties, for example) which can make them prone to overconsumption. These new behaviours, though often destabilizing for parents, don’t necessarily indicate substance abuse.


How Does Substance Use Affect My Teen?

The experience of substance use and its effects (risk and protective factors) depends largely on three interacting factors: the substance (alcohol or other drugs, including prescriptions), your teen’s character, and the context they are in. This is called the law of effect.



  • Quantity.
  • Quality or purity of the product.
  • Frequency of consumption.
  • Speed of consumption.
  • Administration method.
  • Combination with other substances.



  • Age.
  • Gender.
  • Height and weight.
  • Physical condition.
  • Mental state, mood.



  • Location.
  • Ambiance.
  • Time of day.
  • Relationships with others.
  • Conflicts.


This explains how your teen can consume the same amount of alcohol but react differently on different occasions. As a parent you can educate your teen about this phenomenon and the importance of paying attention to what’s going on inside of themselves, as well as the environment they are in, both of which can affect how they tolerate alcohol or other drugs.


Could They Have an Addiction?

Your teen’s substance use could be problematic, for instance if you notice:


  • They are using larger quantities more frequently in order to experience the same effects
  • They are increasingly seeking out opportunities to use, and the company of people who use
  • Their life begins to revolve around using
  • They seem increasingly depressed
  • They seem to use substances to numb their feelings or escape their problems
  • They develop new sleep patterns (difficulty falling asleep, waking frequently, irregular sleep patterns, etc.)
  • They complain of abnormal physical ailments (abdominal pain, stomach ache, etc.)
  • They are anxious, agitated, irritable, shaky, and nauseous when they are not using
  • They use alone
  • They abandon healthy activities (sporting, artistic, or other) in favour of using
  • They trade their things or commit crimes in order to use. 


There needs to be a combination of these factors to indicate abuse because they can also indicate other problems (depression, anxiety, etc.).


To get support, or if you feel the need to discuss and share your concerns about your teen using alcohol or other drugs, contact Tel-jeunes or the professionals at your child’s school or at your local CLSC. You can also find out about the services offered in your area by the organization Drugs: Help and Referral (1-800-265-2626, 24/7).

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