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The Phases of Teenage Substance Use

counselor talking to young woman -Relapse Prevention in Baltimore - The Bergand Group

The progression of substance use from experimentation to abuse follows a sequence of phases in all users. However, teenagers may move through these phases more quickly than adults. It’s important that parents know how to recognize signs of substance use and abuse in teenagers. Even more so, it’s important that parents talk to their children about substances and take preventative measures to reduce the likelihood that their child will develop a substance abuse problem. The following are the four phases of substance abuse in teenage users.

The Phases of Teenage Substance Use


The first phase of substance use, a teenager may be prompted by a peer to try a substance along with friends. The nature of the act as a rebellion against authority has a certain appeal for many teenagers as well.

Regular Use

The teenager takes substances most every day. They may have changed their friend group to those who all use frequently, spending less time with old friends and family. He or she may skip school to use and may begin to struggle academically as a result. At this stage the user begins to use substances as a way of coping with negative emotions.


The user becomes preoccupied with drug use and it dominates his or her time and interests. Behavioral changes which began in the regular use phase and may have been attributed to natural teenage changes are now obviously associated with substance use. The motivation to do things besides use substances is almost non-existent. The user may also begin to sell drugs to support their habit, and may seek harder substances in search of a stronger high.


The teenager cannot function without using substances and has no control over their use. They will most likely be in denial of their problem. Substances will have taken a significant physical and emotional toll on the user, and all of their relationships will have suffered as well.

If you believe your teenager may have a substance abuse problem, it’s not too late to do something about it. The earlier you discover the problem the better, as they may not have progressed to more serious phases yet. Once the problem becomes a preoccupation or full blown dependence for the user, professional help will be necessary.

About The Bergand Group:

At The Bergand Group in Baltimore, MD our therapists have more than twenty years of experience in the mental health and addiction fields. Our focus is on providing comprehensive mental health care and appropriate care for addictive disorders. We offer both alcohol rehabilitation and drug rehabilitation. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol or substance addiction, there is help available. We also offer several other services, including family therapy and counseling. To speak with someone at our office, please call us at 410-853-7691. You can also contact us via email, and follow us on FacebookGoogle+Twitter and LinkedIn.

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