Whether or not our children are experimenting with, dabbling in, or heavily involved with drug or alcohol use is a cause of great concern and anxiety for most parents. The sad fact is that we often are unaware, and either fail to see the warning signs, or our fears drive us to deny potential red flags. It is a frightening statistic, but it takes parents, on average, two years to fully uncover problematic substance abuse. By that time, much harmful effects may have taken hold.
Following will be some of the signs and symptoms to look for. However, two caveats. One, these are indicators of possible use, but may be issues related to other physical or emotional problems. Second, I believe it is essential for you to think about, and have a philosophy about how to deal with information pointing to use. Do you have a zero tolerance policy? If so, what does that mean if you find out there has been experimentation? You and your spouse should be on the same page, and be clear about what directions you will take. Are you more interested in keeping lines of communication open? Do you believe that experimentation is normal and you accept it? Do you believe that as long as they are using, they should do it in the safety of your home (yes, some parents believe that)?
I am not judging or telling you which approach/belief you should have, but informing that it is important to have a clear approach to this subject. One last bit of advice: your children need a caring, limit-setting parent when it comes to their decisions to use drugs or alcohol, not a friend. They have plenty of friends willing to tell them what to do.
What are some signs and symptoms that your child may be using drugs or alcohol?
- Physical Evidence. Finding drug paraphernalia, such as pipes, plastic bagginess, vaping devices, small glass vials, bongs, rolling papers. If you find marijuana in their backpack, they will always say it belongs to a friend – it never does.
- Physical changes, including fatigue, change in sleep patterns, muscle aches and pains, weight loss, bruises, blood shot eyes, poor hygiene
- Behavioral changes, including change in friends, avoidance of old friends, withdrawal, isolation, increase in moodiness and arguing, defiance of rules, vague about whereabouts, sudden status with peers.
- Academic issues, including grades unexpectedly and suddenly slipping, increased absences, difficulty concentrating, reduction in motivation to perform, change in attitude towards teachers.
- Drug and alcohol curiosity, including interest in pro-drug music and literature; wearing pro-drug jewelry, hats, shirts; increase in pro-marijuana and pro-drug discussions; exploring internet sites.
As I mentioned, many of these signs are indicative of issues other than drug or alcohol use, but they are red flags that should not be ignored. They should be dealt with and discussed openly, and if concern arises, consider getting professional advice.
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Moe Gelbart, PhD
Executive Director, Thelma McMillen Center