Sadly, each year more than a million teenagers are enrolled in substance abuse treatment programs.  And just like alcoholism, many of them will struggle with their addiction throughout their entire life.  That's why it's far better for parents to prevent kids from experimenting with drugs early on, before they get a foothold.

Why Do They Experiment?

Kids are usually motivated to experiment with drugs by curiosity and the need to fit in.  They want to try what their friends are trying, and they have a great need to belong.

Some kids experiment because they are seeking relief from anxiety or emotional pain. In essence they are self-medicating or using drugs or alcohol to cope with the stresses they are feeling.  For instance, many kids use marijuana to reduce their anxiety, but medical studies show that the prolonged use of the drug has the opposite effect, leading to heightened anxiety, depression, nervousness, mental disorders, paranoia and panic attacks. While some parents diminish the seriousness of use of marijuana, they should pay attention to what the National Institute on Drug Abuse says are the effects of its prolonged use.  They report it can cause, "…impaired attention, memory problems, diminished learning capacity, interference with the formation of memories and the ability to retain knowledge, a general apathy toward life events, poor coordination, diminished interpersonal skills, and poor judgment."  

Sadly, other kids experiment with drugs to tempt their fate.  Teens with more serious emotional and psychological problems turn to dangerous concoctions or massive doses of drugs as a form of "Russian Roulette." They reason, "If I die, then so be it."  Not a week goes by that I don't receive a message from a parent or grandparent, heartbroken that their teen overdosed and died.

Signs of Drug Use

There are many signs of substance abuse that a parent should watch for, but the only way to know for sure is to take your teenager for a full-spectrum drug and alcohol test (a test for many types of drugs).  Have it done professionally by a local lab that processes tests for businesses.  Give your teen little forewarning to prepare for the test, since they can find ways on the Internet to falsify the results.

A substance abuse test is warranted if you see any of these signs:

o                 Masking - you notice that they are consuming mega doses of vitamins, teas and herbs in attempt to mask drug use.

o                 Increased lying - not just once or twice, but chronic dishonesty, especially if lying is new for your teen.

o                 Breakdown in normal habits - drastic changes in sleep, appetite, the ability to complete schoolwork, loss of interest in things they once loved, extreme forgetfulness, and marked decrease in hygiene.

o                 An unusual odor on clothes or in the room — frequent use of incense or deodorizers to mask the smell, frequent use of eye drops (to alleviate bloodshot eyes), extended periods locked alone in their room or the bathroom, frequent use of the garage or shed or other vacant buildings.

o                 Change in friends - your teen exchanges healthy friendships for fierce loyalty to questionable people you don't even know. They may even run away, or disappear with their new friends for long stretches of time.

o                 Stealing or sudden wealth — shoplifting, credit card abuse, valuables disappearing from the home without explanation. Or, you may see unexplained money, jewelry, new clothes, or new gadgets from the selling of drugs (even from selling your prescriptions).

o                 Change in schedule - up all night, or up very late at night, sleeps for days, misses work, misses appointments, wants to be on the phone late at night or regularly wants to stay overnight at a friend's house or out camping.

o                 Aggression, anger, mood swings, disrespect, and blaming - to an unreasonable degree, and directed against you and your family or other authorities.

o                 Drug paraphernalia — pincers or paper clips for smoking, empty or disassembled pen cases for snorting, empty aerosol cans, burnt spoons, homemade pot pipes, steel wool, hypodermic needle parts, unknown prescription bottles, empty liquid cold remedy bottles, cold remedy blister packs, missing glues or solvents, or knives and spoons used for crushing and sniffing pills repeatedly show up in their room.

o                 Dropping grades- lack of care for school, sports or other healthy pursuits.

Drugs Are Usually Behind the Behavior Issue