Substance Abuse: Spotting Red Flags

It is basically every parent’s fear – being the last to know, and finding out only too late. Indeed, with parents also busy with providing for the family and building a home, and with teenagers becoming more and more independent, it is a challenge for parents to keep track of their children and spot potential problems so that they can start efforts to nip these problems in the bud.

The same goes for substance (drugs, alcohol or both) abuse. The teenager will most likely undergo tremendous pressure to at least give these substances a try. Parents should be on the alert and look for red flags for substance abuse so that casual experimentation will not mutate into an addiction. After all, the saying, “Prevention is better than cure” rings very true for substance abuse.

Here are some things parents should take into consideration:

– Be aware of risk factors for substance abuse. These risk factors increase your child’s vulnerability to substance abuse: a family history of substance abuse or chemical dependence, the existence of a psychiatric disorder (such as anxiety or depression) or having friends and peers who are bad influences. Since a parent can be aware of these risk factors, they can proactively take the effort to monitor their child on a more regular basis.

– Physical red flags. Substance abuse will manifest itself in your child physically; try as he might to keep it hidden from you. These symptoms include excessive sleeping or insomnia, being tired all the time, tremors, puffy eyes and cheeks, poor coordination, glassy or bloodshot eyes, pupils that are unusually dilated or constricted, nausea and unexplained changes in weight. Do not be tempted to go the easy route and dismiss these symptoms as a normal part of puberty. Take a closer look into why these physical symptoms are apparent in your teen.

– Changes in family life. At home, your teen may tend to withdraw from interacting with you and other family members, lose interest in your activities as a family, be rebellious (to the point of flouting the house rules or being abusive either verbally or physically) and suddenly neglect personal hygiene or grooming habits. Keep on the lookout for signs of substance abuse such as drug paraphernalia (pipes, glass vials, small plastic bags), as well as mysterious disappearances of money or valuable household items. The teen may also try asking for money from you or borrowing money from siblings.

– Changes in his academic life. Sharp drop in school performance, being rebellious with persons of authority, truancy, sleeping in classes.

– Changes in his social life. Is your child going out with a new group of friends? Has he suddenly lost interest in his favorite activities, such as sports or hobbies? Is he prone to aggressiveness, paranoia and anxiety? Your teen may also come home with unusual smells that he tries to mask with breath mints or mouthwash. In addition, your teen may also get into fights more frequently or has been found to be involved in illegal activities.

Take note that some of these are actually manifested during puberty, but you need to be more discerning as to what constitutes normal or abnormal behavior in your teen.

Responding to Substance Use or Abuse

Before things get from bad to worse, as a parent, you can carefully and prudently move towards helping your teen into the right path. Initially, your intervention does not have to be drastic. Try having a heart to heart talk with your child so that you can get some insights and understanding of the reasons behind the experimentation. Try to keep calm as possible. This way, you do not do anything that can make the situation worse that it already is. You can also work with a teen counselor whose specialty is substance use and abuse. You can also increase the level of monitoring you have with your child.

However, if things have progressed and your child is already addicted, you can consider troubled teen services that are able to treat your teen’s problems head on. There are a number of troubled teen programs that provide qualified and experienced help in breaking through and moving on from substance abuse.

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