There are few things more potentially distressing to a parent than their child developing a drug or alcohol abuse problem. It is almost hard to imagine. One day, they are trading Pokémon cards in middle school. Six months later, what are they doing? Drinking to pass the time?
Any factual description of an underage substance abuse problem sounds like the setup for a bad joke. And that dissonance between expectation and reality can make such a problem hard to cope with. The beginning and end of most parents’ knowledge of substance abuse is that their child should not do it. In this situation, knowledge is everything for a parent.
The whole world has a stigma against addiction that makes it hard to learn about. That’s why today we are going to explore how to spot the signs of substance abuse and what to do about it.
How Substance Abuse Starts in Teenagers
The first thing to understand about substance abuse in teenagers is that it rarely starts in a vacuum. It is possible for a young person to go out searching for drugs and alcohol on their own, but it is basically impossible without someone telling them that they are worth seeking out.
Substances from Friends
Your first instinct is probably to assume that your child will hear about drugs and alcohol from a friend. And that is true. There is a reason “peer pressure” became a phrase in everyone’s lexicon from the 90s onwards. Though at the same time, not everyone understands what it means. Peer pressure is not just being told to smoke weed or go home. It’s more complicated.
Peer pressure can be applied just as effectively through proximity as if it were a threat. No one needs to be told that they will be excluded if they do not take part in drug or alcohol consumption. They come to that conclusion on their own.
But while this is a common source of illicit substances, it’s not the only one.
Substances Unintentionally Provided by Parents
There are many layers to how kids get access to illicit substance from their parents, as it is not always intentional. In fact, one could argue that it is almost never intentional, and even go so far as to say that it is almost always a result of simple oversights on the part of the parents.
But let’s go a bit deeper. If your child tries liquor because it looks like apple juice, then that is one thing. It is an entirely different thing if they try it because they see you drinking it.
A large part of the reason kids start drinking (or using any illicit substance, though drinking is the most common) is because they see their parents enjoying it. Kids are impressionable, and if they see you or another caretaker drinking, then they are more likely to emulate that behavior.
On top of that, if they see an illicit substance being used to solve a problem, they will likely employ it in the same manner. Calming down with a drink, waking up with coffee, or socializing on some sort of drug that makes it easier to socialize.
Substances Deliberately Provided by Parents
The flip side of this is a lot more straightforward. There are good odds that you are not responsible for this, but it is still worth considering: Some parents give their children drugs and alcohol. The reasons for why they do this are not important, as there are too many of them to count, and prescribing motivations to these parents is not helpful.
What is helpful is knowing whether or not a parent that is in contact with your child does this.
However, it is also worth noting that you might deliberately give your child a drug for one reason, only for them to use it in an abusive way. ADHD medication, painkillers, even cough syrup can become this. So, stay aware of that when medicating your teenager.
How to Spot Ongoing Substance Abuse
But what if your child has already developed a problem? How do you spot that?
There are three main ways to spot substance abuse in any person: The physical changes, the mental changes, and the social changes. Teenagers are already undergoing a lot of these changes, but what makes substance abuse easier to spot is that the teenager will start to make these changes deliberately, and they will all favor the same “direction”.
The Physical Changes
Substance abuse has physical symptoms. You child will likely have flushed skin, sweat more, and at times shake. You may hear them complain of aching muscles, random pains, and headaches. These are all signs of a drug craving.
Pay attention to not just what is happening, but when it is happening.
The Mental Changes
Substance abuse makes it hard to focus. Even if your child is not actively in pain, they will be dealing with mild discomfort most times. This will also result in irritability and may even translate to depression symptoms such as no longer enjoying things they liked before.
The reason it is important to keep track of when the symptoms happen is because they may coincide with when the last time your teenager used their particular substance.
The Social Changes
Lots of parents get overenthusiastic about playing detective on their children’s health and mental state when all of those symptoms can be explained with other things. The social changes in a child are far more telling of a problem.
These will indicate a substance abuse problem because you will see your child spending more time with people that give them more access to the substance. This is why it is so important to know who your child is spending time with, whether they are an adult or another kid.
Head to BasePoint Academy if you need more ideas on what to do about your child’s substance abuse problem. Remember, no matter how bad it gets, anyone can come back from an addiction.