I Think My Child Is Doing Drugs – How to Find Out
Any parent who thinks their child is doing drugs faces a difficult and scary challenge. Practically everyone knows someone whose kid ended up using drugs, and the stories leave you wondering what to do.
Most therapists and counselors say to take a deep breath, maintain hope and realize knowledge gives you power. Most advise talking to your kids as a preventive measure to keep them away from drugs. Learn all you can and share correct information with them well before they encounter intoxicating substances.
Drugs permeate every walk of life regardless of class, race, religion, gender, status, profession, geography, weather or anything else. People find, seek and do drugs for a variety of reasons that range from boredom and diversion to denial and mental illness. The big answer to why people use includes a long and usually personalized list of spiritual, mental, physical, genetic and environmental factors.
What Is Out There?
Generally speaking, most drugs stimulate or depress the central nervous system and/or produce hallucinogenic effects. There are old-school drugs that have been around for centuries and modern, designer drugs emerging continuously. People might sniff, smoke, inject, swallow as a pill, or mix drugs with food and water.
The list of illicit drugs is long:
- 2C-B/2C-T7 is a hallucinogen like mescaline usually in the form of a powder or pill with street names like 7th heaven, 7-Up, beautiful, blue mystic and lucky 7.
- Alcohol is a depressant familiar to most people.
- Bath salts are a chemical reproduction of the stimulant found in the khat plant, usually a white or yellowish powder in foil but also available in pill form.
- Cocaine and crack are potent and addictive stimulants derived from the leaves of the coca plant, most often seen in rock and powdered form, and with many street names such as blow, snow, ice, rock and crystal.
- DMT is a hallucinogenic found in a plant but can also be synthetic and is usually crystals with street names of businessman’s trip, dimitri or fantasia.
- DXM is basically cough syrup and when abused can cause impairment.
- Ecstasy/MDMA/DOM/DOB/MDA are all synthetic amphetamines, powerful stimulants sometimes mixed with hallucinogens, and usually in pills or powder form with street names such as the love drug.
- GBH is a depressant usually in powder or liquid form with the street names G, Georgia boy, grievous bodily harm, liquid ecstasy and scoop.
- Hashish is a powerful cannibinoid like marijuana and is mostly a depressant that looks like a dark, tar-like substance. It’s usually added to food or smoked.
- Heroin is a powerful and addictive depressant made from the opiates in poppy plants. It usually looks like small rocks before being processed for snorting or injection.
- Inhalants are household products kids sniff for a stimulant effect, also called gluey, hush, whippets and rush.
- K-2 spice looks like marijuana but is plant material treated or sprayed with a synthetic chemical supposed to mock the effects of marijuana.
- Ketamine is an anesthetic used in human and veterinary medicine that comes in a liquid form but is usually transformed to powder as a street drug.
- Khat is a stimulant derived from the leaves of a bush that grows in Africa, where it is chewed in social settings.
- LSD is a hallucinogen produced from lysergic acid, a naturally occurring fungus that comes to the streets in the form of a clear liquid sometimes added to gelatin.
- Marijuana comes from the cannabis plant. It can be smoked as crushed leaves or inhaled as a vapor, and has many street names, such as pot, weed, smoke, bud, blunt, dope, ganja, herb, joint and Mary Jane.
- Methamphetamine is a strong and addictive stimulant usually found in pill, rock or powder form and is also called ice, glass, crank and meth.
- Morphine is an opiate derived from the poppy plant, usually prescribed for pain and often only given in the hospital intravenously.
- Mushrooms contain a fungus with hallucinogenic properties, usually presented as dried pieces to be eaten or held in the mouth.
- Opium is another drug made from the poppy plant that looks like a dark resin or thin tar and is often smoked.
- OxyContin/oxycodone is a narcotic, prescription-only and powerfully addictive pain killer that when unavailable pushes people to try heroin for a comparable high.
- PCP is a surgical anesthetic that can cause delusions, agitation, extreme irritability and sedative or trance-like effects. It usually comes in powder form.
- Peyote is a cactus plant containing the hallucinogenic ingredient mescaline.
- PMA is a synthetic-hallucinogen pill.
