If there’s anything worse than having an addiction, it’s seeing someone you love—especially your child—suffer from an addiction, while you feel powerless to do anything. For this reason, many parents who suspect drug use in their teenagers are tempted to ignore it and hope it goes away. Which, far more often than not, means it only gets worse.
Don’t wait for an overdose and “if only” remorse. Be prepared to act if you notice any of the following warning signs that your teen may have a drug problem:
1. Your teen adopts a new style of dress for no apparent reason.
One of the classic signs that someone needs heroin treatment, or is addicted to another injectable drug, is wearing long sleeves in warm weather to hide needle marks on the arms. (A teen losing weight due to addiction may also dress in unseasonably warm clothes because of increased sensitivity to cold.) Often, dark glasses also become a regular wardrobe item, to compensate for increased light sensitivity or hide dilated pupils and reddened eyes.
Watch out also for wardrobe items expressing sympathy with drug use or hostility toward life. And whatever exactly your teen wears, sudden neglect of washing or grooming is another indicator of trouble.
2. Your teen’s longtime friends don’t come around anymore, and your teen avoids introducing new friends to you.
Drug users spend most of their time with other drug users and lose interest in non-using friends. Teenagers who have joined drug-using crowds know their parents won’t approve, so they try to keep their parents from learning whom they’re “hanging” with now.
3. You notice strange odors or stains in your household, especially in and around your teen’s room.
Most drugs leave their scent on not only the user’s breath and clothes, but almost everything they come near. Smoke or spilled liquids leave visible marks. Many users are also careless with their drug paraphernalia, leaving vials, rolling papers, needles and spoons where they’re easily noticed.
4. Your teen becomes increasingly defensive.
A teenager or anyone else who’s becoming dependent on drugs usually knows it—and feels guilty about it—deep down, but doesn’t want to admit he or she can’t handle things. So when someone else hints something is wrong (even something with no immediate connection to drug use), users turn their frustration with themselves on the other party.
5. There’s a sudden change in your teen’s day-to-day energy level.
Someone using drugs to the point of addiction will typically be drowsy, “hyper” or alternating between the two on a regular basis. (Note, however, that teenagers tend to have fluctuating energy levels and moods—and to sleep different hours from adults—as a natural stage of development.)
6. Your teen’s appetite seems to disappear.
Most teenagers burn substantial calories through rapid growth and development of their physical bodies, so their bodies maintain healthy appetites to compensate. Drug users of all ages, however, often lose unhealthy amounts of weight, either from the side effects of the drug itself or from neglecting nutritional needs in single-minded pursuit of the drug. If your teenager’s decrease in appetite coincides with a slowing down of growing taller, it’s probably a normal stage of development; but it’s a danger signal if someone is eating almost nothing, or continues to add height without gaining weight.
7. Your teen starts to neglect chores or schoolwork.
As a person becomes addicted, life focus alters to the point nothing matters except the next dose. If your teenager’s grades suddenly drop, he or she may be neglecting study in favor of drug-buying-and-using time.
8. Your teen loses interest in favorite leisure activities, or stops planning new projects.
Although many users manage to maintain “functional addict” status and still get essential tasks done, they lose initiative for doing more than their duty.
9. Your teen’s money and property—or your own—disappear without explanation.
Drug addiction is an expensive habit. Users frequently become so desperate for more that they not only spend all their own money on the substance, but resort to selling personal possessions and to stealing from family and friends.
10. Your teen seems to withdraw from the world.
Most people who develop addiction have “no one understands me” issues that get worse as addiction progresses, and they express this, their guilt and their fear of being confronted by shutting themselves off from others. They may sink into an ongoing funk or even contemplate suicide (a major red flag whatever its cause—if your teen threatens to kill himself, never assume he couldn’t really mean it).
None of these are positive proof of drug use, but when several occur frequently or simultaneously, it’s almost certain something is wrong.
By now, you may be thinking, “Okay, I see the warning signs, but what can I do about it? My kid never listens to me.”
Don’t let fear paralyze you! Here’s what you can do:
- Don’t rummage through your teen’s belongings seeking further evidence—this only increases the risk of confrontation devolving into pointless argument. Instead, tell your teen gently but firmly what you’ve observed and what you’re worried about; assure her you love her and want to help; then listen to her response.
- Set an example: remove from your house all intoxicating substances (even beer and wine) not essential for medical purposes, and purge any references to “needing” a drink or pill from your everyday speech. In a society where prescription drug abuse runs rampant and heroin replacement prescription drug centers are full of people whose heroin treatment traded one addiction for another, one can’t be too careful about not encouraging the idea that every problem can be solved with a drug.
- See a family therapist to explore ways of opening new channels of communication.
- Start researching detox and rehab centers—not always a simple task when, taking just one geographic area as an example, a Google search yields 82,700 results for “rehabilitation center in San Bernardino CA teen,” 114,000 for “San Bernardino rehab centers teen,” 191,000 for “San Bernardino rehabilitation center teen” and 511,000 for “rehab in San Bernardino teen.” No matter how desperate you are, don’t let “came up first under ‘San Bernardino rehabilitation center’” be the key factor in your decision: take time to get recommendations from your doctor, check your insurance company’s provider network, review centers’ websites and reputations, and pay a personal advance visit (with your teen) to any center you’re considering.
Above all, remember that recovery from addiction is possible. Don’t deny problems and risks, but keep faith in your children and their future!
Inland Detox is the top center for drug and alcohol rehab in San Bernardino and the rest of southern California—we’re located just an hour’s drive south from the Los Angeles area, in the Temecula Valley. If your teen needs help overcoming an addiction, please call (888) 739-8296 for more information.