Teens and Substance Abuse
Adolescence is a time for trying new things. Experimentation with alcohol, drugs and cigarettes during adolescence is common. In my sessions with teenagers, they talk a lot about how and why they started drinking or smoking. Many of them start to get accepted by their peer groups or feel grown up. Some of them do it as a means of coping with stress and still others start to satisfy their curiosity. Whatever the reason, teenagers fail to realize there is a fine line between when you do something occasionally and when it becomes an addiction. Unfortunately, teenagers often do not see the link between their actions today and the consequences tomorrow. Some teens will experiment and stop or continue to use occasionally without significant problems. Others will develop a dependency, moving on to more dangerous substances, causing significant harm to themselves and possibly others.
Some teenagers are more likely than others to get attracted to and get hooked on substances. The risk in teens increases with factors including a family history of alcohol, drugs or smoking, family unrest, learning difficulties resulting in school failure, low self-esteem, behavior problems, and rebelliousness.
The following are some signs that can help parents decide if a problem is looming or their child is already involved in substance use. Adolescence is a bumpy ride and some of these warning signs may only be the normal symptoms of growing up, but parents must be alert to the possibility that, with their child, they may indicate trouble.
In general, you should suspect some drug use if you observe one or more of these indicators:
- Fatigue, repeated health complaints, red and glazed eyes, and a lasting cough.
- A change of friends from those you know and new friends who seem to avoid you.
- A best friend who is involved in substance abuse. This is the single best indicator of use.
- Deterioration in appearance. Not taking care of their looks or overindulging in their looks to mask their abuse habits.
- A decline in performance at home. Chores may be neglected or done sloppily; curfews may be ignored.
- A change in school performance. The drop in grades may or may not be a dramatic sign by itself, but watch for tardiness, truancy, and disciplinary problems.
- Hypersensitivity, irritability. The teenage user is often hostile, avoids family contact, overreacts to mild criticism, and deflects the topic when pressed for accountability.
- Wide mood swings. Although mood changes are a normal part of adolescence, extreme emotional swings indicate a problem and may be the result of drug or alcohol use.
- The disappearance of money, personal belongings, cigarettes, or alcohol from the house.
If you feel that your teen is having problems with substances, the first thing to do is confront him about it and try to get to the root of the problem. Initially, be prepared for denial, defiance, and irrational behavior on the part of your teen. Do not play dictator at this time because that might only backfire. Listen to your child as he explains to you the need to take up smoking or drinking. Keep in mind that being judgmental and negative will only send your teen further into his shell.
If your child is not opening up and you are not able to do much to help, it would be appropriate to seek professional help for your child to help him deal with the problem. It is very crucial to get the right kind of help.
The right help at the right time can get your child back on track.
Some of the professionals that can help your child include your family doctor, and a counselor or mental health professional. Even though they might not admit it, your teens need your constant guidance and direction while they stumble through new experiences. How they deal with their curiosities, confusions, and stresses to a large extent depends upon the support you provide to them. Be there for your children and see them lead a happier and healthier life free from substances!