How to have a conversation with your teenager about suspected drug use
It is extremely frightening when you come to the realisation that your child is probably using drugs, and obviously, you need to tackle the teenager about your concerns. But it is essential that any conversation is not confrontational. Don’t just rush in without giving the situation some thought, as this is a ‘critical conversation’ requiring planning and structure, and in some cases, it might be wise to talk to a counsellor before you approach the subject. Today we will look at a few tips and strategies to help you to prepare how best to have a conversation with your child about suspected drug use, starting with a better understanding of the culture and impacts of drug use in young people.
Understanding the teen
This is tricky as the teen is constantly testing the boundaries and not responding well to limit-setting by adults.
But it is quite normal for teenagers to indulge in risk-taking behaviour, including drinking alcohol, smoking cannabis and cigarettes, and trying certain substances. There are very few parents that haven’t pushed the boundaries themselves during their teenage years, so do consider this when having these difficult conversations. Sometimes, it can even help to be honest about your own personal, slightly wayward experiences!
But the brain is going through so many changes during adolescence, and substance abuse can cause permanent damage to the brain, leading to difficulties in functioning in adult life. So, it is essential you deal with your concerns and have a conversation about suspected drug use as soon as possible.
Understanding that taking street or club drugs is extremely risky is particularly important as you don’t really know what is in them. These drugs are designed to increase the levels of dopamine in your brain leaving you craving more. They can cause the following symptoms:
● Renal failure
Various substances have different symptoms, making the situation very dangerous for teens attending music festivals and dance parties as if they ingest a substance the reality is it is probably something made in a ‘backstreet garage’ laboratory.
Having conversations about drug use and managing to balance an understanding of your child with the fear of what is happening is certainly not easy!
Signs of teen drug use
Cannabis use has remained relatively stable, but many other drugs are increasing in use, and according to word of mouth, cocaine has never been cheaper. So, if you see any of the following paraphernalia in your teen’s bedroom it could indicate drug use:
● Injection: tourniquet, swabs, syringes, and needles
● Smoking: water pipes or bongs, straws, vape equipment (vaping is at epidemic proportions in teens)
● Snorting: razor blades, rolled notes, snuff bullets, small mirrors
● Pills: any unusual tablets in plastic packs
Symptoms and changes in your teen
● Changed sleeping and eating patterns
● Decreased grooming
● Eyes, pupils look larger
● Runny nose
● Weight loss
● Lack of motivation
● Personality changes
Teens use drugs and alcohol for many reasons from peer pressure, anxiety, and curiosity, Some may take a drug and decide never to use it again, while others become addicted, this is due to our genetic make-up.
Teenagers are still developing and full brain development is not thought to be completed until a male is over 24 years of age, and a female around 23, however, this research is still emerging.
This new evidence makes drug use in teens even more damaging as the part of the brain that protects us from this behaviour is still developing. If the cortex of the brain is damaged it would have a life-changing effect.
Other factors that influence drug abuse are the home environment and the need for the teen to ‘escape’ poverty, abuse, lack of parental structure.
Drugs used by teenagers
The drugs used by teens can range from legal to illegal with alcohol, nicotine, and cannabis being common. Illegal drugs are less common in this age group. If prescription drugs are used they often come from the following groups and are:
● Any sleep medications
● Anxiety medications
● Cough mixtures from the chemist.
Alcohol use in teenagers and younger children
Teen drinking and underage drinking is still problematic, with many starting younger than we thought at 11 or 12 years. Frightening to a parent!
Children need to be made aware of and understand the health risks of alcohol early on, and the message should continue to be reinforced remembering, of course, the example you are setting yourself. If you are having conversations with your child about any type of drug use, it will be even more difficult if they are able to challenge their parent’s behaviour.
If your teen is abusing alcohol it should be treated the same as any substance disorder abuse. There are now many facilities that exclusively treat teens. If this is happening to your teen, do something about the problem, seek help before further damage occurs.
Collateral damage in teen drinking
If drug use continues, damage can and will occur:
● Arrest and detention
● Financial problems.
● Shattering relationships and friendships
● Expulsion from school, or being sacked from work.
● Illness and injury.
Having researched when the human brain is fully developed, the results are sobering. According to Sapoisky (2018), the brain of a human is not developed fully until the age of 25. The frontal cortex is the last thing to develop. The immaturity displayed by many teenagers and the range of behaviours exhibited can be explained by the late development of this area of the brain that we once thought was developed by 18!
Indeed, this finding changes many education models, and there are some education providers who are saying that children should be at school until they are 22. Maybe we need to continue drug and alcohol education for a lot longer.
Is teen addiction treatable?
Yes, all forms of addiction are a disease, and the teen should not be punished but helped to overcome their illness, often a stress response and becoming overwhelmed by changing workloads and growing responsibilities.
There are thousands of clinics available to help your teen, implementing counselling, medication, and other proven therapeutic tools designed to help your child to live a life free of drugs.
Having the critical conversation with your teen
It is important that if possible, both parents together, have a conversation with the child regarding drug use. By now you will have the evidence to act, sometimes the conversation may not go well, and it is time to call on your doctor or a counsellor for help.
Once you involve a health professional they can assess the situation and decide on the next steps in conjunction with you and your child. If a rehab treatment centre is required, the health professionals will explain to your family how it works and how long the treatment will take.
Discovering your child is using drugs or alcohol is never going to be easy. We hope this article helps you have an informed conversation with your teenager about suspected drug use and find a solution that’s workable for all concerned.