Drugs are an incredibly pervasive part of our society today, and it’s a sad fact that many young people get caught in a downward spiral before they realise it, simply through following their natural instincts to experiment or by giving in to peer pressure. As a parent of a college-going kid, it’s worth knowing what to look out for.
Signs and symptoms
These signs should ring some warning bells for you:
- Bloodshot or glassy eyes
- Pupils that seem too large or too small
- A continually runny nose
- Sweating or shaking
- Slurred speech
- Delayed response time
- Deteriorating appearance and/or personal hygiene
- Strange sleep or eating patterns
- Sudden need for more money
- Secretive behaviour
- Spending less time with friends and family
- Sudden out-of-character behaviour, such as aggression, anxiety, paranoia or depression
- Fast mood swings ranging from highly irritable or grumpy to overly cheerful brightness
- Neglecting responsibilities they used to take care of, like studying or chores
- Taking dangerous risks
- Losing interest in things that they once really enjoyed, like hobbies or sports
Of course all of these things could also be caused by something else entirely. If you spot them though, it’s worth looking a little more closely.
What’s actually going on?
Usually a person who is addicted knows at some level that something is wrong, but they manage to rationalise why they need their drug of choice. Often it’s an escape mechanism that they don’t believe they can manage without, for one reason or another.
To make things more difficult, when they’re in the cycle of using, it’s very difficult to break it for long enough to firstly acknowledge that they need help, and then to ask for it. It often takes an extreme incident, like being arrested, getting seriously injured, losing a relationship or developing severe health problems, before they’re willing to address it at all.
What can you do?
- First get your own emotions under control. It’s easy to get stuck in an emotional black hole of guilt, anger and/or blame, wondering what you could have done differently. Try to accept up front that you can’t fix this for them – the most you can do is support them through the process.
- Once you feel you can approach the situation with some kind of calm, the next step is to talk to your child to try to establish if your suspicions are correct. Bear in mind that addicts are used to lying, so you may need to rely more on the impression you get from the conversation than on what they actually say.
- If your suspicions are confirmed, do what you can to try to get them to realise that they have a problem. This can be quite difficult and there usually needs to be some kind of outside pressure to force a change, so talk to them about how you’ve noticed their drug use impacting them and their life. Avoid arguing, threatening them or taking the blame yourself.
- There is often some underlying issue so try to find out why they started using in the first place. If you can uncover why, you may be able to help them address that directly.
- Do lay down some rules and consequences for continuing with their drug use, and if need be, enforce them.
- If the situation continues, consider getting some outside help and/or advice from a therapist, doctor or drug counsellor. Useful resources are SANCA and Narcotics Anonymous.
The earlier an addiction is addressed the better, so don’t hesitate if you suspect your child is using drugs. Get the help they (and you) need today.