Parents often worry about the many pitfalls teenagers can stumble through during their adolescence. We do our best to ensure that our children make the right decisions and best choices. Unfortunately, teens often do not see the link between their actions today and the consequences tomorrow. Experimentation with alcohol and drugs during adolescence is a common concern. Twenty percent of eighth graders report that they have tried marijuana and alcohol. While many people think of marijuana and alcohol as minor drugs, they kill six ½ times more teenagers than all other illicit drugs combined. The use of illegal drugs is increasing, especially among young teens. The average age of first marijuana use is 14, and alcohol use can start before age 12. An estimated 20 million adults in the United States abuse alcohol and more than half of these alcoholics started drinking when they were teenagers. Each year more than 10,000 young people in the United States are killed and 40,000 injured in alcohol-related automobile accidents.
During adolescence, it is hard to know how much independence and space to grant your child. If your child’s behavior and personality seem to change dramatically, without explanation, look for warning signs of substance abuse. Remember that behavior can change whimsically, but that if you see a change in personality, there are greater concerns. Personality being the total of your teen’s attitudes, interests, behavioral patterns, emotional responses, and social roles. Teenagers at risk for developing serious alcohol and drug problems include those: with a family history of substance abuse, those who are currently depressed, those who have low self-esteem, and those who feel as if they do not fit in. There are several warning signs of substance abuse you should be aware of and questions you can ask yourself.
Have my teen’s group of friends changed suddenly?
Does my teen receive phone calls from people I have never heard of before?
Is he irritable?
Is she having trouble concentrating?
Is he getting into fights at school?
Have you heard that he is falling asleep in class?
Is he cutting school a lot?
Have her grades fallen?
Is he hostile for no reason?
Is she giddy or depressed?
Are liquor, prescription drugs, cash, and valuables missing?
Is your teen unable to get along with family members to an unusual extent?
Are they burning incense in their room?
Are his eyes red and irritated?
Does she use eye drops often?
Do you smell liquor on his breath?
Does she have frequent nosebleeds?
Does he complain of chronic indigestion or memory lapses?
Even if you answer these questions positively, the first step is to talk to your child calmly. Resist the impulse to punish or become angry. More than ever your child needs you to listen. Try to determine what level of help your child needs, was this pure experimentation, using just a few times, or is the use more frequent and abusive. Then ask them if they want help to get clean and sober. Avoid punishing them as your first measure to create change. Punishment typically will make your child less likely to ask for your support and help in getting clean and sober. Work to engender trust from your child.
If you think that your child has tried drugs or alcohol, there are several resources for care and treatment. A knowledgeable counselor or pediatrician can help you to find local resources, and discuss treatment options with you.