A physical exam is not as useful as the medical history in diagnosing
teen substance use (alcohol, cigarettes, inhalants, and other drugs). Unless
the teen is under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time, there will
likely be no signs of use or abuse.
If your teen is suspected of having a substance use problem, the
doctor will look for physical signs of recent or past use. The
exam may include:
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a potentially life-threatening condition that can occur in people who have been drinking heavily for weeks, months, or years and then either stop or significantly reduce their alcohol consumption.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can begin as early as two hours after the last drink, persist for weeks, and range from mild anxiety and shakiness to severe complications, such as seizures and delirium tremens (also called DTs). The death rate from DTs -- which are characterized...
Weight and general appearance. The doctor will look for signs of poor nutrition or signs of
Blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature. If your
teen is under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, these values may be
increased or decreased.
Skin. The doctor will look for
needle tracks or sores on the neck (jugular area), inside of the elbows, groin
area, or penis that may indicate injection of drugs. Pus-filled acne on the
teen's skin may indicate use of sedatives, stimulants, or LSD. Burns on the
lips or multiple small skin ulcers in various stages of healing may indicate
use of a stimulant drug.
Eyes. If your teen is believed to be under
the influence at the time of the exam, the doctor may test for
rapid eye movements and pupil size and reaction to light.
Evidence of injury to the lining in the nose or to the center partition could
indicate that a teen has been inhaling substances.
and abnormal lung sounds could indicate use of cigarettes or other inhaled or
Heart. Heart rhythm irregularities, inflammation of
the lining of the heart (endocarditis), or lack of blood supply
to an area of the heart (ischemia) may indicate abuse of certain