That is the million dollar question: Is my child on drugs? Whether you have a fleeting idea that your child is trying drugs or you found needles in their nightstand, it’s always a question of certainty. Is my child using drugs? As a parent, it is easy to be in denial. It is easy to believe your son’s or daughter’s made up story about how the weed is their friend’s or they just tried it once. What is hard is accepting the fact that your once little boy or girl is growing up and making decisions, and obviously, at this point, the wrong ones. There are many reasons why people pick up drugs, but what you as a parent need are definite answers and knowledge of what drugs are being abused.
You will tell yourself they are learning for themselves, that they are experimenting, and that is one thing. Noticing stuff missing and rapid weight loss are signs of another thing entirely. When do you jump in? My best advice is if it’s a steady concern or worry, address it. If your child comes home with booze on their breath once or twice over the summer, so be it. They have to grow up sometime. If you smell alcohol when they are driving, that’s something I would address immediately. It’s a delicate balance.
For starters, always try to keep an open dialog with your kids. If it gets to the point where they are using hard drugs and the conversation is minimal between you two, it makes it all the harder. So no matter how busy you both are or how much they want to do their own thing, take time. Talk, talk, talk. Be their friend, not just their mother or father. They are more likely to be honest if they think of you as a friend. If they are scared to death of getting yelled at and punished, there is a greater chance of them hiding and not opening up about issues at all costs.
My Kid’s On Drugs, Now What?
You do not want the conversation volume to escalate. If they come home with bloodshot eyes for the first time, let them know you know and let it go. Maybe ask a few prying questions, but never make them feel threatened or afraid, or they will shut you out and lie. Open communication and honesty are HUGE. Be a confidant, not an enemy. At this stage in their life, it’s hard for a parent to be “cool” to them, but be cool. Joke about the use if you have to. Ask, “Was it good weed? How did you smoke it?” But ask with a joking tone. The old adage “Most truth is told in jest” may apply. Being stern and punishing them will not help the matter. It will push them away.
Building this core relationship early on will be valuable if the casual, experimental use turns into dependence and abuse. If you and your kid stay friendly and can openly talk about uncomfortable things, you are ahead of the game. When you ask yourself if your child is doing drugs, it would be best to ask your kid directly and get an honest answer, but this is not a perfect world. No matter how friendly and cool my parents were, I lied and lied and lied. It’s hard to come clean, especially when your kid thinks they have it under control and that it is no big deal.
You raised your kids from birth, so your gut is your best adviser. If your instincts are telling you it’s getting bad, it’s probably getting bad. The way you react and approach the situation either makes it better or worse. Also, even though it’s hard because you raised your baby with so much care, do not be a parent in denial or a parent like my mom who blames all of my friends. Your child makes his or her own decisions. Just know how fast casual use can turn to dependence and abuse of harder substances. The earlier you catch it, the better. If your child is under eighteen, it is a bit easier to get them to conform to your requests.
Here are some telltale signs for different drugs:
- Alcohol: smell it on their breath, throwing up
- Marijuana: the odor, rolling papers, bowl bong, cigar papers … and tie-dyed shirts
- Prescription pills, Benzos: your pills are missing, badly slurred words, loss of memory
- Prescription pills, Opiates: empty or missing pill bottles from a past injury, itching, scratching their nose, pinpoint pupils, slow speech
- Cocaine: sniffling, loss of weight, bags under eyes, no money, missing money, stays up all night, missing for a few days, huge pupils, talkative, heightened speech
- Heroin: needles, poor complexion, almost sick looking, wearing long sleeves to cover track marks, vomiting, withdrawal symptoms, groggy speech, missing money
- PCP: Delusional, breath smells like cleaning fluid, erratic behavior
- Club drugs: all of a sudden they blast electronic music, want to go to raves, come home telling you they love you, have a hard time sleeping, vomit frequently, look like they are just wasted.
- Designer drugs, Bath salts: Extreme paranoia, insane behavior, strip and run around naked (not kidding).
* This is not an all-encompassing list but will give you the gist of it.
Drug Testing Your Child
Finding out if your loved one is using drugs and discovering what kind they are using can be assured by getting a drug test delivered to your home. This presents a number of morality questions about whether it’s invading your kid’s privacy. Actually watching them urinate in a sample cup may be uncomfortable as well. My mom did it, and I feel it curbed my use temporarily and was a strong deterrent while I lived under her roof. I have a feeling if she never tested me I would have gotten way worse way faster. Even though I struggled with addiction for years after I left home, I did finish high school and college, and had a leg up over others I was using with before my parents intervened. So it’s up in the air.
Testing at home will also give you a definitive idea of where your child is at with drug use. If the test comes up positive for opiates, there is a higher level of concern than if there is low levels of just marijuana. You cannot control what your kid does or lock them in the house forever, but knowing when they look under the influence and addressing it is good parenting.
Never feel guilty if you ask yourself: is my child on drugs? If you genuinely have your kids’ best interests at heart and not selfish motives, like embarrassment over the neighbors finding out, your true concerns will resonate with your children. This will get you closer to knowing the truth and closer to your child opening up. Exercise options like calling addiction professionals. I can recommend a hotline that is very knowledgeable. Log on to my webinars and learn what you’re up against. Addiction, like I said, can come on fast. It’s not knowing they are using so much as knowing what they are using. Do not feel bad about looking in their nightstand, jean pockets, and car for drug residue and supplies. Finding stuff regularly is a definite sign that they are using seriously and not just socially. If they feel they can get away with using in the house, that’s a concern as well. I know parents are busy, but if you aren’t even going in your kid’s room to check if they are getting high in there, know that the paraphernalia lying all over may be more of a cry for attention and love than the thrill of using.