I Think They Might Be Doing Something
There is no need for you to feel unqualified with regard to your ability to detect substance abuse. You shouldn’t be bashful, or worry about being clumsy. People take drugs because they want to cause a change in the way that they experience the world. You don’t have to be a doctor to detect these changes. The means exist, right here and right now, for you to competently perform your role and reliably protect your family. Please visit the Detecting Drug Use page to familiarize yourself with the information and techniques you need to uncover drug use. Visit the Diagnosing Drug Use page for tips on how you can reliably diagnose intoxication. Review the Preventing Drug Use page, to make sure you’ve got the right family formula in place. If you’ve got the willpower, we’ll give you the confidence. You can take charge of this issue.
For many parents, the first battle is not with their kids; it’s with themselves, their spouses or their family members. One of the greatest weaknesses of American society, is our tolerance for substance abuse. It burdens our hospitals, it crowds our jails, it ravages our families and it fills our cemeteries, yet our baseline outlook remains naively blasé. It is not uncommon for parents and family members to be instinctively accepting of teenage substance abuse. Things like tobacco use and underage drinking are often viewed as a rite of passage. In truth, that very passage is the root of our problems. Until you and your family members accept the grave danger that teenage ‘experimentation’ poses to your family, you will be impotent to defend against it. Your first step, then, is to take some time to become acquainted with the problem. Take just 90 seconds to read the Drug Prevention Facts Page. Then visit the Underage Drinking page, or take a tour of any MpoweredParent drug tutorial. There’s no demagoguery here. This subject sells itself. All of the important facts are cited, so you can credibly educate those who will be your allies in this effort to protect the future.
If your child has suffered an alcohol or drug overdose, if they have stolen money from the family, if they are drinking on a regular basis or if they have begun to openly flaunt their substance abuse, this is not the page for you. Please visit the We’ve Got A Problem page.
Kids experiment with drugs in the most clandestine way possible. They typically go to obscene lengths to keep it hidden. So, the more obvious the signs that you’ve seen, the more likely it is that you’ve got a bigger problem than you realize. By the time most kids allow themselves to carelessly come home drunk, smoke cigarettes in their bedroom or huff chemicals in the garage, they’ve already built up some confidence by way of prior experience. And unfortunately, you can’t afford to trust them when they tell you that it was the first time. For teens, the first time is a real problem. Over 80% of the world’s smokers, for example, started smoking when they were in high school.(1) Nearly all of the world’s alcoholics began drinking as a teenager. (2) So whether you’ve just happened to notice that their hair has the faint smell of cigarettes, or you’ve actually found them passed out in a bed full of urine, your primary concern will be to thoroughly investigate the seriousness of the problem.
This is done by way of an interview, and a 12 panel drug test. Though researchers have long seen the indisputable link between gateway drugs and their successors, many parents underestimate both the significance of this link, and the potential rate of progression. If a teenager is smoking cigarettes, for example, it is very likely that they smoke marijuana as well.(3) The drug test will help you rule that out. You buy it right over the counter at your local drug store. It is cheap, easy, reliable, takes only a few seconds, and is done in the privacy of your own home. Visit our Drug Testing Page, for more information. Just keep in mind, that a single drug test will only give you a snapshot of their use history. They are only really good for evaluating the past 24 to 72 hours. Regular random drug testing should be a part of every teen’s routine.
When you speak with your child, you are seeking to determine:
- How and where did they obtain the drug?
- How long have they been using it?
- What other drugs have they tried?
- What other drugs have they seen?
- Which of their friends are also using the drug?
- Why did they chose to get involved in substance abuse?
The above two steps will give you more background on the situation. If your child has experience with multiple drugs, or if they’ve been using regularly, you’ll need to seek professional help (click here). If your child has experimented with one drug, you’ll have to evaluate the other risk factors. Is there a history of dependence in the family? Has the child endured a divorce? Death in the family? Depression? Do they have a behavior disorder, such as ADHD? Are there other life stresses that may be causing them to self-medicate? If these factors exist, it is also advised that you seek professional help.
If the drug use is due to curiosity or social pressure, it is time to evaluate their social circle and decrease discretionary time. We ask kids what other drugs they’ve seen, because it often provides telling information about their social circle and activities. Teenagers report that their closest friends play the primary role in tempting drug use.(4) Close friends are also amongst the most frequent source of drugs.(5) So while few teenagers will welcome a forced change in friendships, parents simply can’t afford to have their child hanging out with a naive and reckless group. This is particularly true in the freshman and sophomore years of high school, when younger kids aggressively clamor for social status. This is when the “party crowd” typically becomes defined.
Boredom and discretionary time are also contributory causes of drug use. So if their time isn’t being spent well, they need to get a part time job and/or incorporate other structured activities into their schedule. These activities should preferably occupy the critical hours immediately after school. Ideally, they would also occupy modest morning hours on the weekend; a move that self-imposes a weekend night curfew. This doesn’t have to seem like a penalty, find something that they are interested in, and get them involved.
Communication is going to become a key aspect of your success. Look for ways to improve upon the roles and functions within your family. You can, in fact, guide and monitor a child without being oppressive. The methods we recommend will actually strengthen your family and build trust between you. The goal here is partnership. We don’t want to be repetitive, so please review the Preventing Substance Abuse segment for a list of healthy methods. Be sure to go through the Prevention Checklist to get your feet firmly on the ground.
Finally, take the time to educate your child and fellow family members. Address this issue as a group. Rally the troops and support one another. Address any risk factors and be sure to eliminate any home practices that could be contributing to the problem (Click here for common examples.). Remember, the formative teen years are critical. Every day, week and year that you forestall substance abuse with your teen, decreases the chance that they will ever fall victim to drugs.(4) Get it right the first time, or risk loosing the battle forever.
1. Preventing Tobacco Use Among Young People, U.S. Surgeon General Report, (1994)
2. Grant BF, Dawson DA: Age at onset of alcohol use and its association with DSM-IV alcohol abuse and dependence: results from the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiological Survey. J Subst Abuse 1997; 9:103–110
3. National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Report on Cigarette Smoking and Marijuana Use. September, 2003.
4. Califano, Joseph A. How to Raise a Drug Free Kid. Simon and Shuster. NY, NY; 2009.
5. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (2009); Columbia University. National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XIV: Teens and Parents. NY, NY.