Is your teenager using drugs or alcohol?

If your child is using alcohol and drugs, it’s a good bet he or she is doing everything possible to keep that activity hidden. But continued alcohol and drug use will affect your child’s behavior, attitudes, and even choice of friends. The following list describes some signs to look for if you think that your child may be using.

  • Mood swings Most teenagers go through normal mood swings. But look for extreme changes—one minute happy and giddy followed by withdrawal,depression, or fits of anger or rage.
  • Secrecy Pay attention to your child’s behavior. If he or she begins to act with increased secrecy about possessions or activities, or engages in subtle conversations with friends, this may be a cause for concern.
  • New Friends If your child is using, chances are he or she will be hanging out with others with similar interests. Has your child suddenly turned away from his or her old friends? Is he or she hanging out with an older (driving age) group or with those that you suspect are using drugs?
  • Bad Performance in School Has your child’s attitude toward school suddenly changed? Have his or her grades gone from pretty good to very bad? Has he or she been skipping classes or school altogether?
  • Physical Health Have you noticed a change in appetite? Does your child suddenly have digestive problems? Has he or she been treated for medical conditions that might be attributed to substance abuse, like gastritis or ulcers? Have his or her sleeping patterns changed?
  • “Evidence” Have you noticed any alcoholic beverages missing? Have you found unexplained empty containers around the house or grounds? What about the increased presence of “masking agents” such as mouthwash and breath mints, which could cover up the smell of alcohol?
  • Attitude Has your child developed a negative attitude against anti-drug or anti-alcohol programs, materials, or literature? Has he or she developed a bad attitude toward any authority figures in his or her life? Have you found your child has generally become dishonest?
  • Little Things Have you noticed a change in hairstyle or “fashion” choices? Has your child lost interest in tidiness in his or her room, or does he or she pay less attention to personal hygiene?
  • Overt signals Has anyone ever told you your child is drinking or using drugs? Has your child suddenly developed the need for additional money, and for vague or unexplained reasons? Have you ever seen your child stagger, or have you noticed any slurred speech, changes in the pupils of his or her eyes, or redness or bloodshot eyes?

Keep in mind that many of these changes, alone, could be attributed to being simply part of growing up, but if you have noticed a pattern of several of these “signals,” your child may be using alcohol or drugs.


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Other behaviors of concern

Parents should also be watchful of their teens’ friends and dating practices, as well as keeping an eye out for any self-destructive behaviors. The more sexually active friends a teen has and the more time a teen spends with a boyfriend or girlfriend, the greater the risk that teen will smoke, drink, get drunk or use illegal drugs, according to the National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse IX: Teen Dating Practices and Sexual Activity.

The survey found:

  • Compared to teens with no sexually active friends, teens who report half or more of their friends are sexually active are more than six and one-half times
    likelier to drink, and 31 times likelier to get drunk.
  • Teens who spend 25 or more hours a week with a boyfriend/girlfriend are two and one-half times likelier to drink, and five times likelier to get drunk than teens who spend less than 10 hours a week with a boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • Girls with boyfriends two or more years older are more than twice as likely to drink, and almost six times likelier to get drunk than girls whose boyfriends
    are less than two years older or who do not have a boyfriend. Positive peer
    attitudes towards drinking When a teen’s friends drink, accept, or encourage drinking, the teen is more likely to drink. Trauma Adolescents in treatment for alcohol abuse or dependence report higher rates of physical abuse, sexual abuse, violent victimization, witnessing violence, and other traumas than
    other teens.
  • Forty-four percent of high school students think that boys at their school often or sometimes “push girls to drink alcohol or take drugs in order to get the girls to have sex or do other sexual things.”

Low Self-Esteem
Parents who have boys with low self-esteem at age 11, and who have friends who approve of drug and alcohol use, should be concerned that self-derogation
could turn into drug dependency by age 20, according to Florida State University researchers. Children with very low self-esteem, what the researchers termed
“self-derogation,” were 1.6 times more likely to meet the criteria for drug  dependence nine years later than other children.


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Risk Factors

Some teens are more likely to drink than others. For example, although teenage girls are almost as likely to drink as boys, teenage boys are much more likely to drink heavily on a regular basis. Other factors that put teens at risk for drinking include the following.

Childhood behavior

Teens that were aggressive, antisocial, or impulsive, restless, and easily distracted as young children are more likely to have alcohol related problems.

Mental or emotional problems

Teens that suffer from anxiety and depression disorders are much more likely to abuse or be dependent on alcohol, as are teens with conduct disorders or certain attention-deficit disorders.

A family history of alcoholism

Children of alcoholics are much more likely than other teens to start drinking during their teenage years.

Positive parental attitudes toward drinking

Teens with parents who drink or express favorable attitudes towards drinking are more likely to start drinking sooner and to continue drinking. Teens that are warned about alcohol by their parents are less likely to start drinking.

Home life

Teens that come from homes where parents provide little emotional support, fail to monitor their activities, or have little involvement in their children’s lives, are more likely to drink, and to drink heavily. Harsh, inconsistent discipline and hostility or
rejection towards children has also been found to lead to  adolescent drinking and alcohol-related problems.

Positive peer attitudes towards drinking

When a teen’s friends drink, accept, or encourage drinking, the teen is more likely to drink.

Trauma

Adolescents in treatment for alcohol abuse or dependence report higher rates of physical abuse, sexual abuse, violent victimization, witnessing violence, and other traumas than other teens.

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