overdose trends

Adolescent Drug Overdose Deaths on the Rise

May 5, 2022

A study1 recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported a dramatic increase in the number of teenage deaths due to an overdose. According to the data, adolescent overdose deaths nearly doubled during the first year of the 2020 pandemic. These numbers continued to rise, growing by another 20% in the first six months of 2021. With such a drastic upward trend in overdose deaths amongst adolescents, researchers are calling for better access to mental health care and accurate information. 

Adolescent Drug Use

The number of teens who report using illicit drugs has decreased in the last year2, but the recent overdose statistics indicate more dangerous usage. Adolescents are especially susceptible to drug use. Existing peer pressure, lack of coping skills, underdeveloped decision-making capabilities, and ignorance about the potential consequences of using all contribute to a pattern of risky substance use. Let’s look at how you can identify teenage drug use and where to turn for support.

Signs of Drug Use in Teens

As a parent, you recognize when there is something “off” with your child. This recognition is often the first line of defense against a future overdose. Sometimes, it’s difficult to discern the cause of a change in behavior, but here are some key indicators your teen may be using:

Loss of Interest in Activities

Motivation and interests can change over time, but if you notice a dramatic shift in your teen’s willingness to participate in activities, this is a reason for concern. Adolescents who are frequently engaging in substance use frequently lost interest in the things they used to enjoy. This could include sports, hobbies, or extracurricular activities.

Changes in Friend Groups

Much like how interests change over the course of adolescence, your child’s friend groups shift as well. However, if your teen suddenly is spending time with a completely new group of friends and no longer associates with the people they were once close with, this is concerning. Adolescents who are using drugs seek out relationships with people who support this behavior, creating an increased overdose risk. This often results in losing friendships and developing new ones. 

Increased Irritability

Teenagers who are engaging in substance use are going to be defensive about their behavior. If confronted about changes or concerns, they become irritable and potentially argumentative. Your child may deny using drugs or defend their behavior. They may also become angry more quickly. This can happen as a result of cravings for a substance. Shifts in mood are also symptoms of withdrawal.

Physical Changes

Sudden, dramatic changes in your child’s appearance are another indication of dangerous substance use that could lead to an overdose. Teens who are frequently using drugs exhibit signs such as: 

  • Rapid weight changes
  • Frequent nose bleeds
  • Unnatural pupil dilation or redness in the eyes
  • Tremors
  • Poor hygiene
  • Persistent coughing

Early recognition of these signs and changes in your teenager can help prevent irreversible damage due to an overdose. 

Overdose Prevention

If you’re concerned that your teen may be using drugs, early intervention is the key to preventing an overdose. When teenagers receive support soon after they start using, they are less likely to develop a serious addiction. In order to help prevent an overdose, information and treatment are the best lines of defense. Because teens often lack knowledge about the dangers of continual and significant drug use, providing them with this information can help deter early users from continued use. However, giving your child the data behind is only one piece of successful overdose prevention. To ensure your teenager has the support they need when battling a substance use disorder, they also need to participate in an evidence-based treatment program.

Drug Abuse Help for Teens

At The Forum, we are committed to utilizing the most effective therapeutic interventions to treat all types of addiction. Our comprehensive treatment model supports teens who have a substance use disorder and works to prevent the likelihood of a future overdose. Through group, family, and individual therapy, your child will work to identify their triggers and develop alternative coping strategies. They also have the opportunity to spend time in their individual therapy working through past trauma or life stressors that may have contributed to their substance use. If your teen is exhibiting signs of drug use, contact our team today to learn more about our treatment options. 


  1. Friedman J, Godvin M, Shover CL, Gone JP, Hansen H, Schriger DL. Trends in Drug Overdose Deaths Among US Adolescents, January 2010 to June 2021. JAMA. 2022;327(14):1398–1400. doi:10.1001/jama.2022.2847
  2. Johnston, L. D., Miech, R. A., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E., & Patrick, M. E. (2022). Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use 1975-2021: Overview, key findings on adolescent drug use. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan.