My mother Betty used to quote Benjamin Franklin often when saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Really good advice I think when it comes to protecting our children in today’s complicated world!
The Reality of Teenage Drug Use Today
Even as a child of the 60's, I’ve never seen the level of destructive behavior due to substance abuse that is happening to our children today. That’s why it’s so important that parents know the signs that their teen may be heading down the slippery slope of drug use and how to steer them away. As a professional addiction specialist and overdose grief counselor, I have seen first-hand the many heartbreaking stories of parents whose children have become addicted and/or overdosed. And many of them have expressed regret that they didn’t speak up and talk to their children earlier than they did.
My first thought when I started writing this was to list the frightening statistics about how many children have used drugs, smoked marijuana, been drunk at least once, etc. in middle and high school. Rather than take time to do that here, let’s just suffice it to say that it’s pretty high and there is great danger today to our children around the use and abuse of alcohol and drugs. Current research also shows that just as recovery works, so does prevention. So, in spite of the many scary facts and figures a simple Google search will bring up, my confidence in the power of preventative efforts to protect our children and our future from addiction and overdose is extremely high. In my own small way, I hope this blog will help parents begin to understand how to create that ounce of prevention, and a pound of cure will not be necessary.
What Parents Can Do to Prevent It
Most parents today really want to know how to spot problems early on regarding our children using drugs and alcohol, and the fact that you are reading this article supports my assertion. However, they may not know where to go for specifics on how to identify any potential problems. Hopefully this post will give you both some food for thought, as well as concrete suggestions for spotting warning signs of alcohol and drug abuse in your teenager early enough to intervene effectively.
Pay Close Attention to Your Child’s Behavior, Moods and Choices in Friends
Here are some signs that your child may be using or abusing drugs. Please view this list as a beginning point and do your own independent research through books, the internet and talking with other parents:
· Frequent and/or ongoing mood changes
· Heightened secrecy
· Increased rebellion
· Loss of interest in hobbies, activities, sports, etc.
· Withdrawal from their social network
· Changes in friends
· Falling grades
Additionally, there are some physical symptoms like a flushed red face, bloodshot eyes, pinpoint sized pupils or seriously dilated pupils that are pretty good indicators of drug use.
Educate Yourself with Facts
“Prohibition kills, education saves lives” says Dominique Trott, author of The Honest Drug Book. In other words, research now shows that “just saying NO” doesn’t work. If we parents want to save our children from the epidemic of drug use in our society today, we must get educated on this topic so that we are armed with accurate information and resources for getting help. I believe we all can agree that being a good parent in this day and age requires us to have good information on this topic. (In less than 20 minutes on Google using such words as preventive methods against drug abuse, how to talk to your child about drugs, and warning signs of drug abuse, a wealth of information pops up.)
Make sure you do your homework thoroughly. By that I mean educate yourself about the effects of drugs and alcohol and the dangers, but also know the positive aspects of certain drugs. Just because a drug can be abused doesn’t make it all bad with regard to proper medical usage.
Listen Closely to What Your Child Says
Another skill that I think needs our attention is how to listen to your child. I mean really listening to hear and not just to respond. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to develop good listening skills and to actively listen to your teens. One of the cornerstones of any child getting off track into drugs and alcohol is feeling as though they have not been heard, and then believing that their parents don’t have their back. My belief is that we need to build and protect relationships of trust with our children so they are able to come to us for help in times of trouble. Believe me I know that it’s not always easy to respond both assertively and respectfully to a teenager (especially when they are telling you that they hate you!). Nonetheless, I can’t underscore enough the importance of doing whatever it takes to preserve the connection you have with your teen. Your relationship with your teen may ultimately become the final defense against them succumbing to addiction.
In my professional opinion, many of the concepts in the war on drugs and “just say no” programs in our country today really miss the mark. There is much evidence elsewhere around the world that when resources are used to educate parents and teach them to connect healthfully with their children, drug abuse decreases dramatically. I firmly believe that the most important part of the solution to the current drug crisis is to connect and empower our children with solid information about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, and initiate healthy, constructive discussions about prevention at an early age.
I feel that it has become clear that preventing addiction in our children really begins at home. Parents armed with education, wisdom and determination can become the experts in protecting our children – and our future.
What to Do If You Suspect Drug or Alcohol Use/Abuse
First of all, stay calm if you suspect your child is using drugs. One of the quickest ways to cause a child to shut down is to become hysterical and critical. Talk openly and honestly with your child about your concerns. Ask questions rather than accuse. Be prepared to really listen to the answers even if you don’t like them.
As a side note, many of you may be confronted about your own use of a mind-altering substances either now or in the past. Children often divert attention from themselves through this discussion. My advice is to tell the truth to the extent that you think your child needs to know and be prepared to talk about the lessons you’ve learned through your good and bad judgment surrounding drugs and alcohol. Always face it head on – after all, that’s were asking our children to do, and they deserve a good role model.
Even though you may not want to believe it could be happening to your child, please don’t ignore what your instincts are telling you. I can’t tell you how often I work with families who have some regrets they didn’t find the courage to speak up and talk to their children earlier than they did. Many aspects of parenting require us to have uncommon courage, and talking to your children about drug use is definitely one of them. If needed, don’t be afraid to ask for support from friends, family and even professionals when preparing to talk to your children.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to an addiction professional who has experience with teens and young adults. If I can be of assistance to you in any way, please feel free to reach out to me through my website.
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