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Is Your Child Using Drugs?

June 10, 2008 - 7:30am
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Is Your Child Using Drugs?

Know the Predictors

Young people use drugs for many reasons. No one factor determines who will use drugs and who will not, but here are some predictors:

  • Low grades or poor school performance
  • Aggressive and/or rebellious behavior
  • Easily influenced by peers
  • Lack of parental support and guidance
  • Behavior problems at an early age

Be Alert to Danger Signals

Behavioral Signs

Being alert to the signs of alcohol and drug use requires a keen eye. It is sometimes hard to know the difference between normal teenage behavior and behavior caused by drugs. Changes that are extreme or that last for more than a few days may signal a problem. However, these behaviors may also be due to problems other than drugs, such as difficulty at school, with friends, or in the family. If you see these behaviors, talk to your child. Find out what's going on with him or her and get any needed help.

The following characteristics may indicate that your child is using drugs:

  • Acting withdrawn, depressed, tired, or careless about personal grooming
  • Being hostile and uncooperative
  • Breaking curfew or other family rules
  • Deteriorating relationships with other family members
  • No longer spending time with old friends and/or has a new group of friends
  • Doing poorly in school; declining grades and/or irregular attendance
  • Loss of interest in hobbies, sports, and other favorite activities
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns; for example, staying up late and sleeping during the day
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Red-rimmed eyes and runny nose that isn't due to allergies or a cold

Other Signs

Watch for signs of drugs and drug paraphernalia as well. Having certain items such as small medicine bottles, eye drops, or butane lighters may signal that your child is using drugs. Marijuana paraphernalia includes rolling papers, clips, pipes, and bongs, which can be made from soda cans or plastic beverage containers. Cocaine paraphernalia includes mirrors, razor blades, and scales. Also be aware if money is missing from the household; kids may take money to pay for their drugs.

Talking to Your Child

If you suspect that your child is using drugs, it is essential to talk with him or her immediately and get whatever help is needed to stop the drug use. The earlier a drug problem is detected and faced, the more likely it is that your child can be helped. Here are some tips:

Plan a time to talk with your child when he or she is sober. Stay calm and discuss your suspicions rationally. Avoid shouting, blaming, or threatening. Explain how serious drug use can be and ensure your child that you want to help. Ask about the behaviors that you find suspicious and also ask about school, friends, and everything else going on in your child's life. Discuss why the child is using drugs, the dangers involved, and what can be done to stop it. Provide strategies for saying no to drugs, as well as for getting involved in more positive activities. Be sure to follow-up regularly on this conversation—be present in your child's life; continue to ask questions; know where he is and what he's doing; and get to know her friends.

Next, impose whatever discipline your family has decided on for violating the rules and stick to it. Don't relent because your child promises never to do it again. Many young people lie about their alcohol and drug use. If you think your child is not being truthful and the evidence is pretty strong, he or she may need to be evaluated. You may wish to consult a health professional experienced in diagnosing adolescents with alcohol and drug-related problems.

If your child has developed a pattern of drug use or has engaged in heavy use, you will probably need help to intervene. If you do not know about drug treatment programs in your area, call your doctor, local hospital, or county mental health society for a referral. Your school district should have a substance abuse coordinator or a counselor who can refer you to treatment programs, too. Parents whose children have been through treatment programs can also provide information.


The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

National Institute on Drug Abuse

Partnership for a Drug-Free America


Is your child using drugs? How to find out. Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
Available at: http://www.drugfreeamerica.org/Templates/
Accessed September 17, 2003.

Helping a child who is using drugs. Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
Available at: http://www.drugfreeamerica.org/Templates/
Accessed September 17, 2003.

Last reviewed September 2003 by ]]>Richard Glickman-Simon, MD]]>

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.



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