The truth is that a vast majority of teenagers are not, nor ever will be, addicted to drugs. Nevertheless, your child will not go through his teenage years without being offered drugs and he may already know somebody who is taking them.
Dealing With Drugs
Some level of experimentation with “soft drugs” such as alcohol, tobacco and cannabis, should probably be regarded as normal teenage behaviour. But although there is little you can do to stop your teen experimenting with drugs when out of the house, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to approve, you need to ensure that your teenager understands the risks associated with drugs, and set clear boundaries around what happens in your home.
If you don’t want drugs brought into the house, you can make this clear by reminding your teen that he is causing you to commit an offence if illegal drugs are knowingly consumed on your premises. If you suspect your teenager may be developing a drug problem of any kind, keep a close eye on the situation because he may need your help. There will inevitably be a number of telltale signs, even if your teen swears blind that nothing is wrong and that he has the situation under control.
Signs of Possible Drug Use
- Abrupt mood changes, unexplained lack of motivation, increased levels of restlessness and irritability, or dramatic changes in sleeping patterns, although do not rule out other explanations.
- If your child suddenly always needs money or items of value go missing.
- If your child suddenly stops mixing with his old friends and seems reluctant to tell you much about the people he now hangs out with.
- You can often detect the smell of alcohol, tobacco or marijuana on your teen’s breath. Smoking dope may give your teenager red eyes and a desire to eat (known as the munchies) and he may appear giggly or sleepy.
- Heavy alcohol use may lead to a flushed appearance, dilated pupils, clumsiness and difficulty focusing.
- Amphetamines or cocaine can make the user extremely animated, erratic and sometimes agitated. Long-term use of cocaine may lead to unexplained nose bleeds.
- Pinpoint pupils, scratching and constant nodding off suggest heroin use. Long clothing may be used to disguise injection marks, and look out for burns on lips and fingers.
What Can Parents Do?
It can be a shock to discover that your teenager is using drugs, and you may feel angry or frightened. But it is important to take a step back and think about how you are going to deal with the situation. While you can’t actually stop your teenager taking drugs, having a coping strategy may help you feel less powerless.
If you think your teenager is taking drugs, it’s important not to panic. If you overreact, you could make the situation worse. Try to remember that teenagers often use drugs to escape underlying feelings of despair or self-hatred. Your teen may need to confront these issues before she can deal with the drug use.
You’ll need to have the facts at your fingertips if you’re going to have any useful discussion with your teen about his drug use. If he thinks you don’t know what your talking about he will switch off.
Talk to your teenager about your concerns, but avoid being confrontational or judgemental. You can’t make her stop using drugs, but it’s important to try to help her find her own motivation to change. Try to focus on behaviour you have witnessed, and explain why it has troubled you. Emphasize that you want to understand and help in anyway you can. If your teen becomes abusive or angry, keep calm and bring the conversation to a halt.
If your teen acknowledges that he has a problem, encourage him to seek professional help. Any attempt to reduce drug use will stand a better chance with support from a trained drugs counsellor, but it may be difficult to get him to this point, particularly if he is denying the severity of the problem. Your doctor will be able to advise you about local services, or you can search websites.
If your teenager begins to cause problems in the home as a result of drug use, you need to point out calmly that you cannot put up with such behaviour indefinitely. You may need to make it a condition of continuing to live in your house that your teen behaves more reasonably, or gets involved in a suitable treatment programme.
Although you may be feeling helpless, it’s important not to give up on positive solutions. Try to encourage activities and friendships that are non-drug related. It would help your teenager focus if you can put something else into his life that might build his confidence and self-worth.
Don’t Go It Alone
Many parents feel unnecessary shame about their child using drugs, and tend to keep it to themselves. But handling a situation like this can be highly stressful, and you will need all the support you can get. Involve other family members, friends or other parents as your teen may find it harder to dismiss people outside the immediate family group as interfering and over-anxious. Addictions flourish in secrecy, so the more you can flush them out into the light of day, the harder it will be for your teen to keep running from the problem.
Be Prepared to Let Go
If, after you’ve tried everything you can to help, your teenager continues to use drugs, you may decide that your best course of action is to let go of the problem and leave it to her to sort out. However painful it is for you, the only person who can stop taking the drugs is the teenager herself.
The truth is that some teenagers won’t find the motivation to change until they start experiencing the reality of what drugs can do to their lives. For some people the quicker they hit rock bottom, the sooner they will start to sort out their life. By trying to protect your teenager indefinitely from the consequences of her bad choices, you may actually be prolonging her relationship with drugs and even allowing a more severe addiction to take hold. However, if you are facing hard choices like this, make sure you talk to an appropriate professional first.