- Prescriptions include a long list of barbiturates, tranquilizers and sedatives, prescribed as pills for conditions like pain and anxiety among other conditions.
- Propofol is a potent anesthetic in liquid form normally used to sedate people for surgery.
- Rohypnol is prescribed in 60 countries as a sleep aid but is illegal in the United States and known as the date-rape drug.
- Steroids are used by athletes to build muscle or body mass and may be taken in a number of forms over a period of time.
- Tobacco can be considered both a stimulant and depressant and is terribly addictive in any form, including cigarettes, dip, chew and vapor.
Prescription pain medication kills more people than car crashes and lures in users as young as ages 12 and 13. Assume no age is too young for exposure to drugs.
How to Properly Dispose Medication
Experts urge everyone to properly dispose of unused medication. Preferably, people should take old prescriptions to a local police or hospital drop-off program and not put them down the drain or toilet because the drug chemicals can contaminate water and soil as well as plants and animal life.
An increase of heroin-overdose deaths have made it necessary for nearly all emergency responders and some everyday citizens to carry Narcan/Naloxone, an opiate antidote that immediately reverses the drug’s effects and stops an overdose reaction.
What to Look for, How to Know
The signs of drug use in teens can be hard to differentiate from their typical and age-appropriate moodiness, but vigilant observation can tell you a lot. If you’re saying to yourself “I think my child is using drugs,” know that there are many signs that could indicate drug use:
- Bloodshot or glassy eyes
- Dilated pupils
- Odd smells on breath, clothes, hair or hands
- Excessive sleeping or hyperactivity
- Change of habits
- Dramatic change of appearance
- Different friends
- Withdrawal from usual activities
- Despondent, argumentative or erratic behavior
- Lack of interest in schoolwork, friends, pets
- Shakiness or trembling
- Dry mouth
- Slurred or slowed speech
- Irrational behavior like bullying, stealing or compulsive lying
- Persistent habits with gum, mints or eye drops.
Administer a Drug Test
The only way to be certain about your child’s drug use is to administer a drug test. The most common method is to collect a urine sample, but hair, saliva, sweat and blood can also be tested. A typical test screens for a panel of five drugs:
- Opioids like heroin
Other tests can add screens for specific prescriptions, steroids and synthetic substances. You can learn how to drug test your child at home and how to drug test your child without them knowing. Some parents tell their kids and then take them to the doctor for a test.
For a number of reasons ranging from foods containing poppy seeds to antidepressant medication, drug tests produce a false-positive result about 10 percent of the time. A series of tests given at intervals is likely to give a more accurate picture than a one-time test, avoiding those false-positive drug tests.
Alcohol is harder to detect because it exits the human bloodstream faster than other drugs. You can do the math to figure out how long your teen may stay intoxicated, but alcohol is metabolized at the approximate rate of .015 blood-alcohol content per hour. If a teen hypothetically had a high BAC of .15, the alcohol would be gone within about 10 hours. Consumers can purchase machines like a police breathalyzer, which measures a person’s blood-alcohol content when they breathe into it.
Some parents feel apprehensive about looking through their kids’ personal stuff, but other parents, law-enforcement officers and psychologists such as Dr. Drew and Dr. Phil all agree that you should not only snoop but also be thorough about it. Search all these commonly overlooked places:
- Bathrooms and toilet tanks
- Under and behind furniture
- Under or in the mattress
- Behind pictures
- In pockets of seldom-worn clothes
- Vehicle compartments
- Coat pockets
- Purse or wallet
- School locker
Experts advise parents to keep close inventory of all prescription pills and alcohol and to lock access to both. Check your kids’ attendance at school, know and talk to their friends and chat with other parents.
Those same professionals say it is very important to know what social media sites your child uses and their passwords to each. Many services offer a variety of parental controls for electronics, and tech-savvy consultants can also help limit or monitor access.
