What to do if Your Teen is Using Drugs

A parents worst nightmare is to find out their teen is using drugs and potentially on the road to becoming an addict. Most teens will at some point experiment with drugs and alcohol when given a chance.  It is the nature of youth to try new things and and often times engage in some form of risky behavior. In the case of drug use however it is in a parents best interest to know the signs to look for and be aware that there is a chance that their child is experimenting with drugs and possibly on the road to abusing them or getting addicted. As a parent it is important to be educated and know how to tell if your teen is using drugs and what to do if your teen is using drugs.

In the case of teen drug use the earlier you are aware that your teen is using drugs the better chance you have of changing the behavior at an early stage. Drug use as it is well documented can lead to risky sexual behavior, self-harm, an increased risk of automobile accidents, trouble with their studies in school as well as mental health issues.

First thing we need to look at however is why teens start using drugs in the first place.

Why Teens Start Using Drugs or Alcohol

1: Peer Pressure and to "Fit In"

During adolescence peer pressure can be an incredibly strong force, young people are trying to build their group of friends and discover where they fit in. The desire to be accepted and liked can make it very difficult to just say "No" as we are taught by the government information commercials. Also when well meaning adults try and use fear as an educational tool it is ineffective, saying "if you use drugs you will die", an adolescent will more often then not think what you are saying is BS, since they see people all around them using drugs and they're not dead.

2: Dealing with Stress

In a 2007 study by Partnership for a Drug Free America it was found that 73% of teen in school using drugs claim they use to cope with the pressure and stress of school. As parents with a considerable number of things to worry about, kids, bills, work, family, etc. we often don't think about our kids being stressed and under a lot of pressure.  They are however, if you think back would you want to be 17 again? I know I sure wouldn't. Our kids are stressed, they have the pressure to excel in their studies as well as fit in with the group. The teenage years can be an incredibly difficult time in our lives since we are expected to act like adults, have disciple, get our work done, enjoy our free time and make appropriate decisions. But we haven't learned and developed the coping mechanisms and maturity to be able to easily shrug something off. Also the chemical changes in their bodies as they are going through puberty can easily effect their emotions in sometimes dramatic ways, think about it kids, can emotionally explode for what we as adults think is something that really shouldn't bother them. They haven't developed the maturity and understanding that comes with age, their body is an adult, their mind is not.

3: Easy Access to Drugs

Ask any teen that will be honest if they know where to buy drugs, most anyone will say yes and if they don't know they definitely know who to ask to find out. It's not difficult, I can walk through a new city that I have never been to and if scoring drugs is what I want it probably wouldn't take more then an hour. A teen in a school environment that already knows the people around and who fits into which social group will be able to find their drug of choice in a matter of minutes. Also with many teens these days having a lot more money in their pocket then when us as parents were growing up they have the discretionary spending power to purchase drugs or alcohol easily. Most drugs on a recreational leave aren't very expensive.

4: Coping with Anxiety & Depression

According to a study by Jean Twenge who compiled and research information from 1938 until present day on depression in adolescence, teens and adolescence are 5 times more likely to be dealing with depression, anxiety and mental health issues as high school and college students in the depression era were. According to PsychCentral approximately 20% of teens will have to deal with some level of depression before reaching adulthood.

According to a Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse report 20 - 30% of Adolescents age 15 - 24 with a substance abuse problem are also diagnosed with depression. This does lead to a chicken or the egg scenario where the cooccurring disorder needs to be approached not knowing  if the depression lead to the substance abuse or the substance abuse lead to the depression. Either way having the two together can lead to an almost endless cycle of treatment and relapse, if both the substance abuse and mental health issue are not addressed. What I generally tell people when they have a dual diagnosis such as this is that we can not take away a mental health issue, however we can take away drugs or alcohol. So the best way to treat both is to first get clean of the drugs or alcohol and then see what we are left with and where we need to go from there.

5: Monkey See, Monkey Do

Yes if you regularly abuse drugs or alcohol, chances are your children will as well. Not to try and point fingers and blame as adolescence are responsible for their own actions, however alcohol and drug abuse can be learned behavior as well as genetic. If a young boy sees his father dealing with the stress and disappointment of life everyday by drinking or using drugs they can quickly learn that it is an acceptable way of dealing with their issues.

In an NIAAA bulletin, it is stated that children growing up in an alcoholic household are up to seven times as likely do develop alcohol dependance in their lifetime.

Signs of Teen Drug Abuse and Use

So now we have an idea of why some teens start using drugs or alcohol, so how do we tell if your teen is using drugs or alcohol? Understand that just because your teen has a couple of the symptoms below does not mean they are a drug or alcohol addict. It should also not be ignored, better to get them angry at you and find out they weren't using drugs or alcohol then to ignore your instincts and find out you were wrong and they are using. Chances are they will forgive you for being mistaken. Here are some warning signs to look out for;

Behavioral Signs of Teen Drug or Alcohol Abuse

  • Grades in school declining, absent from classes and requiring disciplinary action in school.
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities they use to enjoy and lower motivation
  • Missing work, sleeping in
  • Isolating themselves, being withdrawn, silent, secretive, avoiding eye contact
  • Missing valuables or money, stealing or borrowing money
  • Clothing or posters tend to be regularly about drug related lifestyle
  • Locking doors avoiding eye contact
  • Perfumes, air fresheners, incense to hide the smell of smoked drugs
  • Changes in personality or attitude for no apparent reason
  • Mood swings, angry outbursts or laughing for no reason

Health & Physical Signs of Teen Drug or Alcohol Abuse

  • Blood shot eyes, dilated pupils
  • Regular use of eye drops to hide bloodshot eyes
  • Sudden changes in appetite and sleeping pattern
  • Sudden weight gain or weight loss
  • Nosebleeds, can be related to snorting meth or cocaine
  • Not looking after their personal hygiene
  • Seizures without a prior history
  • Slurring speech and staggering
  • Periods of unusual hyperactivity followed by long periods sleeping
  • Paranoid and afraid for no apparent reason

What to do if Your Teen is Using Drugs

1: Remember that this is still your son or daughter you are going to have to talk with them but you don't want to alienate them and push them father away. Love them first! Focus on the behavior not the person, you are talking about saving their life here, no different then jumping into the lake because they are drowning.

