Jenny Wagner, LCPC, CADC
Many of the parents I have worked with over the years have all said the same thing, “I should have known! I thought something was off.” Substance abuse can often appear to be other things; stress, depression, anxiety, bullying. Teenagers who are using drugs and alcohol will do whatever it takes to keep being able to drink or use drugs. There may be an increase in secretive behaviors such as lying, manipulating, and hiding which allows them to continue their drug use. They could be putting locks on their social media or phone devices so parents can not gain access not due to privacy. They may be keeping their bedrooms off limits so their parents are unable to find things within them and use the excuse of privacy.
Since mood swings and unpredictable behavior are frequent occurrences for teenagers, parents may find it difficult to spot signs of alcohol and drug abuse or mistake it for something else. If you notice any of the warning signs below ask your teenager if they are using drugs or alcohol. It’s important to be supportive vs. accusing during this time. If you still have concerns that your teenager may be using, give them a drug test. If they refuse you can bring them into the doctor’s office for a drug test administered by a doctor. Most drugs do not stay in the system for over 72 hours except marijuana which can last up to 30 days if used daily.
If someone is recently sober a relapse may look similar to drug abuse. A relapse usually starts before the actual use of the drug or alcohol. The first changes occur within the teenagers thinking. If addictive thinking creeps back in behavioral changes are next to come. Parents may see old using behaviors come back such as lying, secretive behaviors, and manipulation. There are physical, behavioral, and psychological symptoms that parents can look for to determine if their child may be using drugs or alcohol or has had a relapse.
- Pale color with dark circles under their eyes
- A decrease in personal grooming
- Eyes that are bloodshot
- Change in pupil size
- Sudden weight change loss or gain
- Impaired coordination, injuries, accidents or bruises
- Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing
- Shakes, tremors, incoherent or slurred speech
- Getting in trouble at school, skipping class, drop in grades
- Hostile and uncooperative; frequently breaks the rules
- Decreased motivation to do school work or chores
- Relationships with family members have deteriorated
- Hanging around with a new group of friends
- Grades have slipped, and his or her school attendance is irregular
- Lost interest in hobbies, sports, and other favorite activities
- Eating or sleeping patterns have changed; he or she is up at night and sleeps during the day
- Has a hard time concentrating or listening
- Preoccupation with alcohol and drug-related lifestyle in music, clothing and paraphernalia
- Missing money, valuables, prescription or non prescription drugs, borrowing and stealing money
- Having large amounts of money on them without a job
- Acting isolated, silent, withdrawn, engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors
- Unexplained, confusing change in personality and/or attitude
- Sudden mood changes, irritability, angry outbursts, or rage
- Periods of unusual hyperactivity
- Agitation or aggression
- Lack of motivation; inability to focus, appears lethargic or “spaced out”
- Appears fearful, anxious, or paranoid, for no reason
- Increase in depressive symptoms
If you are noticing any of the symptoms above there are other things to consider. If you have been noticing missing money from your purse or wallet or items missing from the house. Parents should be searching their teenager’s room if they have suspicions they may be using drugs or alcohol. Parents should also search the house for drug paraphernalia such as pipes, bags of seeds, rolling papers, empty bottles in the bedroom, cold medication boxes, baggies of pills etc as these items are sometimes hidden even outside the house in the yard or garage. Some parents will say after the fact I kept having to buy new whip cream or other inhalants but didn’t understand why it kept running out. Or they thought they had left over medication from a surgery or cold medicine in the cabinet but now it’s missing. Individually these incidents could be ignored but together they can show signs of a larger problem.
Teenagers will often use excuses when parents question their motives or whereabouts to throw them off. Some of the most commonly used excuses are listed below.
Excuses Teenagers Use to Avoid Accountability:
- The drug test is wrong.
- I was keeping/holding it for a friend.
- A drink got spilled on me.
- I just had one drink – I didn’t know it had alcohol in it.
- That smell is my new perfume / incense /air freshener.
- I was in a car where others were smoking not me.
- All my friends are doing it, it’s normal.
- It’s only alcohol – at least I don’t do drugs.
- It’s only marijuana – at least I don’t do heroin.
- I just tried it once and I’ll never do it again.
- It’s normal to experiment when you’re a teenager.
- My eyes are bothering me. I probably have allergies.
- I’m just tired.
- At least I don’t drink and drive. I’m being responsible.
- My friends are allowed to do this why can’t I?
- I’m doing better than all of my friends.
- It’s not like when you were young – it’s a different time.
Parent’s it’s important to be vigilant and hold your children accountable. Heavier drug use and addictions begin with alcohol and marijuana use. If you suspect something may be going on follow you gut and gather more information.