“It could never, ever happen to my child.” That’s a statement thousands of American parents make each and every day when they’re asked about the possibility of addiction in their children. It’s a reassuring thought, but it’s also a far cry from true. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University’s 2012 back-to-school teen survey, a whopping 86 percent of American high school students say that some classmates are drinking, smoking and/or using drugs during the school day. Almost half of these students know another student who sells drugs on school grounds.
These statistics show just how prevalent drug use and drinking are in adolescent life, and they might prove just how likely it is that teens are using drugs at some point during their academic careers. Parents who can spot the signs and know how to intervene will be in a good position to help their children to recover.
While teens can be changeable, secretive and moody, substance abuse tends to cause significant shifts in personality that seem out of character for that person when he/she is sober. Normally shy and introverted teens might become outgoing and verbose, while outgoing and active teens might seem sedated and slow. Some teens develop rapid shifts in personality, escaping to their rooms in a low mood and emerging mere minutes later in high spirits.
Addictions can be time-consuming, and teens typically know that their behaviors won’t be accepted by their parents. As a result, teens might feign illnesses so they can stay home from school and use substances in private, or they might avoid spending time with the family so they can hole up in private with their favorite drugs. Teens might also drop out of sports and allow their grades to drop, all because they’re focusing on abuse and not on the future.
Some addictive drugs are easy for teens to find within the home, and others they might be able to buy from friends at a low cost. But addictions often require teens to take massive quantities of the substances they’re addicted to, and this behavior can become very expensive indeed. Teens who have well-seated addictions may resort to theft in order to maintain their addictions, or they might sell their prized possessions in order to obtain money for drugs.
According to a study in the journal Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, changes in appearance are some of the most definitive cues of substance abuse in teens. Signs to look for include:
- Bloodshot eyes
- Wide pupils, or pupils as small as pinpricks
- Sudden weight loss or gain
- Dental problems
- Running, dripping nose
- Needle marks on the arms
Teens might also leave drug-related paraphernalia scattered about their rooms or in joint living spaces. Pipes, needles and rolled-up money can all be used to deliver drugs into the teen’s body, but even innocuous items like pens and bottles can be transformed into sophisticated delivery systems. Parents who find these kinds of items might be traumatized by the discovery, but at the same time, they have physical evidence of teen drug use, and this could be an excellent way to break through denial and make the teen see the damage that’s taking place.
Holding a Talk
It’s tempting to lash out at teens when evidence of drug use or drinking comes to light, but an intoxicated teen is unlikely to think clearly and respond rationally. When the teen is sober once more, that’s the time to act. According to an article in Psychology Today, a conversation about addiction could begin with parents asking for confirmation that the child is drinking or using. If teens will not admit to the use, physical proof could break through the denial, including evidence of stolen items from the household or evidence of drug paraphernalia found in the teen’s room. Parents can follow up this proof with the simple question, “What should we do about it?”
Strict rules about drug use and alcohol use could dissuade some teens from using in the future, but teens who have used on a habitual basis may be unable to follow the rules. They have chemical-based addictions, and they’ll need rehab to heal. These teens might readily admit that they cannot stop without help, or they might agree to stop and then continue to move forward with their destructive behaviors. These teens really do need addiction treatment, and we can help. At Muir Wood, we provide treatments for teen boys who have addiction issues, and we’re adept at helping families break through denial and reach in to help their troubled teens. Please call us to find out more.