can I tell if my child is using drugs?" This
is the question most frequently asked by parents of
teens, and parents often use clinicians (counselors,
nurses, doctors…) as consultants to answer this
very complicated question. This is a difficult
question when you don't know what you are looking for.
Behavioral signs and symptoms are often the sole basis
of knowing (or suspecting) the answer. At times it
is hard to discriminate between typical teenage behavior
and drug-induced behavior. A "yes" to the following
questions can be a reason for greater concern:
Personality Problems Does
the child's personality seem to be changing?
Do you observe any of these signs:
- Less affectionate
- Easily provoked, and/or oversensitive?
Reluctant Responsibility Is the child
becoming less responsible? Does the child show the following:
- not doing chores
- coming home late
- tardy to school
- forgetful of family occasions (i.e. birthdays)
- becoming more of a "slob" in their room
- not completing homework?
Friends and Trends Do you notice that your
child recently has different friends, fashions, or interests?
- Does the child change himself to conform to a new group of friends?
- Adopt the language, clothing or hair styles of new friends?
- Does your child hesitate to speak to you about friends or friends' parents?
- Does your child show a new and intense interest in hard rock or heavy metal
music and concerts?
- Is your child less interested in school, sports, and other hobbies?
- Is your child demanding more privacy and permission to stay out later at
Communication Concerns Is it more difficult
to communicate with your child?
Are you experiencing the following:
- Is it hard to have a conversation with your child?
- Does your child refuse to discuss details of his friendship group?
- Does your child refuse to discuss "drug issues" and become defensive
when negative effects of drugs are discussed, strongly defends occasional
or experimental use of drugs by peers?
- Does your child insist that adults are hassling him?
Brain Drain or Physical Pain Has your
child begun to show signs of physical or mental deterioration? Has your child
exhibited disorderly or illogical thinking, with mixed-up ideas or thoughts?
The following behaviors and symptoms may be exhibited sporadically or develop
slowly over a period of a few months, one summer, or a whole year or more. Ask
about the objective evidence of drug use.
- ignoring matters of personal hygiene
- developing heightened sensitivity to touch, smell and
- displaying a noticeable increase or decrease in appetite
- losing the ability to blush
- appears to think slower
- changing sleep patterns
- weight loss
- failing at times to maintain balance
- frequently getting lost or disoriented
- showing surprise upon learning the correct time of day
- difficulty or failing to become motivated to achieve
Perturbing Patterns Many
teens are able to mask and/or manipulate their way
through the early stages of drug abuse, hiding or
explaining away the behaviors on these check lists.
If the child's involvement with drugs becomes greater,
disturbing behavior patterns which are more obvious,
and intense, will emerge.
A teen will show the following as drug abuse progresses:
- demanding the right to drink alcohol
- grades drop but will refuse to spend more time studying
- insist that the teachers are "unfair"
- become extremely irritable
- use bad language without regard to others present
- come home late with alcohol on breath
- claim people are telling "lies" about him/her
- claim to have never even experimented with any drugs
- have impaired memory, both short-term or long-term
- avoid eating with or spending time with family
- act very secretively on the telephone
- spend more money than should be available from allowance/job
- will lie and deny drug involvement even if caught by
you with drugs or drug paraphernalia
- become careless about hiding drugs
- steal money or other items from you, home or friends
- engage in criminal activities
- attempt suicide
Eyewitnessing Evidence In addition to watching
for behavioral changes, any of the following bits of physical
evidence may suggest that drugs are being abused:
Are any of the following left about or discovered in clothing drawers?
- if the child smokes cigarettes, he is now rolling
- paper clips, hairpins, or tweezers, sometimes with blackened
ends, show up in odd places around the house
- ash or tobacco-like residue appears in clothing or around
- pills are missing from the medicine cabinet
- the house smells at times pungent and smokey, or like
- the child has very red-rimmed, bloodshot, or watery
eyes, pupils are dilated or constricted
- the child has a runny nose but no cold
- you notice involuntary eye movements
- the child starts using Visine, room deodorizers, or
- there are unexplained liquor bottles in the trash
Should a school evaluation be part of the consideration
- lighters or matches
- tiny bottles or small boxes or containers
- baggies or little bits of aluminum foil
- rolling papers
- peculiar cigarette butts
- small seeds
- crushed brown or green leaves
- traces of white or off-white powder
- small mirrors
- razor blades
- straws, rolled-up bills, or other tube-like devices
- glass tubing or small vessels
School is a key place to consult for an on-going assessment of a child's
behavior. School guidance counselors, teachers and principals can give you a
look at your teenager from a perspective that you cannot see.
After you have completed this checklist, you may wish to view the Confronting
your Teen page.