Whether or not our children are experimenting with, dabbling in, or heavily
involved with drug or alcohol use is a cause of great concern and anxiety
for most parents. The sad fact is that we often are unaware, and either
fail to see the warning signs, or our fears drive us to deny potential
red flags. It is a frightening statistic, but it takes parents, on average,
two years to fully uncover problematic substance abuse. By that time,
much harmful effects may have taken hold.
Following will be some of the signs and symptoms to look for. However,
two caveats. One, these are indicators of possible use, but may be issues
related to other physical or emotional problems. Second, I believe it
is essential for you to think about, and have a philosophy about how to
deal with information pointing to use. Do you have a zero tolerance policy?
If so, what does that mean if you find out there has been experimentation?
You and your spouse should be on the same page, and be clear about what
directions you will take. Are you more interested in keeping lines of
communication open? Do you believe that experimentation is normal and
you accept it? Do you believe that as long as they are using, they should
do it in the safety of your home (yes, some parents believe that)?
I am not judging or telling you which approach/belief you should have,
but informing that it is important to have a clear approach to this subject.
One last bit of advice: your children need a caring, limit-setting parent
when it comes to their decisions to use drugs or alcohol, not a friend.
They have plenty of friends willing to tell them what to do.
What are some signs and symptoms that your child may be using drugs or alcohol?
- Physical Evidence. Finding drug paraphernalia, such as pipes, plastic bagginess,
vaping devices, small glass vials, bongs, rolling papers. If you find
marijuana in their backpack, they will always say it belongs to a friend
– it never does.
- Physical changes, including fatigue, change in sleep patterns, muscle aches
and pains, weight loss, bruises, blood shot eyes, poor hygiene
- Behavioral changes, including change in friends, avoidance of old friends,
withdrawal, isolation, increase in moodiness and arguing, defiance of
rules, vague about whereabouts, sudden status with peers.
- Academic issues, including grades unexpectedly and suddenly slipping, increased
absences, difficulty concentrating, reduction in motivation to perform,
change in attitude towards teachers.
- Drug and alcohol curiosity, including interest in pro-drug music and literature;
wearing pro-drug jewelry, hats, shirts; increase in pro-marijuana and
pro-drug discussions; exploring internet sites.
As I mentioned, many of these signs are indicative of issues other than
drug or alcohol use, but they are red flags that should not be ignored.
They should be dealt with and discussed openly, and if concern arises,
consider getting professional advice.
Reminder, you can send any questions or topics you would like to see covered
in future columns to
firstname.lastname@example.org. Your inquiries will always remain anonymous.
Moe Gelbart, PhD
Executive Director, Thelma McMillen Center