As a parent, it is normal to be concerned about the prevalence of drug addiction amongst youth. The idea that your own child may be engaging in such an unhealthy and potentially unsafe trend is surely unsettling – to say the least. While it is normal for adolescents and young adults to experiment with chemical substances such as alcohol and marijuana, the recent opiate epidemic has made teen experimentation far more dangerous than it was in the past. What was once secretly sharing a joint in the basement is now popping a handful of high-potency painkillers. If you suspect that your child may be using drugs, there are several warning signs to look for.
Physical and psychological signs of drug abuse:
- Bloodshot eyes
- Pupils that are either smaller or larger than normal
- Changes in appetite linked to weight loss or weight gain
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Seizures (with no history of epilepsy)
- Lack of attention to personal appearance/hygienic practices
- Impaired coordination or slurred speech
- Unusual bruises or markings on the body
- Major, unexplained shifts in mood
- Change of personality
- Periods of unexplained lethargy or hyperactivity
- Periods of unexplained paranoia or anxiety
Behavioral signs of drug abuse:
- A sharp decline in performance at work or school (skipping class, phone calls from teachers or faculty members, decreased motivation)
- Lack of interest in previously enjoyed hobbies and extracurricular activities
- Missing objects (valuables, prescription medications, money)
- Increased need for privacy and isolation
- Begins acting against instilled familial beliefs and moral standards
- Inability to maintain eye contact
- Irritability and short-temperedness
- A sudden change in friends, extracurricular activities, or hang-outs
- Use of ‘masking’ products, such as perfume or cologne, incense, or eye drops
Teens and Drug Abuse – The Statistics
Young adults (aged 18 to 25) are the biggest abusers of opioid painkillers, anti-anxiety drugs, and prescription stimulants. The reasoning behind the abuse varies – some take prescription medications to get high, while others take them (specifically ADHD medications) to increase study ethic or performance at work or in school. In the year 2014, over 1,700 young adults died as a direct result of prescription medication abuse. The majority of these fatalities were attributed to analgesic painkillers. More emergency room visits amongst young adults were attributed to prescription medications than any other drug combined – including heroin and alcohol.
What you can do to help:
- Make sure all expired and unused prescription medications are properly discarded (many cities offer safe disposal sites).
- Begin an open dialogue with your child regarding the dangers of prescription drug abuse (remain calm and non-accusatory).
- Do your research – learn as much as you can about prescription drug abuse before approaching your child.
- If you believe your child is abusing prescription drugs, reach out to a professional and discuss the best course of action to take.
Another major drug-related issue amongst adolescents and young adults is the use of synthetic drugs. In 2011, over 11 percent of high school-aged teenagers admitted to smoking synthetic marijuana, commonly known as ‘spice’ or ‘K2’. This new and dangerous trend has lead to innumerable emergency room visits over the course of the past several years – a shocking 11,406 ER visits in 2010, and since then the number has been steadily increasing. 22.5 percent of these visits involved female users, and 77.5 percent involved males. The introduction of a host of new synthetic drugs, ranging from bath salts to flakka, has only worsened the impact that synthetic drug abuse has on the youth population.
What you can do to help:
- Research synthetic drugs – appearance and effects.
- Discuss with your child the dangers of experimenting with synthetic drugs (present them with facts in a compassionate and supportive way).
- Discuss the implications of synthetic drug abuse with other parents in your community.
If you believe that your child may be experimenting with chemical substances, be sure that you approach him or her in a calm and rational way. Reacting with anger or accusations will typically do more harm than good. If you feel you cannot effectively address the subject, bring in a trusted professional – either an interventionist, therapist, or counselor. Keep in mind that addiction is a highly progressive disease, and the earlier drug abuse is addressed, the less likely it is to progress into a destructive and devastating mental and physical dependency. For more information on teens and drug abuse, or for several tips on speaking with your child about the dangers of experimentation, please feel free to contact us today.