How to know if your child is secretly into drugs?

  • By Sahana Rajan

Abuse of any substance begins with the use of it escalating into excessive dependence, and lastly, to a stage where without its use, the brain ceases to function normally, which negatively affects your routine life. The probability of such a dysfunction is greater in adolescents using drugs than on adults as the development of the brain is at its crucial age in the former. Apart from genetic dispositions, environmental factors play a huge role in the initiation and sustenance of any drug use.

A diversity of drugs is abused by teenagers which can be the following categories :

  1. Tobacco and products (cigars and cigarettes)
  2. Cannabis and derivatives (marijuana, weed, hashish, also called Mary Jane)
  3. Cold medicines (pseudoephedrine [Sudafed] and diphenhydramine [Benadryl])
  4. Inhalants (ammonia)
  5. Depressants (benzodiazepines)
  6. Stimulants (cocaine, amphetamines)
  7. Narcotics (codeine, Vicodin, morphine, oxycodone, and heroin)
  8. Hallucinogens (LSD)
  9. Dissociative anesthetics (ketamine)
  10. Club drugs (ecstasy)
  11. Others (anabolic steroids).

As a parent, you have the opportunity to be able to predict the use of such substances, bring your child to confront the addiction and treat it. The sooner you recognize and acknowledge the signs, the better it is.

The prime symptoms of drug abuse are :

  1. Modifications in sleep patterns and appetite :
    There could be a sudden increase or reduction in either or both. For example, those who use amphetamines are seen to present low requirement for food and sleep, while those using marijuana lean towards greater sleep and appetite. Depending on the stage of abuse, the degree of the change could vary.
  2. Secretive expenditure :
    Those who abuse drugs begin by collecting small pockets of money in order to 'score' or get their hands on 'stash' which could be quite expensive. They will not provide any reasonable answer to your questions regarding its use.
  3. Transformation in attitude and persona :
    Many parents tend to misread the transformation in behavior to be a common sign of teenage rebellion. However, the change in behavior and personality of drug abusers is atypical. It includes extreme mood-swings extending from sudden irritability to bouts of happiness yet again followed by ‘crash’ where the teenage falls into a mode of despair. His/her behavior might become irrational and erratic. It is also common for drug abusers to constantly change friends, especially with those whom you might feel uncomfortable and intuitively suspicious about. They might suspend themselves from family activities and begin to communicate less.
  4. Outbursts of physical violence :
    Apart from general show of anger (mostly non-violent), teenagers who abuse drugs begin to uncharacteristically get violent after minor arguments or for effortless requests. You might feel as though the reactions were arising without any provocation.
  5. Decline of physical health :
    The teenager could lose interest in his/her way of clothing (which usually concerns adolescents a lot). They could also experience sudden weight loss and gain, depending on the type of drug being abused. The lack of personal sanitation is a sign of low self-esteem. Some of the abuse of drug is also accompanied by group-inflicted bodily changes like piercings and tattoos. There could also be changes in the skin such as needle tracks which indicate that your child might be using injectable drugs like heroin. This could also be implied by wearing of full-sleeved clothing during hot weather. Dripping nostrils and sensations of insects crawling on the body arises from the use of cocaine and opiates. The constant scratching and picking of skin and hair could signal withdrawal symptoms from cocaine and amphetamines. Make sure you rule out organic causes like syphilis and neuropathy as well as side effects of prescribed drugs like methylphenidate.
  6. Change in emotional setup :
    Your adolescent might begin to show indifference, low concern for morale, aggressive habits, and poor family communications following the use of drugs. Some also begin to steal to save up for their drugs.
  7. Physical symptoms :
    Bloodshot eyes along with pupils which are highly dilated and pinpointing pupils are exhibitions of drug use. While the bloodshot eyes generally imply that the teenage is on marijuana, dilated and pin-pointing pupils are representative of use of cocaine and hallucinogens on one hand and heroin and barbiturates on the other, respectively.
  8. Presence of drug props :
    The presence of any paraphernalia that could be used for drugs is a sure sign that your adolescent is abusing substance. This includes Ziploc bags, hypodermic needles, weighing scales, bongs, cigarette lighters, butane torches, and tin foil.

The first step towards resolving the drug abuse is to communicate with your child and let your child confront her/his situation. The child must be ready to accept that there is a problem and it needs attention. Following this, if you discover that the stage at which your child is abusing drugs is advanced from the amount of time and the frequency of its use, then approach a drug counselor and also consider joining drug program for families.