I had no clue that my son was using marijuana until another parent in the ward called to tell me. How could it be that this pleasant boy, who attended seminary willingly and came in second in the stake the seminary scripture chase, had a secret life? And why was I the last to know? A Mother.
It’s no surprise to parents that drugs and alcohol are prevalent in today’s world, however, parents are often all too surprised to discover that it is their own teenage sons and daughters who are struggling with a developing addiction. Although it is often apparent to outsiders, many parents have difficulty accepting that their own child is abusing substances—choosing to believe, instead, that nothing is wrong with their child.
The Low Down- Substance abusing teens usually begin their drug experimentation around age 14, often before they even enter high school. As children enter the teen years, they become more aware and curious about the world around them. Parents can expect some age-appropriate changes in behavior and relationships but should remain aware of dangerous trends that may emerge by educating themselves about the signs of possible drug use and abuse so it will be readily recognized and addressed. By thinking that, “It won’t happen to my child” or “It’s normal for a teenager to be doing these things”, a parent can miss important signs of a developing addiction.
While middle and high school students are surrounded by various ways to get high and a variety of designer drugs, the three main substances teens battle with are alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana. These substances may seem commonplace to teenagers, but they can lead to long-term damage and addiction. Research provided by West Ridge Academy estimates that 80 percent of graduating high school seniors admit to having tried alcohol, approximately 20 percent are cigarette smokers, and about 50 percent have used illegal drugs. Prescription drugs and pain killers in home medicine cabinets have also become a source of growing concern in recent years.
The Dangers- Physically speaking, drug use is especially harmful to young teens who are entering puberty and whose brains are still in a stage of development. Teens have a faster rate of metabolism, so in turn, they can become addicted more quickly. By the time teens are addicted to a substance, their usage has already created a damaging chemical alteration in the brain that can be difficult to correct. For example, marijuana, the number one illegal drug used by teenagers, has three times the tar and carcinogenic content of a cigarette. Prescription drugs are misused and abused at alarming rates in the United States and is the number two most abused drug of teens. (More Americans currently abuse prescription drugs than the number of those using cocaine, hallucinogens, and heroin combined, according to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.) Perhaps even more commonly accepted is the use and abuse of alcohol, which can cause decreased thinking, judgment, and physical performance as well as impair liver functioning, the immune system, and sleeping/eating patterns. Beyond all of these physical effects lie perhaps the more commonly observed social, educational, and relational side-effects of addiction.
The Signs- Not to be confused with normal changes associated with puberty, signs and indications that teens are abusing drugs and alcohol include behavioral changes at home, at school, and in social settings.
Signs in the home environment of teenage drug use include: loss of interest in family activities, sudden increase or decrease in appetite, disrespect for family rules, disappearance of valuable items or money, lying about activities, verbally or physically abusive interactions between the teen and the rest of the family, secretive behaviors, changes to a drug-using peer group, and/or excuses for behavior. Other warning signs include missing prescription drugs, finding cigarette rolling papers, pipes, small glass vials, plastic baggies or remnants of drugs, use of incense or room deodorant to hide smoke or chemical odors, evidence of using inhalant products like hairspray, nail polish, or correction fluid, and using breath mints or mouthwash to cover up the smell of alcohol.
Signs in the social environment of teenage drug use include: a change of friends to a drug-using peer group, hanging out with an older crowd, going to parties or raves, staying out all night, withdrawal from family, smelling of alcohol, smoke, or marijuana, unexplainable mood swings or change in moods, secrecy, drastic and unexplained changes in weight, loss of interest in hygiene, change in eating/sleeping patterns, and having an ongoing need or surplus of money without evidence of items bought.
It is critical for parents to become aware of the signs of drug use so that they can intervene before their child’s drug use turns to addiction. Become educated. Talk to your children. Be aware of what is happening in your teen’s life. And should any drug use or addiction arise, don’t be hesitant to seek help and counsel.
For more information about West Ridge Academy, please visit www.westridgeacademy.com