5 Warning Signs that Your Child is Abusing Drugs

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…and some resources that can help

By Trevor McDonald

Red flags aren’t always glaring, especially when it comes to drug abuse. Are you concerned that your child is using or abusing drugs but aren’t sure what to watch out for? Guidelines such as falling grades or mood swings aren’t necessarily indicative of drug abuse, especially in teenagers when personality and performance shifts are sometimes normal. However, catching problems early is critical because it’s easier, faster and usually more affordable to address issues in earlier stages.

Here are five not-so-common signs that your child might be abusing drugs and what to do about it:

  1. They’ve shifted from introvert to extrovert (or vice versa). Seemingly permanent personality shifts might be the result of drug abuse. On the other hand, it can also simply be a signal that they’re maturing and their personality is naturally shifting. Teenagers are still developing their personality, sometimes “coming out of their shell” or “settling down” into what their organic adult personality will be. However, changes that seem permanent and sudden might be due to a chemical dependency. If drugs are part of the equation, the shifts can seem exceptionally sudden, long-lasting and forced.
  2. They’re going through their finances at a faster clip. Whether it’s an allowance or from a part-time job, if your teen is looking for more disposable income but has nothing to show for their spending, it’s time to for a reconnaissance mission. Even if it’s “their money,” parents have a right to know where their child’s funds are being spent. Helping them develop a budget can reveal discrepancies.
  3. There’s an increase in drug references on social media. Suggesting drug use/abuse on social media (or even stating it outright) doesn’t always reflect reality. It’s very common for everyone, adults included, to exaggerate or even make up lifestyles to impress people on these platforms. However, if you’ve noticed an increase in drug references on your child’s social media, it’s time for a talk. Even if drugs aren’t being abused, presenting such a lifestyle might cause problems in the future. If you’re able to see such comments, future employers and school-related leaders might be able to as well. Of course, tech savvy teens may block their parents from such posts—but that isn’t always the case.
  4. They’ve actually become more driven in school. Using legitimate drugs recreationally, such as Ritalin when they don’t have ADHD, can cause a sudden increase in school performance. The natural assumption is that kids who are abusing drugs will experience failing grades and skip class more, but that’s just one avenue. It’s also possible that your teen is abusing drugs as a means of keeping up with their peers academically. Out-of-the-ordinary study habits and grades, when positive, can encourage praise from parents. Find out the root of this turn of events to ensure it’s a natural part of maturing.
  5. They’ve become more secretive and protective of their space. Like personality shifts, this can certainly just be part of growing up. However, if your teen has turned overprotective, it’s a good idea to pay closer attention to their actions. It doesn’t always present in a negative manner either—perhaps your teen is suddenly quick to do their own laundry or tidy up their room when they know you’d otherwise do it.

These five red flags can come well before discovering your teen is abusing drugs, and it can detour tasks like choosing rehabilitation facilities or choosing treatment options after detox. Just like any health issue, catching it early is key as is taking preventative measures. Habits developed as a teen, for better or worse, can often set the stage for life as an adult, so help your teen now to choose healthy paths.

Please see our SMART Recovery resources for Teens and Young Adults and for  family members looking to cope with the addictions of their loved ones at www.smartrecovery.org.

Messageboard Discussion Groups

This is a place where young people can discuss issues related to recovery, and share ideas and strategies for things like peer pressure, dealing with urges, and managing upsets. It provides a safe environment for both peer support and guidance from experienced and trained volunteers. Sign up here.

Online Teen & Youth Meetings

SMART Recovery meetings are practical, open discussion forums where youth can ask questions, bring up topics, and learn real-world applications for SMART tools. The meetings are facilitated by experienced and compassionate volunteers, who help guide discussion, while providing a safe and welcoming environment for youth to work on recovery. You need to sign up for our Messageboard to get access to the online meetings!

You can find the meeting schedule here.

SMART Recovery Teen & Youth Handbook

Originally developed by a grant by the Community Coalition for Teens in Greenfield, Massachusetts, then expanded via a grant from Juvenile Justice in Australia, this Handbook for Teens and Youth takes the reader through the SMART Recovery 4-Point Program and tools in a captivating manner, including increased graphics and visual appeal. It’s available in our bookstore: SMART Recovery Teen & Youth Handbook.

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