Is there a teenager in your family?
It is worthwhile to pay special attention to their relationship with substances like drugs and alcohol. Teens are at an especially vulnerable time in their lives when it comes to substance misuse and addiction.
Which Teens Are Getting Addicted?
Any teen is liable to become addicted. Substance use that starts as experimentation can lead to addiction. No matter the family situation, financial state, or seeming “success” of the individual, drugs can cause a profound negative impact. The proclamation “It could never happen in our family!” does not hold water. Addiction does not discriminate.
The scientific journal Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience provides some criteria for heightened risk factors. In other words, if a teen that you know fits into any of the following categories, then you should be particularly cognizant of their behavior. With these factors in mind, be on the lookout for signs of addiction.
- History of early childhood negative and aggressive behavior
- History of physical or sexual abuse
- Being male and Caucasian
- Emotional, social, or academic difficulties
- Poor impulse control
- Unstable emotions
- Thrill-seeking behaviors
- Very low perception of the dangers inherent in drug use
Just because a teen does not check any of these boxes does not mean they are not at risk. The journal cites research that found across the board, regardless of other factors: “There is statistical evidence that teens are getting involved in drug use as early as the 6th to 8th grade (12–14 years old).”
What Are the Warning Signs?
There are indicators relevant for any family with teenage children. It is vital to be vigilant when it comes to changes in teens’ behavior or physical appearance. While many of the signs may appear on their surface to be typical teenager stuff, the very real possibility of dangerous substance use exists. Pay close attention to these warning signs adapted from the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.
- Changed relationships with many family members or friends
- Too frequently uses chewing gum or mints to cover up breath
- Use of over-the-counter medication to reduce eye redness or nasal irritation
- Seems to be lacking money or constantly asking for cash
- Reckless driving that resulted in unexplained dents in the car
- Increased avoidance of eye contact
- Tends to lock doors
- Makes secretive phone calls
- Has the “munchies” or a sudden increase in appetite
- Has become unusually clumsy; stumbling, lacking coordination, poor balance
- Disappears for long periods of time
- Develops erratic sleep patterns; periods of sleeplessness or high energy, followed by long periods of “catch up” sleep
- Makes excuses or outright lies for every question asked about behavioral changes
Mood and personality shifts:
- Exhibits dramatic mood changes or increased emotional instability
- Increased instances of sullen, withdrawn, or depressed behavior
- More silence, hostility, anger, hyperactivity, or unexplained euphoria
- Less communication, cooperation, focus, or motivation
Hygiene and appearance problems:
- Smell of smoke or other unusual smells on breath or on clothes
- Unusually disheveled appearance or poor hygiene
- Red, flushed cheeks or face
- Track marks on arms or legs (e.g. long sleeves in warm weather to hide marks)
- Appearance of burns or soot on fingers or lips
- Unusually tired
- Moves lethargically
- Unable to speak intelligibly, slurred speech, or rapid-fire speech
- Frequent nosebleeds
- Unexplained runny nose (i.e. not caused by allergies or a cold)
- Sores, spots around mouth
- Wetting lips or excessive thirst (known as “cottonmouth”)
- Sudden or dramatic weight loss or gain
- Upturn in regularity of headaches
- Increased sweating
Remember that detecting one or more of these signs does not mean that your teen is an addict. It may be, however, be time for an honest conversation.
“I Think There’s a Problem. Now What?”
It is important to approach your teen with respect and sensitivity. Teenagers grapple with the transition from adolescence into adulthood. Even in the best circumstances, this is a difficult period. If the time comes to talk to a teenaged loved one, it is imperative to recognize their complexities as a person and not reduce the conversation to one solely about substance misuse. Teens are people too.
Your next stop is to prepare for an empathetic but frank discussion about the situation. Try not to bring judgment to the table; your teen is likely already struggling. Also, try not to move forward with guilt; you cannot be everywhere all of the time for your loved ones. They are on a difficult road and you have an opportunity to sit down and provide your support. Your first intervention, the most personal one, is key.
Next, it is important to keep in mind that professional help is out there. At times, compassionate and well-meaning loved ones need back up. Give DK Solutions a call to learn more about how to talk to your teen and about what next steps to follow—including the possibility of a professional intervention.
- One of our partner facilities published a guide on What to Do if Your Child Is Struggling from Addiction detailing strategies for developing trust with your loved one en route to having these challenging conversations.
- Early Detection of Illicit Drug Use in Teenagers, cited above, utilizes more clinical language to demonstrate how to identify a substance abuse problem in your child.
- Also mentioned above is this useful post from the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.