Now more than ever we must be vigilant about our children and their health, as what happens today, in this moment, can affect the rest of their lives, whether it’s good or bad. Long before Nixon declared a “war on drugs” in the 1970s, parents have worried and fretted over the signs and symptoms of drug abuse in their kids. Then as now, they may have felt unsure, hesitant, and even powerless. Wild, erratic behavior is just one sign – some kids can hide their new lifestyles behind a guise of good grades and a sunny personality so well, they’re in over their heads before we even notice anything is amiss – and then it’s too late.
If this is your fear, you’re not alone. Countless parents, though the fault is not their own, wish they could turn back the clock for their addicted or recovering children (of all ages), pick up on the subtlest of warning signs and intervene before matters take a deadly turn for the worse. Sadly, that’s impossible, but it is partly because of them that we have a sharper awareness for potential trouble in our children and greater access to treatment when they need help.
The Signs and Symptoms
Some kids will become involved with heavy drug and alcohol use simply because their friends do it. Others will turn to substances to compensate for something, like the feeling that they don’t fit in or the loss of a family member or loved one; some view it as a way to cope with the tough teenage years. Whatever the reason, there are signs and symptoms we should all be aware of. Abrupt onset of constant fatigue, careless grooming habits or a more withdrawn personality are warning signs. A new group of friends that he or she doesn’t want to talk about could be suspect. If your teen suddenly isn’t interested in things they used to love, like soccer, ballet or music, these could also indicate drug abuse.
If your teen starts fluctuating between excessive happiness and irritability or aggressiveness, it could mean something is wrong. Of course, sometimes teens act like this for no reason other than they are teenagers and their bodies – including their minds – are rapidly changing, adjusting and growing. You should have a good idea of who your child is and what constitutes “normal weird” behavior. Keeping an open dialogue between yourself and your kids can be tough, but it should at least be attempted.
Don’t be afraid to act on serious red flags, like persistently bloodshot eyes, slurred speech or unexplained weight loss or gain.
Having “The Talk”
If you’ve decided that your child’s behavior is completely off the grid and they’ve displayed a few of the symptoms listed above, or if you’ve simply found physical evidence of their drug and alcohol abuse (hidden liquor bottles, marijuana pipes, etc.), you must proceed, but with caution. Acting in a judgmental and angry way will only earn you their immediate distrust and probably cause them to become a hundred times more difficult and evasive. So when you’re calm and you’re sure they are sober, give voice to your suspicions in a forward but non-accusational way. Something like, “I’ve noticed a change in your behavior, and I’m worried that drugs or alcohol could be in the picture. I don’t want to point fingers or blame you, but I do want to help you if this is a problem, because I love you.” If they are defensive, keep your cool and do not let it escalate. You might have to walk away for a bit before resuming the conversation when everyone is calm again. The emphasis should be on your desire as a parent to help your child whom you love, not as an angry accusation.
When you get your child to admit that he or she has a problem, there are many avenues and opportunities for getting better. Drug and alcohol rehab is a common choice when the substances have put your kid at his or her rock-bottom; in-patient or out-patient treatment will depend on the severity of the situation. Attend AA or NA meetings as a family so you’re showing your child support for their recovery. Consider, too, family counseling, to encourage open and honest communication. You might feel guilty and overwhelmed, heaping the blame and shame onto yourself. Don’t. And remember that you, too, need a support system of your own, even as you help your child get better.
Author Bio: Alexis Percy is a contributing writer and mother of three young adults, one of whom went through drug rehabilitation for cocaine addiction. She has found that the information found on drugrehab.org is extremely helpful in the feat of accepting that addiction has affected her family.