Teen Alcohol and Drug Abuse - When to See a Health Professional

If you think that your teen is using alcohol or drugs, gather all the information you can before taking your teen to a health professional. This will help ensure an accurate diagnosis.

Health professionals who can diagnose and treat substance abuse problems include:

Professional counseling for addiction, either individually or in a group setting, can be done by a:


If the health professional believes that your teen may have a substance abuse problem, he or she will ask about your child's medical history and will do a physical exam. He or she will ask questions about your teen's attitude toward substance use, the history of use, and any effects of drug use. The health professional will want to talk with your teen in private.

Urine, blood, or hair drug analysis (toxicology testing) or a blood alcohol test is not usually done to diagnose abuse problems. Health professionals typically will not do these tests without the teen's consent. Parental consent is not enough unless there is a medical or legal reason for testing.

The health professional may try to find out if your teen has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct disorder, depression, long-term depressed mood (dysthymic disorder), anxiety disorders, or post-traumatic stress disorder. These health problems are common in teens who abuse substances. Your child's doctor will want to treat these problems and the substance abuse.


Your doctor may refer you to a professional who is experienced in teen alcohol and drug problems.

Early detection

Ideally, when your child is in grade school, your doctor will begin asking about your child's attitudes toward alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. As your child grows, the doctor will continue to discuss this issue during medical visits. Getting help at an early age is very important. That's because early substance use increases the chance that your child will become dependent on alcohol or have other risky behaviors.

A health professional who suspects that you or another family member has a substance abuse problem will discuss treatment. Getting treatment early for yourself (or another family member) decreases your child's risk of having a substance abuse problem. Also, your child will be more likely to get treatment early if he or she does develop a substance abuse problem.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
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