Last year I worked with a dad who shared a variety of concerns about his son. One was the possibility that his son was 'experimenting' with drugs. By our sixth session, he confirmed that it was much more than dabbling, and began the process of learning about an inpatient drug treatment program. Prevention and intervention are critical, and parents are the first line of defense.
What Are The Side Effects And Consequences Of Abusing Prescription Drugs?
* stimulants - paranoia, dangerously high body temps, irregular heartbeat
* opioids - drowsiness, nausea, slowed breathing. They damage the brain in the areas of memory and learning, similar to Alzheimer's Disease.
* depressants - slurred speech, shallow breathing, disorientation, lack of coordination, seizures.
* Because the teen brain is still developing, they are especially vulnerable and susceptible to these drugs and addiction.
* Brain circuitry has reward pathways. Addictive drugs provide the reward. Tolerance to these drugs is enormous and progressive.
* Accidental death from overdose
What About Heroin?
As tolerance to prescription drugs grows, the pleasure center of the brain demands more and stronger rewards. When the free supply of Rx drugs runs out, and the cost of buying them on the street becomes prohibitive, the next step is heroin. For $3-5, the cost of a pack of cigarettes, our kids can buy a dose of high-potency heroin. There are also dangerous substitutes, such as "krokodil", the poor man's heroin. This substance rots the flesh. It is made from a combination of codeine, gasoline, iodine, phosphorous and other chemicals. Revolting, and deadly.
Heroin overdoses and deaths are reported every day. "Most fatalities occur before patients get to the hospital. Overdoses often take place over one to three hours. People just slowly stop breathing; often they are assumed to be sleeping deeply, or they are alone."
By now you have heard about Narcan (Naloxone). It has been available for about 30 years. "It can be administered via needle or as a nasal spray, and it works by displacing heroin from its receptors in the brain and rapidly restoring the overdose victim to consciousness and normal breathing." Some states are considering making this antidote available to family and friends of heroin users. Read this article, How to Stop Heroin Deaths (from which the above quotes are taken).
Warning Signs Of Drug Use (Please note that although you may see some of these signs, it does not mean your teen is using; however, you should not ignore them. If you see six or more warning signs, it's time for a serious talk and seeking professional help, whether the problem is drugs, depression, etc.)
* loss of interest in family activities
* disrespect for family rules * withdrawal from normal responsibilities
* physically or verbally abusive * sudden increase or decrease in appetite
* disappearance of money and valuables * use of incense, air fresheners, and mouth wash to mask the odor of marijuana
* truancy or always being late
* sudden drop in grades * showing defiance to authority
* sleeping in class * reduced memory and attention span
* quitting extra-curricular activities * not doing homework, and poor work performance Physical and Emotional Signs:
* smell of marijuana or alcohol on breath or body
* unusual mood swings * argumentative, paranoid, confused, destructive
* little to no sharing of personal problems * overly tired or hyperactive
* drastic weight loss or gain * always needs or has excessive amounts of money
* unhappy and depressed
What To Do If You Suspect Drug Use:
This can be excruciating. No matter what the evidence, most parents are reluctant to acknowledge that their child has a substance abuse problem. Anger, guilt and a sense of failure are common reactions, and it is important to avoid blaming yourself. Doing the hard thing isn't easy, but it is necessary. Stay focused on getting the help your child (and the rest of the family) needs. * Lock the liquor cabinet. Dispose of unused prescription meds and keep the rest locked up.
* Follow your intuition. You know when something is not right. Whether it's drugs or something else, it needs attention.
* Have an intervention. This can be as simple as a conversation to express your concern or voice your suspicions (without accusing or judging). Discuss it with your spouse/partner first. Do this when your child is sober and you're calm. (You may have to wait a day or two.) If your child is resistant to talking about it - which is to be expected - ask for help from a guidance counselor, family doctor, interventionist, drug and alcohol counselor, or local treatment center.
* Come prepared for your intervention. Look for signs and symptoms. You don't have to find drug paraphernalia to make your case. It can be observations of behaviors and symptoms. (You smelled like smoke. Your eyes were red. You've been sneaking out.)
* Take note of changes in behavior, personal habits, schoolwork, and friends.
* Keep track of how often your teen breaks the rules or does something suspicious.
* Search for drugs and drug paraphernalia. Some parents see this as an invasion of privacy. But if you need proof, and are committed to acting on your suspicions, it's time to collect the evidence. If you find something, be prepared for their anger and outrage, and stay the course. Finally, I highly recommend the comprehensive Intervention Guide from The Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
Fern Weis is a Parent Coach and Family Recovery Life Coach. She works with parents of teens and young adults who are going through difficult situations, from the homework wars to addiction recovery, and all points in between. Fern helps parents release guilt, end enabling, and confidently prepare their children to thrive and be successful through life's challenges. FernWeis.com | 201-747-9642