I try to move parents away from thinking in terms of ‘signs and symptoms’ of drug abuse because trying to spot ‘warning signs’ is really no substitute for good effective communication.
The risks of relying on checklists are that you may jump to the wrong conclusions, think the worst, get it completely wrong or more importantly create an atmosphere of mistrust within the family.
If you’re concerned that there’s something wrong with your teenager, or that they are acting strangely, I cannot emphasis enough the importance of talking to them about what is going on in their lives.
Most youngsters these days will come across drugs at some point before their 18th birthday. So it’s crucial that you are open to talking and teaching them about the dangers and are happy to discuss with them your views and reasons why drug taking wrecks lives.
Begin as early in their lives that seem appropriate – chat about and discuss Charlie Sheen, Amy Winehouse and Britney Spears and talk openly about the pictures in the papers and the awful waste of talent of these stars through their misuse of drugs. Don’t be afraid to pass on and teach your values to your teenagers – they still need your guidance.
It’s helpful to know what you’re talking about and to remember that drugs have become more hallucinogenic and carry the effects of panic attacks and paranoia and are more dangerous than they ever were so if you don’t know very much …. go and search the internet for information – being ignorant is no excuse and can be something you regret later
These services are delighted to answer your questions and to give you practical advice.
If your teen doesn’t feel relaxed or at ease talking to you encourage them to talk to an aunt or a friend of yours but make sure they know where to go for information, help, advice and support.
Remember although people can offer advice and support a young person may not accept it – but recent research is encouraging as it has shown that when teenagers feel they need help they do go to the person who offered to help them.
If you think your teenager is using drugs it is really shocking and upsetting so take some time out to think things through and to decide the best way forward through this traumatic time.
Here are some helpful and empowering questions to ask yourself so get a pen and paper and write down your thoughts as this will help you gain clarity and direction.
- What are the facts?
- Why has this happened?
- When did this change start to happen?
- Where is it happening? With whom?
- How can I best sort this out?
- What does my teenager want and need from me?
- How can I best give this to them?
- Where can I get support, help and advice for myself too
to help me cope with this situation?
- How can I stay centred, grounded and non judgemental to move everyone forward positively?
When they find out their teenager is using drugs, parents naturally react with shock, blame, or anger, which can push the young person further away. By thinking it through in advance, you give yourself space to deal with your own feelings and you’ll find it easier to discuss the problem in a calm, non-judgemental way.
Adolescence is hard, and young people come under pressure from lots of different sources. Many of the symptoms below could result from drug abuse but equally might result from a lingering virus, academic worries, bullying, relationship problems or fears about something within the family. Some of these ‘signs’ are relatively normal teenage behaviours.
As a parent, it’s better to look at these symptoms as indicators that your child has a problem with something – it could be drugs, but could just as easily be an emotional, social, or physical/mental health problem.
If you are unsure here are some signs of possible drug use:
• Loss of interest in hobbies, sports, and other favourite activities
• Deteriorating relationships with you as family members
• Joining a new group of friends and/or losing contact with old friends
• Listlessness, excessive tiredness, lack of appetite
• Changes in sleeping pattern e.g. up at night and
sleeping during the day
• Personal neglect/no interest in personal appearance and grooming
• Withdrawal and/or depression
• Mood-swings, hostile behaviour, lack of co-operation
• Changes in school or work attendance
• Lack of concentration
• Red-rimmed eyes and/or runny nose (without allergies or a cold)
• Has money been going missing from your home or do you have good reason to suspect valuables are being stolen?
• Have you found any of the following objects in your house? Pipes, rolling papers, small medicine bottles, eye drops, butane lighters, homemade pipes, or bongs (pipes that use water as a filter) made from soft drinks cans or plastic beverage containers, scorched tinfoil, razor blades, syringes.
If you suspect your teenager is using drugs, before you do anything else, you should think about how you would react if your worst suspicions were confirmed. If you have a partner, it’s advisable to discuss it together and work through your own feelings so you can present a consistent, united front. I also recommend visiting www.drugscope.org.uk or www.trashed.co.uk so you feel a bit better informed, or calling the National Drugs Helpline on 0800 77 66 00
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About the author
Sue Atkins is a Parenting Expert who offers practical guidance for bringing up happy, confident, well behaved children. She is also the author of “Raising Happy Children for Dummies” one in the famous black and yellow series published worldwide and the highly acclaimed Parenting Made Easy CDs. She regularly appears on BBC Breakfast and The Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 and her parenting articles are published all over the world.
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Sue Atkins the Parenting Expert
T: + 44 1342 833355 M: 07740 622769
Surrey RH7 6LF