Drug Warning Signs

When You Suspect Your Child Is Using Drugs by Drew Edwards, Ed.D., M.S.

Drug use among teens has risen steadily since 1992.  According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, approximately 55 percent of high school seniors have used illegal drugs during the year 2000. Equally shocking is that the average onset of drug use for American children now occurs during the ripe-old-age of 12. The enormous pressures on children today, coupled with the increased availability of drugs have certainly increased the likelihood so determining if a child is using drugs can be very difficult.

Substance abuse can be subtle and develop over the course of several months or even years. Or it can come crashing in like a hurricane. Short of directly observing drug use in your teen there is no single factor for diagnosing a problem, there are however, common warning signs.

Common signs of substance abuse

  • Violations of curfew and other family rules.
  • Rigid negative attitude — highly defensive.
  • Abrupt changes in mood or attitude.
  • Weight loss (or sometimes gain).
  • Change in eating.
  • Change in sleep patterns. Out late—sleep all day.
  • Sudden decline in attendance or performance at school.
  • Losing interest in school, sports or other activities that used to be important.
  • Sudden resistance to discipline at home.
  • Uncharacteristic withdrawal from family and positive friends.
  • Heightened secrecy about actions or possessions.
  • Missing money, jewelry and valuables from household.
  • Associating with a new group of friends whom your child refuses to discuss.

What Next?

Don’t assume that drug using is a normal part of adolescence and they will grow out of it. It is not — and they won’t. Moreover, don’t make the mistake of waiting for your child to hit their bottom because the bottom they hit may be jail, serious injury or even death. Here are some practical steps you can take:

  • Don’t go it alone. Ask for emotional support. Let trusted friends, family or clergy in on the problem. Tell them you want their help.
  • Have your child tested. If your child denies drug use, or tells you an unbelievable story contrary to the evidence, a simple urine drug test will detect commonly abused drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and most narcotics.
  • Stop enabling the problem by making excuses or covering up for your child’s behavior. Your time is best spent in the solution. When a substance abusing teen has to face the consequences of his or her actions, they are more interested in seeking help.
  • Confront your child directly — Stick to facts and feelings: “I found this marijuana pipe in your room and it scares me to death.”
  • Never bluff. Be willing to follow through on any conditions or promises you make. Be sure to communicate your expectations clearly and calmly.
  • Contact a behavioral health professional in your community for information about education and treatment programs.
  • Attend Al-a-non or Nar-a-non. These are programs offer non-professional group support for those the family and friends of substance abusers.

Remember — Substance abuse problems are highly treatable. With professional help and family involvement the chances for recovery are excellent.

© 2002 Drew Edwards. All rights reserved. This article was reprinted with permission. Please do not publish this article without direct consent from Drew Edwards. Family First is not authorized to permit the reproduction of articles contributed to FamilyFirst.net by non-staff authors.