Try to find away to release your fear, anger and disappointment prior to talking with them.  Unless they feel loved by you, you will have very little influence on him or her. Make sure they know the reason you are angry is that you are afraid for them and care deeply.

2: Talk, don't shout. Your going to have to put your normal parenting hat aside, yelling, threatening, preaching and scolding aren't going to do any good here. I have talked to thousands of people that are drug addicts or alcoholics, even when they don't admit it to their family they know what they are doing is dangerous, most people aren't stupid, but they are trapped in a cycle that is very difficult to break free from. So talk, understand, try to get them to tell you what is really going on. Share what you think might be going on and that you are very concerned for their welfare and that you are sorry if you come across angry it is because you are afraid of loosing them. Also be prepared for them to not come around right away and that you might need to come back to this conversation more then once.

3: Reassure him or her that you do love them, you still see the person they are through the drug or alcohol abuse and present bad behavior. Ask them what you can do to help and be prepared to tell them honestly what you believe their strengths and weaknesses are. Remember the whole point of this conversation is to get information on what is really going on, without knowing what the problem is, it is really difficult to come up with a solution. They won't tell you what is going on if they don't trust you, you need to have their trust at this point.

4: Make an appointment with a specialist, check around and find a specialist with experience in substance abuse.  In an article like this I can only speak in generalities since I don't know your specific situation, your free to call but remember you have local help available as well. You can make an appointment with a psychiatrist or psychologist with experience in this area. If you teen is giving you a difficult time about meeting with the specialist, reassure them that all they need to do is talk to the person and a good specialist will not be judgmental and just tell them the facts. Also often times there are underlying issues to peoples drug and alcohol abuse which can be looked into and addressed and if that is the case you love him or her enough to check all the option right away.

5: Rule and Boundaries, be sure to set rules and boundaries, what your child is doing is illegal and can be very risky or dangerous. They are probably associating with people that are not good for them and forming unhealthy relationships. Remind them it is your responsibility as a parent to help kids grow up healthy and balanced, however there is little you can do if they get arrested. Be sure you are also not enabling them, if your giving them the money that they are using to buy the drugs or alcohol, this probably needs to stop. Know in advance what you will do if they break curfew, will you lock them out, will you let them in? Be sure you set this all out and stick to it. Be sure you talk about what the house rules are, make sure they are reasonable and again stick to them.

6: Decide what you will do if they get arrested; Will you get a lawyer, will you bail them out or are they on their own? When you are talking about this make sure everything you say and decide you are willing to stick to and not change your mind at a future date. Even if you decide that you are not going to help them with lawyers and the legal system if it comes to that you can still be at their court dates and quietly support them. Some kids end up in jail, I would never recommend that as a therapeutic approach however if you maintain the relationship to the best of your ability you have a chance of helping them turn it around when they get out.

7: Get help for yourself; There are groups and help for yourself as a parent, you can look for a therapist to help you deal with the issues you will be experiencing around your son or daughters drug or alcohol abuse as well as they can give good advise on how to handle the specific issues that will be arising in yours and your child's life. Another excellent resource in some areas is called Al-Anon, Al-Anon is a support group for family and loved ones of a drug or alcohol addicts and can be an excellent resource for people dealing with these situations. In these groups you will meet many people with very similar experiences to your own and hear what solutions worked for them and what didn't.

8: Drug & Alcohol Rehab Centers; Drug and alcohol rehab centers are also an option if you can talk your child into going to one. There are many ways to convince them and it might be just what is needed to break the cycle of substance abuse. In the USA alone there are literally 10's of thousands of rehabs and some specialize in youth drug and alcohol addiction. You will need to be cautious here however and do your research as some are extremely religious based or not using evidence based treatment philosophies. Some like Narconon I regularly warn people to stay away from since there are many reports of them basically being a religious indoctrination program for the Church of Scientology,  Please note here if following this, or any other religion is what you wish to do and makes you happy I have no problem with that. It is your business and you have the right to follow any religion you wish, what I have a problem with is using a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program to recruit people for your religious beliefs when they are already vulnerable and looking for a solution. In the case of Narconon we read regular reports of religious indoctrination in the centers as well as deaths in the facilities.

Another approach I regularly warn against is the drug Ibogaine that is being toted in some places as a cure for addiction but has a considerable number of deaths related to it's use and is not done in medical based facilities. There is some possible evidence that Ibogaine may be useful in some cases, however most of the places offering it are not hospitals without medical doctors on site.

My main point of mentioning these is to check out the center that you are considering sending your child to as it is not always what it seems.

If I can be of any help or you are wondering what to do if your teen is using drugs, feel free to call me or get in contact through this website. For your information if you are not in Thailand, I would not recommend sending young teens here for treatment, there are some good international programs that can help and I can recommend in some instances.