Even before our children arrive, our thoughts are filled with hopes and dreams about whom and what they will become. Most of us never dream that our children will grow up to abuse drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, drug and alcohol use in children and teens is on the rise, especially prescription drug abuse. To make matters worse, the signs of drug abuse in children and teens are often ignored; the parents believing that they are just part of a phase, or the normal trials of puberty. Often, by the time they notice something is wrong their child is already deep in the throes of the addiction.
Changes in Behavior and Personality
As your child gets older, you are going to notice some changes in his behavior as he becomes more independent. You may notice that he is no longer interested in family activities, that his taste in music and clothing has changed, or that he is more defiant. You might even realize that he has been hanging out with a different group of friends. Many of these things are a normal part of growing up, but they can also be a sign of a possible drug problem, especially if accompanied by the following:
· Sudden, extreme, and persistent changes in personality. It's normal for teens and tweens to be moody and withdrawn at times, but if it seems to happen overnight, and lasts for weeks, it could be a sign of a bigger problem. The same applies if your child suddenly goes from being shy and quiet to boisterous and extroverted. Basically, if you no longer recognize your own child, that could be because something has happened to change him.
· Mood swings. Some days it can seem like teens and tweens have cornered the market on tantrums and other forms of acting out. However, if the outbursts are particularly hostile, aggressive, or violent, it could be a sign of a deeper problem.
· Forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating.
· Changes in eating habits.
· Problems at school. Skipping classes, a sudden drop in grades, fighting, getting detentions and getting detentions are all signs that something beyond normal teen angst is at play.
· A loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities. While it's true that some kids grow out of things and develop new interests, if your child suddenly drops activities and interests, it could be a sign of a deeper issue - especially if he doesn't seem to replace those interests with anything else.
· Different friends. Not everyone can be BFFs from cradle to grave, but if all of your child's old friends stop hanging around, that could mean something has happened to drive them away. If he doesn't appear to have any new friends, or he does but is very secretive about them, then that is further cause for alarm.
· Poor personal hygiene.
· Questionable clothing choices, such as wearing clothing that is inappropriate for the temperature or weather.
Physical Signs of Drug Use
These are the signs that you might encounter if your child has recently used drugs
· Slurred speech
· Loss of coordination
· Sniffling or nose bleeds;
· Bloodshot eyes
How you can Help
If you notice any of the above signs, you should consult with your family doctor or pediatrician as soon as possible. In some cases outpatient counseling with a psychologist or psychiatrist could be enough to help your child learn from his mistakes, and get your child on track.
However, if the addiction is deeply rooted, you child might be better off in a treatment program with other people in his age group. There are teen and adolescent programs geared to the special needs and concerns of junior high and high school students. There are also young adult treatment programs, like the one described in detail at Tucson Transitional Living. Some of these programs address the needs of individuals in high school and college, often between the ages of 18 and 25.
If you decide to go with an inpatient treatment program, you should ensure that the program focuses on coping with the social, emotional, and academic demands of school as part of the treatment program.
In addition to seeking assistance for your child, you should also consider getting psychological treatment for the entire family. Drug addiction affects more than just the addict; it can also damage delicate family relationships. A program geared toward friends and families of addicts can help your family recover while the addict is in treatment.