A Crash Course in Teen Drug Use

Maybe you saw the title of this article, and thought, Well, this is one I don’t need to read.  My kid would never do drugs!”  I’m not here to frighten you, but if you believe your son or daughter will never be tempted to use harmful substances, you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment.  We might like to think it’s the other kids who are using, and not our own.  But according to recent studies, 1 out of every 5 teens is abusing alcohol, illegal, or legal drugs on a regular basis.  Even high school students who aren’t presently using are telling researchers that they get offered prescription narcotics at least twice a day!

In a world that increasingly embraces drug and alcohol use, moms and dads need to understand that this issue will come up in their child’s life.  Parents also need to learn how to identify and discuss with their teens the many social pressures they will face to participate in substance abuse.

What’s Out There?

What would you say is the number one drug abused by teenagers today?  Marijuana?  Nicotine?  In reality, more common than both of these are prescription drugs!  Narcotics like Vicodin, Oxycotin, Ativan, Valium, Ambien, Adderall, and even Ritalin are popular medications being used recreationally among today’s adolescents.  There is a huge market for sedatives, painkillers, and anti-depressants, so keep a tight lid on your medicine cabinet, and realize that those bottles on the shelf can be just as damaging as the dealers on the corner.

Next to prescription drugs, marijuana is the second most common drug abused among teens.  And you can’t turn on the television, listen to music, or read the newspaper without seeing prominent people coming out in support of legalizing this drug.  As pot use becomes more common, teens who’ve never tried it may start to think, “Well, it can’t be too bad if that person is promoting it!”  Parents, it’s not enough anymore to say, “It’s illegal!” We need to learn how to engage in a conversation about the dangers of marijuana in a different way.

Another growing trend in narcotics is designer drugs.  These are fairly common substances that have had their chemical structure altered in order to create a new product.  These drugs are often sold in powder form, including LSD, PCP, Ecstasy, and Ketamine.

This list of drugs and narcotics is not an exhaustive collection by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s a crash course for the uninformed on what’s being offered, pushed, and abused in our culture.  The more you know about what is out there, the better prepared you will be to handle a teen who is caught in addiction, or tempted to experiment.

What Are the Signs?

Here are telltale signs to keep watch for:

Constant use of eye drops.  Smoking pot dries out the sinuses and causes bloodshot eyes.  If your teen is going through bottles of eye drops, it might be a sign that they are using marijuana.

Use of Goldenseal vitamins.  Goldenseal is an herb that aids in fighting in the common cold and may help with digestive disorders, as well.  But this herb is commonly believed to mask the presence of illegal drugs in urine.

Overuse of air fresheners or incense.  If you get into your teen’s car, or walk into their room, and it’s perfumed with heavy aromas, it may be a sign your child is trying to hide the smell of smoke.

Drinking vinegar.  Many people use vinegar for medicinal reasons, but for a teen using drugs, consuming vinegar could be an attempt to mask the smell of drugs on their breath, or hide the presence of narcotics in their urine.

Small burns on their fingers.  If you regularly notice small burns on a teen’s forefinger and thumb, that’s a strong indicator of drug use. Rapid weight loss, lack of energy, heavy perspiration, or small bruises on the arms, legs, or feet, are also signs of drug use.

Emotional changes. Does your son seem to be depressed or angry?  Is your daughter avoiding her friends or seem listless all the time?  While these are signs of normal adolescence, don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Wild swings in your child’s emotions could be a sign that they are turning to drugs or alcohol to cope.

What Do I Do?

If you’ve discovered that your teen has a problem with drugs, your next question is, “Now what do I do?”

First, if you’ve had a history with drugs in your past, don’t be afraid to share that with your son or daughter.  Many parents are extremely hesitant to volunteer that kind of information to their kids, in fear that acknowledging mistakes gives kids license to repeat history.  But that is simply not the case.  Admitting why mom and dad know what they’re talking about actually adds credence and value to their words.  Don’t glorify your past, but rather share the mistakes and regrets you have in this particular area.

Second, don’t engage in an argument about the morality of using of drugs.  Yes, marijuana is an herb; yes it’s been successfully used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years.  Yes, many people want to legalize it.  And yes, many successful and prominent people in society openly admit to smoking pot.  But these are not the arguments that matter.  What’s important is your son or daughter’s relationship to drugs.  Always bring the discussion back to that personal level.  The fact is, all drugs are addictive and can be destructive.  Explain that you care for your teen, and don’t want them to be held captive to any substance.  Narcotics are designed to dull our senses and trick our minds into feeling a certain way.  Drugs don’t improve our lives in any way. Their purpose is simply to alter our emotions, and eventually they hold us prisoner.  Many teens have told me that after using drugs for awhile, it got to the point where they needed those crutches to go to school, deal with their family, or relax.  As you talk to your teens about drugs, put yourself in the same scenario.  What would your teen say if you needed a couple of beers for breakfast before going to work?  Or you needed to pop a pill in order to sit down at the dinner table and relax?  Wouldn’t they be concerned for you?

Lastly, seek help.  Drugs have the capability to sink their claws into our kids so deep that it can be extremely difficult to pry them loose.  If your child is caught in the snare of drugs, enlist some allies to help you free them.  Find sponsors or programs that give them tools to overcome cravings and addictions.  Read books or articles that delve deeper into counseling teenagers dealing with drugs.  You don’t have to face this alone.

Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston is the founder and executive director of Heartlight Ministries, a residential counseling facility for adolescents in crisis. He is also a popular radio host and speaker and leads parenting seminars across the country. He and his wife, Jan, have served families and counseled youth for more than 40 years. They have two grown children and four grandchildren.