Will Wooton: How do you tell if your teen is on drugs?
By Will Wooton
A simple Google search will yield a hundred websites giving you the traditional answers to this question. I’ve found these surface-level answers to be of little help when dealing with teens. These basics are a good start, but only a start. Let’s look at the general questions and expand from there.
I’d say these are the typical top answers:
• Poor grades
• Change in friends
• Low motivation
• Isolating from family
• Sleep patterns
• Loss or no interests
• Mood swings
• Weight loss or gain
• Lies or outrageous stories
• Missing or new unexplainable things at home.
All of these are accurate for a drug abuser, yet most of these are very similar or even mimic normal teenage behavior. So how can you really tell?
Warning signs are just that; signs that there may be more going on than you think. When I’m assessing someone I don’t ask, “Do you have no motivation?” or “Do you see yourself having mood swings?” That would do me no good. What I do is look at overall behavior and how the teen views life.
Addiction and drug use is not a disease of morality. It can affect anyone or any family no matter how moral the upbringing. It is a disease that will take away someone’s convictions and allow him or her to do things they would have never thought possible. From theft to dropping out of their favorite sport, drugs change kids. Change them to act like a total stranger in your home.
If you feel as if there is a loss of knowing who your teen is, then there is a problem.
Drug use thrives on secrecy. The more they can make you think you’re the only parent that makes a big deal out of what’s going on, the more successful their manipulation. A drug abuser’s goal is to push the limits while making you feel guilty or thinking you’re crazy for suspecting them of wrongdoing. You’re not crazy for caring and wanting what’s best for your child. Parental denial is the most powerful tool kids use.
If you are uncomfortable with the idea of sending your kid to college today, as they just don’t seem to have the life skills to make it yet, that’s a real sign too. If you find yourself thinking, how could my child think their behavior is acceptable. If you see a push toward criminal thinking like theft or blowing off rules (rules are stupid or don’t apply to them) then you must act. Loss of integrity is a key warning signal. Is your teen meeting their potential or just floating through life week to week?
And if your gut is telling you that your teen is on drugs, I’m sorry, but they most likely are. Listen to your instincts.
The next step is to drug test them. Most doctors will order a drug test if you ask. Find out what’s in your teen’s system. Drug stores carry home tests, but those don’t give you the quantities of what has been abused, only a simple positive or negative.
Search your teen’s room. Go through their computer histories and look at phone and text records. Don’t feel that because they are growing up you need to give and respect their privacy. No parent who has lost a child to addiction has ever said, “I wish I had done less or tried less.”
Drugs can and do kill kids. If you’ve seen warning signs, dig more. If you’re digging shows you that there is more going on, then take action and seek professional help.
Wooton is program director of Pacific Treatment Services in Escondido and co-author of “Bring Your Teen Back from the Brink: Get Educated, Get Tough and Get Help to Save Your Teen from Drugs.” Reach him at email@example.com.
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