Take a deep breath…
You’re not a failure as a parent. You’re not helpless. And you’re not alone.
If you think you’re a failure, consider this: There are many kids with neglectful parents who never use drugs. There are also children with seemingly model parents who do use drugs.
So the first thing to accept is that drugs, while indeed dangerous, are one more problem for your youngsters to handle. And they’ll do it better and faster if you’re aware, involved and don’t stick your head in the sand.
THE AWARE PARENT HAS THE SAFEST CHILDREN
Part of awareness and a major deterrent to experimentation is to talk to your kids about drugs.
THE WARNING SIGNS OF DRUG USE
There are no symptoms that are absolutely reliable. But there are clues.
Most of these symptoms tend to be gradual which is why parental awareness is so important.
Don’t jump to conclusions, but do investigate any suspicions you have as fully as possible. Trust your intuition.
Many of the warning signs for drug use are the same as those for depression or for the ups and downs of being a teenager. There’s also the possibility it’s a physical or emotional problem.
But whatever the problem, we’re talking about a child who needs help. Right now.
START WITHIN THE FAMILY – BUT DON’T WAIT TO GET HELP IF THERE IS A PROBLEM
Nothing beats the power of love and family support. That has to start with frank discussion.
Don’t make it an attack. And don’t try to talk with your child if he or she seems under the influence.
Wait for a calm moment and then explain that you’re worried about a certain behavior (be specific) and give your child every opportunity to explain. That means really listening, not doing all the talking.
Use “I” messages — sentences that start with “I” — explaining how your child’s drug use affects you and your family.
At the same time, it’s important to speak frankly about the possibility of drugs. And it’s particularly important to talk about your values and why you’re dead set against drugs.
If your youngster seems evasive or if his or her explanations are not convincing, you should consult your doctor or a professional substance abuse counselor to rule out illness and to ask for advice.
In addition, you may also want to have your child visit a mental health professional to see if there are emotional problems.
FURTHER ACTION IS PROBABLY NECESSARY
Even if your child seems non-responsive or belligerent, if you suspect drugs are involved, immediate action is vital.
First, you’ll need an evaluation from a health professional skilled in diagnosing adolescents with alcohol or drug problems. You may want to get involved with an intervention program to learn techniques that will help convince a drug user to accept help. For the user, there are self-help, outpatient, day care, residency, and 24-hour hospitalization programs.
The right program depends entirely on the circumstances and the degree of drug involvement. Here, you’ll need professional help to make an informed choice.
Another point: If a program is to succeed, the family needs to be part of it. This can mean personal or family counseling. It may also involve participating in a support group where you learn about co-dependency and how not to play into the problems that might prompt further drug use.
If you don’t know about drug programs in your area, call your family doctor, local hospital or county mental health society or school counselor for a referral. You can also call a national helpline and get a referral, read our Treatment eBook for advice or use the treatment locator.
WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T GIVE UP
That child who upsets you so much is the same little boy or girl who, only yesterday, gave you such joy. They’re in way over their heads, and they never needed you quite as much as they need you now.
No matter what they say.