Last week I received a call from a close friend of mine. She was full of questions and obviously shaken.
“How do I know if my son is using drugs?”
As she continued, I knew in my heart that this question was just the beginning of an education she would soon have about substance use —an education she never wanted or imagined she would need.
On the other side of the pendulum is a mom I interviewed just last night. Her son lost his battle with heroin addiction just five years ago.
As I thought about both situations —a mother who is just beginning to come to grips with the fact that her son may be in active addiction and another who suffered the worst kind of loss, I want to share the following:
Is My Child Using Drugs?
Maybe you overheard your child talking to someone about drugs. Or, maybe you read some disturbing texts or saw some concerning material on Facebook. Whatever the case, there is something fueling your hunch. But what do you do? Is there really a problem? Or are you overreacting?
First, it should be noted that drug use by teens/young adults (or anyone) is not something to be taken lightly. Parents may be tempted to buy into the lie that, “it’s only marijuana” or “there’s nothing wrong with a little experimentation.” Some may even reminisce to their own drug or alcohol use and buy into the lie that it’s just part of the journey to adulthood.
The truth is, alcohol or drug use can have lifelong detrimental effects, both mentally and physically. So how do you know and recognize if your child may, in fact, be using drugs?
Warning Signs to Possible Substance Abuse
There are a number of signals that may indicate your child is abusing alcohol or using drugs. As parents, we want to trust our children, and we should. That is a natural desire. But we are also their protector and need to look for signs of danger.
Here is a list of potential red flags.
Note: The following information is not designed to be used for self diagnosis or clinical evaluation.
- Missing money or constantly asking for money without anything to show for the funds
- Use of room deodorizers, perfumes or incense to cover up the smell of smoke
- Aluminum foil, small pipes, bags of seeds, burnt spoons, needles or other questionable paraphernalia in bedroom or living space
- Excessive use of mouthwash, gum or breath mints to mask the smell of alcohol
- Use or purchase of eye drops
- Missing prescription medications
- Grades / behavior changes at school
- Personality changes (overly talkative, angry outbursts, off-balance or lack of clarity)
- New friends that have no interest in meeting you
- Noticeable decrease in sleep (due to stimulants) / excessive sleep (due to depressants)
- Excessive or lack of appetite
- Keeping items locked in their car / using trunk or backpack locked in car as a storage space
- Secrecy regarding activities, phone conversations, texts, friends
- Bedroom, purse or backpack becomes off-limits
Of course, the above are simply warning signs. You may not need these. You may have actually observed your child under the influence on one or more occasions. You may have been tipped off by a friend or relative.
What should you do if you know or suspect your child is using drugs or abusing alcohol?
What to Do If My Child is Using Drugs?
While you should talk to your child as early as possible, there are some times when the conversation will be much less productive:
- When they are currently under the influence
- When you are angry
- Before you are prepared
How to Have a Conversation About Possible Drug Use
If you already have open lines of communication with your child, it’s a good idea to find out if there may be a deeper issue, possibly one needing support or therapy. If your child is turning to drugs or alcohol, this doesn’t make you a bad parent, so try to put your personal feelings aside as you are exploring issues with your child, teen, or young adult.
For some, drug use begins as a means of coping, to deal with trauma, anxiety, boredom, depression, anger, confusion or other unpleasant feelings. Getting high can also be a way to escape the simple problems and challenges of growing up. Research also suggests that family members’ use of alcohol and drugs plays a strong role in whether children/teens begin using drugs. Parents, grandparents, and older brothers and sisters are models that children follow.
So indeed, all aspects of a teen’s environment—home, school, and neighborhood—can influence whether they will try drugs.
When you’re ready to have the conversation, be yourself. You’re their parent and you love them. Showing your true concern while also reminding them that you are willing to support them and help them through the issues they are having is so important. Sentences like, “I’m concerned about you. I see you pulling away from your old friends and noticed some questionable behavior,” are not out of line. You don’t have to beat around the bush.
Be ready for the possibility of an angry response. We often put up immediate walls to protect ourselves from conversations we don’t feel ready to have. As the two of you continue to raise the awareness level to the fact that something unhealthy may be going on, you will need outside support. Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are excellent resources for the families of individuals struggling with substance abuse.
You’ll also want to have a treatment center ready in case your child has reached the point of wanting help. The Shores Treatment and Recovery is here to help and our knowledgeable, caring staff is ready to answer any questions you might have.