Is your child’s bizarre behavior the result of teenage hormones… or drug abuse? In 2014, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, 27.2 percent of eighth- to 12th-graders tried illicit drugs and close to six percent of high school seniors reported daily use of marijuana. Here’s how to spot drug use in your kids before experimenting turns into addiction.
1. Loss of interest in daily activities. Demanding more privacy, clashing with family values and wearing inordinate amounts of perfume may seem like moody teenage behavior, but disappearing for hours on end with friends (or behind a locked door) could very well be an indicator that your child is getting high.
2. Shift in peer group. Sudden changes in relationships are red flags. You should take note if your child’s friends go from being kids who were dropped off by familiar parents for swimming and a sleepover to new friends who run in packs at the mall—none of whom seem to have parents. And when questioned, your kid always hurriedly tells you some complicated set of plans that don’t add up.
3. Change in sleeping and eating patterns. You spent years trying to get your child to sleep—and now you can’t get her to wake up. Sleeping for hours and hours might look like a teenage rite of passage, but beware when your teen gets inordinate amounts of sleep, or none at all. Periods of excessive energy for no reason followed by catch-up sleep can be a sign of a problem. The same goes for eating habits. It’s one thing if your kid joins the football team and gains an appetite. But if the activity is hours of TV or videos accompanied by junk food, there may be a problem. Also, watch out for a disappearing appetite or dramatic weight loss.
4. Excessive time out of the house. It may have been a novelty when your kid went alone to the corner store; now he goes every chance he gets and doesn’t return for hours. Your teen spends whole weekends at another kid’s house whose parents seem more than relaxed. Then, when the kids come over to your house, they lock themselves in your child’s bedroom until they can talk you into taking them to the mall, where they stay until you drag them home.
5. Excuses you haven’t heard before. A disappearing allowance she can’t explain or dropping grades that she tries to pass off with “all the kids are failing” are warning signs. If your once-straight-A student is headed down to C and D territory, you want to pay attention. One of the most predominant signs of drug use is lying. If your gut tells you what’s happening is out of the ordinary, and your kid tries to convince you it’s normal, better to go with your instincts and skip the excuses.
Visions Adolescent Treatment Center’s Noelle Rodriguez, PsyD, tells LivingHealthy that when you suspect your child is using drugs, you should take action right away. “I would do something sooner than later,” she says. “I wouldn’t wait.” But refrain from accusations, she advises. “I would sit down and talk to my kids openly and honestly, without coming at them like they’ve done something wrong—talk about what you’re seeing—and stick with your hunch.”
Once you pinpoint the problem, you have to ascertain the severity. According to Rodriguez, this can be difficult at first because kids tend to minimize their behavior, so you need to keep track of what they say. Depending on how far down the scale your teen may have gone, the approach can vary from therapy to young people’s Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and in the most severe cases, rehab.