Tendency to Use Alcohol or Drugs

It’s not uncommon for adolescents to experiment with alcohol or drugs. But some adolescents may begin using drugs or alcohol on a frequent basis, which may interfere with their school performance, lead to risky behaviors, or even get them into trouble with the law. Many adolescents who use substances often experience other mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, which may contribute to their substance use. It is important to get professional help for your child if you suspect that he or she may be developing a substance use problem.

Checklist of symptoms that might suggest substance use problem

  • Often loses his temper
  • Is easily annoyed by others
  • Often gets into arguments with adults and those in authority
  • Refuses to follow rules
  • Blames others for his misbehavior
  • Often seems angry or resentful
  • Destroys property
  • Has physically harmed animals or people

Substance use disorders are diagnosed when a child’s recurrent use of drugs or alcohol result in a failure to fulfill obligations (at school, work, or home), dangerous behavior (e.g., driving while intoxicated), or legal problems. A child may be diagnosed with substance dependence (often referred to as addiction) if they have developed a tolerance for the substance being used, experience physical symptoms of withdrawal when they stop using, are not able to cut back or stop using the substance, or spend a great deal of time getting and using the substance. It is very common for children with substance use problems to have other mental health issues as well. It is important that these other underlying issues be addressed in addition to their substance use problems.

Additional information on substance-related disorders is availalble from the A-Z Disorder Guide provided by the NYU Child Study Center.

Learn about Evaluation and Treatment of mental health problems among children.


Information provided on this website about common emotional and behavioral problems experienced by children is drawn from sources including:

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (Revised 4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Boston Bar Association. (2009). The Parents' How-to Guide to Children's Mental Health Services in Massachusetts (2nd edition). Boston: Author.  URL:http://www.bostonbar.org/theguide/bba_theguide_jan2009.pdf. Accessed: 2010-12-09. (Archived by WebCite® at http://www.webcitation.org/5ur8YAB1Z)

Klimkeit, E. I., Mattingley, J. B., Sheppard, D. M., Farrow, M., Bradshaw, J. L. (2004). Examining the Development of Attention and Executive Functions in Children with a Novel Paradigm. Child Neuropsychology, 10 (3), 201-211.

NYU Child Study Center. A-Z Disorder Guide. URL:http://www.aboutourkids.org/families/disorders_treatments/az_disorder_guide. Accessed: 2010-12-09. (Archived by WebCite® at http://www.webcitation.org/5ur83VhUw)


Date Reviewed: May 31, 2011