Raising teens is a challenge for even the best of parents. Add alcohol and drugs to the mix, and things can quickly spiral out of control.
So what do you do if you think your teenager is using drugs?
Start with the Signs
Before you fly off the handle and start wildly accusing your teen of being an addict, here are some signs to look for:
- Stealing from you or others to get money for drugs
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Significant weight loss or changes in eating habits
- Changing relationships with friends or new groups of friends who use drugs or drink
- Missing family or social occasions
- Changes in grades at school or missing classes
- Untidy appearance or lack of personal grooming
- Red eyes, dilated pupils or inability to look others in the eye
- Slurred or incoherent speech
- Stopping sports or other hobbies that interested them in the past
- Lack of interest in social and family matters they once enjoyed
- Inability to stay awake or alert
- Jittery, nervous behaviors or incessant chattiness
- Use of heavy cologne or scent to cover smell of smoking pot, crack or other drugs
- Shortness of temper, random outbursts or defensiveness when questioned
- Forgetfulness and inability to concentrate
- Loss of physical coordination or becoming accident prone
While some of these changes may be normal and part of the teen experience, pay attention to any sudden and radical departures from the teen you used to know.
Plan a Conversation
If there is evidence that your teen is using drugs, seek help before talking to them about the problem. Direct confrontation seldom works with drug users. Instead, first contact a professional treatment provider for guidance on how to approach this subject. Resources to these professionals can be found online or through a referral from your medical provider.
If an event related to drug use occurs, such as an arrest or other problem with legal and social consequences, take the opportunity to address the situation.
However you begin communication with the teen, be sure that all parties involved in the conversation are on the same page. Giving the teen ultimatums does not work if there are no recommendations being made. Options that are not solution-focused will just further confuse the situation.
Write down key talking points to stay on task when the conversation becomes emotional and keep the topic neutral since arguing, yelling, blaming or assigning guilt will only disrupt the talk and take away the impact of the conversation. Preaching or emotional appeal also does not work with this kind of talk. A trained professional can best lead a productive communication since they are detached emotionally from the situation and can be firm in the outcome.
Key Talking Points
Whether a conversation is facilitated by a professional or done on your own, the following should be presented to the teen:
- Options or alternative solutions
- Several professional resources available if they choose to get help
- Reasonable and appropriate consequences that’s ready to be enforced if they do not want to stop using drugs. Empty or impossible promises or threats will not help the situation.
The Right Kind of Help
Drug use does not always indicate addiction. If the teen is able to stop, get them help to continue staying off. This may be a therapist or counselor who is familiar with teen development and drug use. Sometimes counseling is adequate in helping gain a foothold on the needs that they’re serving with drugs. Emotional development during the teen years can be difficult and frightening. If drugs are being used as a solution, your teen may respond well to finding new and alternative choices.
If treatment is needed, get referrals to programs appropriate to the needs of the teen. These resources are also available online or through medical professionals. Insurance carriers can also help you by referring directly to programs they contract with or have coverage for.
What You Can Do
Families are impacted by the drug use of any member and it is important for them to understand their role in the recovery process. The first thing they can do is become educated about addiction. This can be done in the setting of a treatment program designed for family members of an addict. There are many support groups and programs that can help family members overcome the tendency to blame themselves or the addict for the addiction.
Other things you can do to help your teen in recovery:
- Keep them accountable for recovery but don’t micromanage their lives
- Let them regain your trust and allow them to make decisions that lead to greater responsibilities. This allows them to gain trust in themselves and builds self-esteem.
- Encourage healthy ways of coping with addiction without forcing your agendas on them
- Learn to communicate your feelings to them
- Focus your attention on solutions you are finding for your life
- Refrain from bringing up past mistakes