Drug Abuse And Your Teenager: Know The Symptoms
A parents' guide to recognizing changes in your teenager's appearance and behavior that could mean a drug abuse problem.
Drugs are a concern for many parents whose children are in junior high or high school. Schools are usually high-stress environments full of peer pressure, uncertain expectations, a constant concern with one's appearance, and fast friends offering new experiences. When a child comes into his own in the social realm, it's sometimes hard to tell if he's in real trouble with drugs or if he's just going through what constitutes normal adolescent development in our society. What follows is a list of common signs of drug use among teenagers, and how to tell the difference. Keep in mind that many of these signs are also signs of depression, and that only a frank talk with your child or a visit to a therapist will be able to tell you for sure.
Change in Appearance. Notice any changes in your child's energy level. Is she sleeping a lot more? A lot less? Does he seem to have trouble doing what it takes to maintain his appearance--i.e., appearing dissheveled or dirty? Does he appear to be enjoying himself less? Be sure not to confuse a change in appearance with a change in a child's style of clothing or manner. A hip-hop or "goth" appearance, a "pimp roll", a t-shirt decorated with skulls and roses, or long hair on boys does not necessarily mean that he or she is using drugs.
Time Spent in the Bathroom. A junior or high school student spending large amounts of time in the bathroom could be experiencing the usual self-consciousness about his or her appearance--or could be using drugs. Look for changes in her mood after leaving: does she seem herself? A look at the pupils of the eyes might be able to tell you whether a child has just used some substances, but not all.
Sudden changes in mood. Is your child becoming unusually irritable, argumentative, or sulky? Note the specific times of day during which this happens, and the circumstances surrounding it. Teenagers often get into reflective moods for long periods, during which they reflect on the purpose of their lives or their long-term future--or they can get irritable with parents and siblings for any number of reasons. Talk to your child about what's bothering him or her. A concern about the future is common among many teens, but excessive preoccupation about the long-term future could indicate depression.
Drop in Grades. Is she having trouble with a subject that's given her no trouble before? Ask her what the trouble is, then try to find out where your child is spending most of her time. Sometimes a teenager has difficulty with new material, or there is a shift in priorities away from grades and towards friends of the same or opposite sex. Occassionally, it can mean substance abuse, especially if the drop in grades is sudden.
In all cases, talk to your child to get his version of events before deciding on a course of action. You might not approve of a new set of friends or your child's choice of boyfriend or girlfriend, but don't assume that means he or she is using substances. Take time to listen, both to what she says and doesn't say.
Finally, your child may be reacting to problems in the family. Look around you--at your relationship with your spouse and at any conflicts that may be going on with your child and siblings, to see if you can find the problem there.
If you're still in doubt, you can always have your child drug-tested. If a child admits to using marijuana frequently, he may test positive up to 18 days after his last use; therefore, if you still want a drug test, be sure it's quantitated. Then you can test again after a reasonable period, to see if the amount has gone down--in this way you'll be able to monitor whether your child has used marijuana again.
Junior high and high school is a difficult time for teenagers and their families. Changes in a child's behavior and appearance could be signs of adolescent anxiety--or they could be signs of using drugs. Look at the suddenness of the changes, talk to them carefully and compassionately, look at problems in their immediate environment--including the family--and, when in doubt, test for drugs.