Drugs, Alcohol, and Your Kid
Although the latest government study finds drug use unchanged, kids are still at risk and experimenting at younger ages
Some youngsters are clearly more likely than others to be attracted to and hooked on drugs, nicotine and alcohol. The risk increases with any of these factors and a cluster of these factors can tip the scales:
1. A family history of drug use or alcoholism
2. A family in turmoil
3. Learning difficulties
4. Behavioral problems before adolescence
5. Early school failure
7. Poor impulse control
9. Low self-esteem
10. The belief that "it can't happen to me"
11. Thinking marijuana (or cocaine, or heroin if it is not injected) is not addictive
There are also warning signs that can help parents decide if a problem is brewing or a child is already involved in substance use. Adolescence is a bumpy ride, and some of these warning signs may only be the normal symptoms of growing up, but parents have to be alert to the possibility that, with their particular child, they may indicate trouble. In general, you should suspect some drug use if you observe one or more of these indicators:
- A change of friends from those you know and new friends who seem to avoid you. But don't pin all your youngster's troubles on "bad friends." Often the child who is already troubled is the one who is drawn to a group that is taking dangerous risks and is heavily committed to using alcohol and drugs.
- Friendship with older teenagers and young adults. Older users need the attention and admiration they get from younger kids and often entice them to be followers and dealers.
- A best friend who uses drugs. This is the single best indicator of use.
- Daily cigarette smoking. This is an early warning that other substance use may be in the picture.
- A deterioration in appearance. The reverse is not necessarily a safety signal. Many drug users look like clean-cut all-American kids instead of stereotypical drug users.
- A decline in performance at home. Chores may be neglected or done sloppily; curfew may be ignored.
- A change in school performance. The drop in grades may or may not be a dramatic sign by itself, but watch for tardiness, truancy, and disciplinary problems.
- Use of street or drug language.
- Hypersensitivity, irritability. The teenage user is often hostile, avoids family contact, overreacts to mild criticism, and deflects the topic when pressed for accountability.
- Lack of concern about people, ideas, and values that used to be very important.
- Wide mood swings. Although mood changes are a normal part of adolescence, extreme emotional swings indicate a problem and be the result of drug or alcohol use.
- Secretive phone calls. Callers who hang up when you answer may be your child's new friends or acquaintances involved in substance use.
- The disappearance of money, personal belongings, pills or alcohol.
- The sudden appearance of expensive merchandise. Electronic equipment, clothes, or jewelry your child can't possibly afford may indicate drug dealing. Be mindful that a teenager will often deny any illegal or inappropriate activity with explanations such as, "I borrowed it from a friend."
- Trouble with the law. Kids may be picked up for shoplifting, driving while intoxicated, disorderly conduct.
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.
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