Drug Use: The Tell-Tale Trail

February 12th, 2013 posted by Robert Morton, M.Ed., Ed.S.

Adolescent Drug & Alcohol Abuse: How to Spot It, Stop It, and Get Help for Your Family

23 Signs of Teen Involvement in the Drug Scene

by Robert Morton, M.Ed., Ed.S.

smoking pot “We just don’t understand! Heather is a great student and is involved in the Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) and honor’s program at school. She came home after curfew several weeks ago with her clothes smelling of marijuana. She told us she was just experimenting and would never smoke dope again. So far, so good, but our daughter wants to fit in with her friends so strongly that we’re worried she may start up again. Teens are so good at covering up. How can we detect if she begins using again?” Sound familiar? With teens, an easily crossed line exists between experimental drug/alcohol use and abuse. If a pattern, or cluster, of indicators exists among the following 23 telltale signs of teenage usage, your suspicions should turn into a preventive action plan. These indicators are derived from “high incidence” observations made by adolescent drug/alcohol counselors. They will assist you in determining the extent to which your teen may be abusing, and support you in your insistence that he stop immediately and begin to get help. Remember, if your teen is abusing drugs/alcohol, you must “separate the deed from the doer” and convey to your teen that you will always unconditionally love his basic substance but, because of this love, you will never accept the following behaviors:

1. Grades Plummet:

This is a very significant indicator. Your teen may earn “A’s” and “B’s,” but after Christmas, Easter or summer break, an academic “nose dive” may occur.

2. Switches Friends:

New friends whom you object to appear at your door.

3. Emotional Highs and Lows:

True, teen emotions may vacillate now and then, but watch for rapid changes where your child seems more easily upset and less happy as she used to be.

4. Suspicion of Money Missing:

Feel free to inspect your coin jar (that rarely gets counted) along with keeping good track of the folding money in your purse and wallet.

5. Defiance of Rational Rules and Requests:

Your teen stops doing chores; pushes the limit around the house.

6. Grows More Secretive:

Your teen stops sharing personal problems and holds them inside. Why? Because a drug “high” numbs all teenage problems.

7. Loses Initiative:

You notice your teen has less energy, sleeps more than usual and is apathetic toward prior interests.

8. Withdraws from Family Functions:

Family events that once excited or thrilled your teen, like camping trips, church events, mealtime discussions about emotionally-charged subjects, etc., no longer do so. Why? Because seeking a “high” has become more important than family.

9. Sells Prized Possessions:

Notice if your teen sells favorite Christmas and birthday gifts. When caught, watch for the “I lent it to Johnny down the street” response (correlates highly with observation No. 4).

10. Many Excuses for Staying Out Late:

Why? Must sober up or may have “blacked out.” A flat tire or “couldn’t find a phone” are common excuses.

11. Changes in Physical Hygiene:

Your teen appears more “sloppy” than usual, wears the same clothes frequently.

12. Keeps You in the Dark About School Events:

You’re uninformed about school open houses and parent-teacher conferences. Letters from the assistant principal notifying you of truancies, suspensions and warnings can easily be lifted from the mailbox. Hint: Check the wastebaskets for torn-up disciplinary notices.

13. Isolation:

Your teen spends more time in the bedroom than usual, and may listen to rock songs containing drug themes.

14. Manipulative:

Teen drug abusers play one parent against the other. You feel like a contestant on the “Let’s Make A Deal” show. Everything becomes a compromise, so use this list to counter the “I promise I won’t smoke dope ever again!” response.

15. Inappropriate Emotional Reactions:

Your teen grows angry quickly, has a short fuse. Why? After experiencing more and more “highs,” feeling normal isn’t fun anymore.

16. Legal Problems:

DUI’s, curfew violations, attends parties that police break up, shoplifting or theft (car stereos are big items for quick cash).

17. Calls From School:

Your teen takes an academic nosedive, reports of sleeping in class, doesn’t do homework, arrives late to school, skips classes, etc.

18. Comes Home Drunk or High:

Significant indicator because your teen feels he can actually fool people and feeling a “high” is actually normal. Also, your teen may be crying for help if he comes home drunk or high!

19. Finding Paraphernalia:

You may find papers, clips, pipes, drugs, bottles, etc., hidden in your teen’s bedroom. Don’t believe the “You don’t trust me!” or the “It’s not mine, it’s Johnny’s down the street!” responses.

20. Defensiveness:

If you note a cluster of the other observations, your teen has lots to cover up when you confront him.

21. Weight Changes:

Significant loss or gain; your teen may look unhealthy with a white, pasty look.

22. Abusiveness:

Your teen argues, especially over curfews. You may get into physical altercations when you attempt to get in between him and that bottle or joint. Many single moms, especially, are abused by their drug-abusing teens.

23. School Vandalism:

Your teen may damage school or teacher property. Although it’s unclear why, school vandalism decreases by more than 25 percent when drug abuse programs are set in place.

Recommended Reading:

I can’t say enough for this book ! It was clear, easy reading that helped me to understand what it means to be an addict. I have recommended it to other family members who are dealing with just this problem. It has been hard watching them struggle with this problem. I truly believe that they can begin to empower themselves and help their addicted adolescent if they read this book. I think that they could eliminate a lot of the misery that they go through by learning about their son/daughter’s addiction and how it effects all family members. (courtesy: Amazon)

Robert Morton, M.Ed., Ed.S. (1 Posts)

Robert Morton, M.Ed., Ed.S., is a husband, father, and practicing school psychologist. Write him at the Family Journal, 314 Lincoln St., Fremont, Ohio 43420 or email. Reprinted with permission from our friends at ParentingTeens.com


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