What to Do Next
It takes work to transition from “I think my child is taking drugs” to coping with an undeniably difficult truth. Take some time to consider what you’ll say and prepare for an awkward discussion. Unite with your spouse and other loved ones in how you approach your child:
- Make it a conversation, not a confrontation
- Remove any distractions such as cell phones or TV
- Maintain a calm tone and do not raise your voice
- Do not talk to your child when he’s high or drunk
- Do not talk to your child while you’re angry
- Be direct and use specific examples
- Resist the urge to become defensive
- Reinforce that the process is all about their safety
- Encourage and reward honesty
- Be and act as your child’s biggest advocate
Express concern about your child’s well-being and let them know you don’t think they’re a bad person. Tell them about the potentially nasty consequences of drug use in concrete terms – like death, a fried brain, permanent injury and loss of many privileges like driving.
Confide in trusted people like a coach or counselor and ask them to talk to your child. You can do an individual or formal intervention, which could be as simple as a talk or as involved as a formal situation with family, friends and health professionals.
Steps to Take if Your Child is Using
If you find out your child is using, there is help available and logical steps to take:
- Educate yourself
- Have a professional screening or assessment of your child
- Network with family, friends, doctors and community members for help
- Consider types of treatment and different settings for it
- Examine treatment locations
- Gather information and ask questions
A seventh step might be to research payment options and methods. Mental health services are covered by insurance in a majority of states, and many professionals offer services on a sliding-fee scale.
Should you seek a facility, be sure to ask if it provides services for adolescents. If your child sees a therapist already, make sure that person is qualified for drug counseling and addiction therapy. Professionals usually do one or a combination of these things:
- Screen – take a quick health snapshot
- Assess – test to determine problem severity and services needed
- Recommend – advise a course of medical care
- Prescribe – suggest treatment and a recovery plan
The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines the different levels of addiction treatment, which range from early intervention to intensive and medically managed inpatient services. ASAM also says there are six individualized criteria for treatment unique to the person, including their experience with substances, health condition and history, interest in changing behavior, relapse or continued use and recovery situation and environment.
12 Steps to a Path of Recovery
Some answers may be found in a new vocation or life skills, treatment for mental illness and the involvement of family and friends. There are schools, weekly meetings, hospital settings, recovery houses, drug court and more programs that successfully help people to stop obsessing about drugs and rehabilitate.
Many programs, such as Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous, use the well-known 12 steps to a path of recovery:
- Admit powerlessness
- Believe a greater power can restore us
- Decide to turn our will and lives to God
- Take deep moral inventory of self
- Admit wrongs
- Be ready to remove character defects
- Humbly ask God to help
- List people harmed and make amends
- Repair harm directly whenever possible
- Continue personal inventory and acknowledge wrong immediately
- Seek improved contact with God through prayer and meditation
- Carry the message to others
Ask potential health professionals about the program’s staff-to-client ratio and professional licenses. See if any of the staff members are in recovery and if the facility is clean and well organized. Does it offer detoxification and rehabilitation? What kind of setting is it and is there a medical doctor who can evaluate and prescribe pharmaceutical treatment?
Take time to understand the human brain, which requires 25 years to fully develop and is especially susceptible to addiction during teen years. The front lobe of the brain develops last and controls judgment and impulse control, so the teenage brain is naturally emotional and seeks high-excitement, low-effort activities without regard for safety or long-term consequences.
Remind children that doing drugs gives a nefarious stranger direct access to their brain and other vital organs. Most users don’t think about the varying levels of purity in illicit drugs, which frequently leads to overdose or death. Kids also seem to mistakenly believe that since prescription drugs are manufactured legally, they’re safe and won’t cause an overdose.
Continue the Journey
Parental love and responsibility plus scary statistics give reason enough to lay down rules and follow them. Any guardian of a teen must remain firm, consistent and diligent plus insist on being well-informed about the child’s friends, activities and whereabouts.
Substance-abuse professionals say there are four major dimensions that support recovery and rehabilitation:
- Health: Manage disease and overcome challenges
- Home: A safe, stable place to live
- Purpose: Meaningful daily activities to participate in society
- Community: relationships that provide support, friendship, love and hope.
Help your child nurture those aspects of their life, and remember to take care of yourself along the way so you can continue your advocacy and show your child a strong example. It never hurts to repeat the exercise of breathing deeply and maintaining optimism about a good outcome. Know that drug addiction is treatable and can be mastered so that your child and you enjoy a healthy lifetime together.
Contact 12 Keys today for assistance helping your child on the path to recovery!