Signs that your child might be a drug addict
by Gregory Struve
“How did you keep this from us for so long?”
“I had no idea. How could I have let this happen in my own home?”
These are two of the most common questions we get from families of clients at our Family Workshop experience. Sitting with all those families as they walk through the pain and betrayal of drug addiction is challenging, but it’s also one of the most rewarding elements of my job Every month eight to ten families from around the country come to Prescott to do clinical work with the addict in their family. Amid the laughter and the tears there are some common themes in the statements that family members make, many relating to not knowing that the addict was using.
Knowing the common signs and symptoms of drug use can help you with your teen. With younger people in particular, the earlier the problem is addressed the more likely that the individual can avoid permanent, life-altering consequences such as educational difficulties, negative interactions with the legal system, or in some cases serious injury or death. Keeping that in mind, here are some common signs that your teenager or young adult may be using drugs.
Erratic sleeping patterns:
While it is not uncommon for teens to go through phases where they try on new persona’s, parents should try to be particularly aware of sudden isolation from family. “I’d have a couple buddies over and we’d stay up all night getting high, then I’d sleep all day,” said one client to me. “My parents just thought it was a phase.”
Changing patterns in terms of school attendance and grades will often accompany the isolation, but not always. For some addicts – particularly those who have felt confident with education and have higher than average intelligence – grades and school attendance are the last things to go.
Also important to note is a sudden onset of “allergies,” which serve as a common cover for the symptoms of opiate withdrawal, the presence and use of Visene (particularly in the car) and wearing of sunglasses at inappropriate times, such as indoors or at meals.
Change in cell-phone behaviors (normally always answer, but then don’t)
“The cell phone is at the center of drug addiction – it can be a real key in picking up an addiction” says Brain Macenroe, a recovering addict who now works in the field with young people trying to get clean. One of the most common signs, according to Macenroe, is when young people make a sudden transition from consistently taking family member’s calls to answering with text messages and avoiding phone contact. “They get paranoid and start making up excuses as to why they can’t take or return calls. When you start to get more texts then phone calls back, that’s a big sign right there.”
Change in friends and priorities
Casey, a 21-year-old heroin user recalls some of the changes that occurred in her life when she started to get high at 17 – “I basically put people into two categories; those who could help me get high and those who were in the way. I got a new boyfriend and stopped hanging out with people who had been my friends for years and years and I stopped participating in cheerleading and some of the other school activities I loved.”
When young people find hard drugs and become addicted their peer group will often become aware of the problem before their family does. A sudden change of peers combined with a sudden change in interests is often a strong indicator of a larger problem. After-school activities, sports, hobbies, and other things that the person was interested in will no longer seem as attractive and will often cease quickly and completely.
Electronics and Silverware Disappearing
Silverware disappearing is common in households where heroin has been used as a metal spoon is a crucial component in preparing the drug of IV injection. Addicts will also often go through a period where things get “stolen” from them. A series of iPod’s, cell phones, computers and other electronic gadgets that can be easily pawned or traded will frequently meet with fictional mishaps that result in their need to be replaced.
This is generally a precursor to outright stealing of personal belonging from friend and family. “I stole all the gold in my mom’s house” says Chris, a heroin addict working through his fifth stay in rehab, “I probably would have taken her wedding ring if I could have thought of a way to get it off.
These are some signs that might point to drug use in your home and we hope they serve you well. While we certainly don’t advocating jumping into an intervention just because some a couple forks go missing from your silverware drawer, the presences of several of these signs could be a strong indicator that there is a greater problem to be considered.
Gregory Struve is the Clinical Director at A Sober Way Home, a drug and alcohol treatment center in Prescott, AZ. http://www.asoberwayhome.org The Arizona Drug Rehab center has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show and A&E’s Intervention.