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What are the warning signs that your child may be using drugs?

It is never easy to find out your teenager is using drugs. Communication is a powerful tool for reducing and preventing teen drug abuse. Talking to your teenagers about drug use can help them make the decision not to use in the first place or to stop using if they already are. It is important that as a parent, you remain aware of the warning signs of drug use so you can give your children the help they need in a timely manner.

If you are concerned that your teenager might be using drugs, here are some common warning signs to look for.

Changes in Behaviour

Behavioral change is usually one of the first visible signs of drug use. Some behavioral changes that may indicate your teen is using drugs include:

  • Poor academic performance.
  • Missing school and/or extracurricular activities.
  • Getting into conflicts or trouble at school.
  • Becoming defiant, uncooperative, or hostile (e.g., violating curfew, ignoring rules, lashing out).
  • Changing friends or social circles.
  • Isolating themselves from friends or family.
  • Acting secretive.
  • Newfound demand for privacy.
  • Lack of respect for authority.
  • Avoiding eye contact.
  • Complaints from teachers, classmates, etc.
  • Unexplained disappearances for significant periods of time.

Psychological Changes

Because many abused drugs are psychotropic, personality or mood changes are also common signs of drug use. These include:

  • Frequent mood swings or emotional instability.
  • Extreme highs and lows.
  • Decreased motivation.
  • Lethargy or low energy.
  • Memory problems.
  • Poor concentration.
  • Slurred or rapid-fire speech.
  • Being fearful or paranoid for no apparent reason.
  • Periods of drowsiness followed by periods of high energy.
  • Other unexplained changes in attitude or personality.

Health Problems

There are many health issues that occur as a result of drug use such as:

  • Appetite changes.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Excessive thirst (known as cottonmouth and typically occurs as a result of marijuana use).
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Sweating.
  • Headaches.
  • Sudden weight loss or gain.
  • Nosebleeds (may occur due to the snorting of drugs such as cocaine).
  • Seizures (without a history of epilepsy or other seizure disorder).
  • Runny nose.
  • Shakes or tremors.
  • Accidents or injuries.

Personal Appearance

People who use drugs often begin to neglect their personal appearance as a result of drug use. If your teen is in fact abusing drugs, you may notice some of these signs:

  • Poor hygiene.
  • Poor coordination.
  • Teeth clenching.
  • Bloodshot eyes.
  • Bruises, cuts, and sores (from falling, bumping into things, or scratching oneself).
  • Constant scratching (a common sign of opiate use).
  • Track marks on arms or legs from intravenous drug use.
  • Wearing long sleeves even in the summer (to cover up track marks).
  • Burns on fingers or lips (from joints).
  • Pinpoint pupils (a common sign of opiate use).
  • Smelling like drugs, alcohol, or other unusual odours.

Other Signs to Look For

There are several other visible signs of drug use that you should look for if you’re worried about your teenager using drugs. These include:

  • Finding drug paraphernalia (e.g., pipes, rolling papers, needles, bottles, unusual containers, eye drops, butane lighters, smoking devices, cut up straws, mirrors, Ziploc bags, tin foil, weighing scales, balloons, aluminium foil wrappers, vials, capsules, etc.).
  • Finding drug residue or remains (e.g., seeds, stems, powder, etc.).
  • Smelling strong incense or perfumes within your teenager’s personal space (commonly used to hide the smell of drugs).
  • Missing medications, alcohol, cigarettes, etc.
  • Missing cash or other resources (i.e., valuable items which may be pawned for drugs).
  • Finding hidden stashes of drugs or alcohol.

Of course, not all of the signs listed above will point directly to drug abuse. Some signs on their own may be indicators of other, unrelated problems. However, the more signs that are present, the more likely your teenager is using drugs.

The question will remain where to find help if you suspect your child is using alcohol or drugs.  Free State Care in Action’s social workers are trained in assisting parents and teenagers whenever alcohol or drug abuse occur. Social workers can assist parents to obtain the necessary information on drug abuse and will assist in finding solutions.  Parents can receive support in coping with an addictive teenager or guidance on possible rehabilitation options.  Contact Free State Care in Action on 051-4446143 for more information.