Helping A Young Person With Adolescent Drug Use
By Sarah Fader
Updated December 18, 2018
Reviewer Tiffany Howard, LPC, LCADC
Anyone can become addicted to drugs at any age. With substance abuse in adolescence, you want to be sure to address the issue at the first signs of a problem so that patterns of what could become life-long behavior are stopped in their tracks. This gives the child a better shot at long-term recovery and a chance to save his or her life before addiction begins to affect everything from their college admissions process to the kinds of jobs they will obtain after graduation.
Signs That An Adolescent May Be Using Drugs
If your child experiences a negative change in mood or behavior, such as acting hostile or withdrawn or feeling tired or depressed all the time, this can be a sign that he or she may be developing a problem related to drugs. These signs are often missed or overlooked, as parents attribute them as a normal part of growing up. However, if these signs are coupled with any of the following, then it may be a cause for concern:
S/he starts hanging out with different friends.
● S/he neglects his or her appearance and
● S/he begins to get bad grades or skips classes.
● S/he loses interest in what was once a favorite activity.
● S/he gets in trouble with school and the law.
● S/he experiences changes in his or her eating or sleeping habits.
● There is a noticeable deterioration in his or her relationships with friends and family members.
● Missing money or valuables or more frequent requests for money
● Acting isolated and withdrawn or secretive and defensive when questioned
● Use of perfume, incense or air freshener to mask odors
● Frequent use of eye drops to reduce eye redness and eye dilation
● Bloodshot eyes or pupils smaller than usual
● Unexplainable unusual nosebleeds (could indicate use of cocaine or methamphetamine)
● Weight loss or gain
● Seizures (with no history of epilepsy)
● Injuries, accidents or bruises that they cannot remember or won't tell you the cause of
● Usual smell on clothing, body or breath
● Impaired or unstable coordination
● Slurred or incoherent speech
● Shakes or body tremors
Early intervention is the key to successful treatment. If you notice any of these signs of potential addiction, then the next step is to assist your child in seeking help.
Seeking Help For Your Teen
The first step in seeking help with your teen's potential drug use is to consult with a professional. First, you can bring your child to his or her doctor so that s/he can be screened for signs of drug use and for health conditions related to using drugs. You may want to check with your doctor in advance to ensure that s/he is comfortable with conducting such a test, or if perhaps s/he may be able to refer you to a doctor who specializes in this area.
You may also want to skip the primary care doctor and call an addiction specialist directly. In the U.S. alone, 3,500 board-certified physicians are specialized in drug addiction. You can find a doctor by clicking on the "Find a Physician" link on the homepage of the website for the American Society of Addiction Medicine. You can also use the "Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Finder" on the website for the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. In both cases, you and the doctor can decide on whether your child should be referred to treatment.
In addition to asking your child a serious of questions to evaluate whether he or she may have a drug-related issue, the doctor may also conduct blood and urine test to check for the presence of substances. If any drugs are present, this will help the doctor realize the extent of the child's addiction and can begin to treat him or her accordingly.
At first, you may be apprehensive about seeking treatment for your child during the school year. After all, treatment can impact all sorts of milestones that can come up over the course of an academic year, from scholarly pursuits to athletic tournaments. But then, so can drugs.
Treatment will help your child regain control over his or her life by stopping the effects that addiction can have on their bodies, their brains, and their behavior. Perhaps most important, you want to be confident in your child's health before he or she graduates and heads out into the world, where drugs are more accessible and where you may be hindered from helping your child get the treatment he or she needs.
Adolescents And Intervention
You may have seen a drug intervention on television where friends and family essentially gang up on their loved one, giving him or her a hard dose of reality by forcing the person to admit he or she has a drug problem and will agree to seek treatment for it. However, there is no evidence to prove that such a confrontation is effective at convincing someone to enter treatment. In fact, confrontations like these can backfire, leading to violence or some other negative and unexpected result.
Most adolescents will only enter treatment when they are forced to go, such as when their parents bring them or when they get in trouble with the law and the justice system steps in. It is therefore important that parents, should they be the ones to intervene, focus on giving the child an incentive to consult with a doctor. It is not advisable for family members to intervene, as children who are brought to a professional are more likely to listen to the doctor. This is because the doctor is a neutral party, one who won't be ruled by emotions or doling out accusations that can force the child to withdraw.
One of the chief concerns of a person struggling with substance abuse is that his or her drugs will be taken away. You can reassure your child that, should he or she need to go through detox, the treatment center will keep him or her as safe and as comfortable as they possibly can. Reaffirm the fact that the child's family and loved ones will be there to offer love and support as he or she goes through what can be a harrowing ordeal, but that will be more than beneficial to them in the long run.
Drugs As Treatment
Adults who are suffering from an addiction to alcohol, nicotine, and opioids, including heroin, are typically prescribed certain non-habit-forming medications to help wean them off of their addictions by reducing the effects of withdrawal. These same medications may also be prescribed to teens and young adults, just in smaller amounts. Medication is typically used in conjunction with behavioral therapy. For instance, medication may be prescribed to treat the depression that fueled your child's desire to seek out illicit substances.
Your treatment provider will know best which medications to use, if any, and when, depending on your child's specific needs. Some treatment centers do not believe in fighting drug addiction with more drugs, but research shows that in many cases, medication can work by boosting therapeutic efforts.
Don't Blame Yourself
You may want to blame yourself for your child turning to drugs, but ultimately it is your child's decision to use drugs as a coping mechanism. Blaming yourself, your spouse, other family members, or potential genetics that might have made the child more susceptible to addiction does nothing to solve the actual problem.
While some professionals may believe that it is in the child's best interests to separate him or her from the parents because the child may be living in a "toxic environment," what has been proven to be more beneficial is to help families find solutions that will bring them closer together, not further apart. Even if the child grows up with an abusive parent, the child has a choice in how he or she deals with the situation, and turning to drugs is one such choice. Substance abuse is not an easy subject, as many factors can lead to a child developing an addiction to drugs.
Parents are, in fact, have more influence than anyone else over their children. It may seem at times like the only person your child is willing to listen to is his or her doctor, but the truth is that counselors and treatment programs simply do not have the same effect on a child as do the love and support he or she gets from his or her parents. No matter how tense the relationship, no matter how withdrawn your child may seem, there remains a deep-seated connection between parents and their children - a connection that can be relied upon to help save the child's life.
Parenting As A Team Effort
Whether you are in a solid marriage, or you are parenting separately due to divorce, putting up a united front can be an infinitely more effective way of helping the child that each parent is approaching the situation with their style of parenting. Take some time away from the child to discuss with each other the issues at hand and to create an action plan that will allow you to work together to defeat the problem.
A child who sees his or her parents working together to help him or she will be reached in ways that each parent could not have reached the child in working alone. Sometimes you both will agree on how best to approach the situation, other times you'll need to reach a compromise. What is most important is that you recognize that each of you may handle the situation differently on your own, but in working together, you must put your differences aside and come up with a parenting plan that will best benefit the child in the long run.
Do you have reason to believe that your child may be using drugs? If you are considering seeking help for your child, consider contacting one of our licensed counselors, who can assist you with the process