How to Recognize Substance Abuse in Youth

Social Worker Resource
June 22, 2012 — 1,695 views  
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It is the responsibility of some direct-service social workers to help young people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives. In many cases, these professionals will interact with children who have recently been adopted, are struggling with illness or are dealing with another change or challenge in their lives. One of the most important duties of a social worker is to assess his or her client needs and help to improve their well-being. Therefore, the ability to recognize substance abuse in youth is a necessary skill of a social worker.

Substance abuse is a growing and serious problem among America's youth. More and more kids and teens are turning toward drugs and alcohol, especially as a means to deal with the pressures and changes in their lives. For this reason, it's common for a social worker to come in contact with a youth who uses these substances. It's important for these professionals to be able to identify the trends in substance abuse among today's youth and recognize the signs and symptoms of drug and alcohol use so they can provide intervention and treatment options, as well as promote positive alternatives.

According to, some of the common behavioral signs and symptoms that a person is abusing drugs and alcohol are things like drops in attendance at work or school, decreased performance at school, sudden changes in interests or friends, an unexplained need for money and frequent problems with disciplinary figures such as teachers, principals, parents or police. Psychological warning signs could include mood swings and irritability, lack of motivation and changes in personality, explains the source.

Social Work Today notes that social workers are in a key position to help youth struggling with substance abuse. A social worker should be able to guide youths and their parents through the available programs and options for overcoming these concerns and offer crisis intervention counseling. A professional can also offer to work with the family through this difficult process by going to meetings with the child, such as a school IEP meetings, and may even be able to share their professional experiences with the family and parents.

In addition to helping youth and families determine if there is a substance abuse problem, and the right course of treatment to pursue, a social worker should also help the parents cope during the process. Teaching parents ways to manage their teens and their own feelings about their child's abuse can make a big difference during treatment.

Social Worker Resource