It used to be that older teens were the most susceptible to drug experimentation, but kids today are starting earlier than ever.  In fact, 10- to 14-year-olds are now the most likely to begin using one intoxicating substance or another.

If you've seen an unexplainable change in your child's motivation, behavior, honesty, grades or friends, it may not be puberty or the fog of adolescence. It could be that they are experimenting with intoxicating substances that are as close as your kitchen drawer, medicine cabinet or garage.

Illegal drugs get a lot of news coverage, but there are literally thousands of less sinister, but potentially more dangerous, ways for kids to get high, including: potent concoctions of common household glues, solvents and aerosols, prescription pain medications, or even some of the plants found in your yard or massive doses of certain vitamins.

Teens think they're invincible. For many their drug history becomes their badge of courage among their peers.  They learn about every source of intoxication from the Internet and then try them one after another.  So, they could be experimenting with huffing aerosol propellants, glues, gasoline, or paint.  Or, they could be crushing cold medications and sniffing them like cocaine or guzzling liquid cold medicines.  They could be taking your prescription drugs or taking nothing at all and just playing the "choking game" to get a temporary high from near asphyxiation.  Still others show their courage by experimenting with the harder drugs like crystal meth, crack, cocaine, LSD, or heroin, which are all highly addictive.

One fad is a throwback to the 60's "hippie" culture, marked by an increased popularity, availability and use of marijuana ("pot"), as well as the more seriously addicting 60′s drugs like heroin and LSD ("acid").  Today's pot is several times more potent than it was just a few years ago and heroin is even more accessible in some schools today than alcohol.

When Does It Start?

When I ask kids in our counseling program the age they started experimenting with drugs or alcohol, they usually report it was in the 7th or 8th grade; and some as early as the 5th grade. Most say they were introduced to drugs or alcohol when staying overnight at a friend's home or at their friend's house after school when their parents weren't home. Others were introduced to drugs or alcohol when attending parties - usually parties where older teens are present and parents are absent, distracted, or don't care.

Fact is, parents who allow their teenagers to stay overnight with friends may be putting their teen in peril. After the parents are asleep, the kids try to outdo each other in regard to how far they will go, armed with the latest vices from the Internet. That's why I recommend putting a stop to slumber parties at age ten. From then on, the normally innocent agenda of pizza and pillow fights tends to shift to more sinister things these days.

By the time most parents first discover their child is using drugs, the child has usually been involved for several years. But if parents can be diligent in keeping their kids from experimenting with intoxicating substances before age 14, they'll be less likely to get started at all, so it's important to be the most vigilant in the critical tween and early teen years.

The Addicted Teen

There's obviously a difference between experimenting with drugs and being addicted. However, experimenting is no less dangerous, since we hear stories every day of deaths of first-time users.  And some drugs are so addictive, that they can lead to a lifetime addiction with their very first use.

There's nothing more gut-wrenching for a parent than to deal with their teenager's drug addiction.  Just watch a few episodes of the show "Intervention" on television and you'll see what dealing with an addict is like.  It's a constant nightmare, not just for an addict, but for the entire family.  The lying, stealing, fits of anger, run-ins with the law and constant fear that the child will overdose can destroy and bankrupt a family. And it won't get better without treatment and ongoing support, sometimes spanning the addict's entire life.