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Deceptions of Teen Drug Use

When it comes to drug or alcohol use, we parents want to give our kids the benefit of the doubt. But for some kids, there are signs that something is different, and that’s when we should be on our toes. The phrase benefit of the doubt is defined as, “a favorable opinion adopted despite uncertainty.” Do you experience uncertainty? Do you wonder if your child has been using drugs or alcohol? Does he or she act, speak, reason or look differently?

Statistics show that 1 in 4 high school seniors use an illicit drug once a month; 1 in 5 use weekly; 1 in 10 use daily. Drug use is no respecter of religious versus non-religious, public versus private school kids.  And because today’s drugs, especially pot, are far more potent than in the 70’s, teenagers become addicted more quickly and overdose more easily. But the fastest growing “drugs” of choice today are common household items like aerosols, glues, prescription drugs, pain killers, cold medications, and prescription medications used to treat anxiety or Attention Deficit Disorders.

Teenagers use drugs for many reasons that have to do with how they feel about themselves, how they get along with others, and how they live. They generally use drugs or alcohol to either fit in or to dull the pain they feel in their life.  No one indicator will determine who is using drugs and who is not, but here are some signs to watch for, beyond simply finding drugs, drug paraphernalia or obvious physical symptoms:

Dropping grades and lack of concern for school performance.

Suddenly aggressive or unusually rebellious behavior.

Excessive influence by new friends and a need to be with them at all hours.

Disconnection from family and from old friends.

Turning away from everything they once held dear.

If you ask a drug or alcohol abusing teenager how it has affected their life, they probably won’t know and won’t care very much. But if you ask them if using drugs has changed their relationships, they will undoubtedly say “yes.” So look for this one important key to discovering if your child is using drugs. Keep an eye on their relationships.

It is easier to trust your child wouldn’t lie about taking drugs, but all drug abusers are proficient liars. They’ll look you straight in the face and not flinch, while claiming that they wouldn’t think of using drugs. That’s probably why the average parent fails to confirm their teenager is using drugs until their teen has already been using for two years. That’s long enough for casual use to turn into regular use, or for the teen to step up to more dangerous drugs.

The fact of the matter is that addicts must lie if they are going to protect their ability to continue to use. Lying, deceit, cheating and dishonesty are part and parcel of drug use, not because your teen is a born liar or a born cheat, but because the addicted body needs drugs or alcohol in order to function. Lying is one way to protect oneself and avoid detection.

Always remember this: for an addicted person symptoms of withdrawal are like poison. But withdrawal is also the cure. What hurts the brain also makes the brain feel better. What hurts an addict in the short run can heal an addict in the long run.

Addiction literally rewires the brain. The addiction says, “Give me more or you will go through pain.” The addict knows the pain of not using (withdrawal) and they’ll do or say anything to those they love, just to avoid being caught.

Parents must play a key role in intervening and getting the right kind of help for themselves and for their teen.

When you suspect your child might be using drugs, the faster you can find out for sure, the better. Jump in and be authoritative, decisive and strong, like a man or woman of steel when facing down drug use or drug addiction. When they are using alcohol or drugs on a regular basis, kids can be incredibly manipulative and they will lie. They will shift the blame and make it your responsibility or fault. They become masters of deception, and their angry outbursts over your “distrust” of them can be dismaying.

Parents of drug or alcohol abusers need to remember their parental role. They need to rise above their anger and not take it personally. This will help them be more effective in their efforts to test for drugs and to get their teen some help if drug use is discovered. To tell your teen to stop, to threaten consequences, or to separate them from their friends probably won’t be an effective deterrent if the teen has been using for any length of time.

Remember this; the addicted teenager who is screaming at you, breaking your rules, or lying to your face, is under an intoxicating influence, even when they are not intoxicated. These influences can continue for months after the teen stops using. So, your enemy is not your child. Your enemy is the cravings that have taken over your child’s life, heart, and spirit. And for that, you’ll probably need some outside help.

Be honest with yourself about your own rationalizations, fear, and denial. Chances are, you are trying real hard to talk yourself out of your fears, or making excuses for your child such as blaming it all on your child’s friends, or dismissing their casual pot use as a teenage fad. None of that is going to help your child.

If you suspect your teen may be involved in drugs or alcohol, don’t wait. Find a way to get them tested. There are over the counter drug tests at your local pharmacy. An instant and inexpensive home urine test will determine what drugs have been used, if any, in the past 30 days.  Or, with a few hair follicles from a comb or brush, you can discretely test your child for drug use. The hair follicle test can discover drugs used in the past 90 days.

Some Important and Startling Facts

The average age for kids to begin experimenting with illegal substances is age 13.

60% of youngsters who use marijuana before age 15, go on to use cocaine.

Marijuana users are 85 times more likely to use cocaine than their non-marijuana smoking peers.

The potency of marijuana (THC) levels today is 15-20 times stronger than in the 1970’s.

Concerning a Parent’s Responsibility Did You Know:

Most medical insurance policies have a clause that allows them to not pay a medical claim “if there is an illegal substance in the system, or an illegal act is being performed at the time of the loss.” Parents can be held legally responsible for those medical bills.

If a child brings any amount of a controlled substance into their parent’s home or auto, the parent could have that home or auto seized, regardless of having no knowledge of their child’s behavior.

Average cost of drug rehabilitation is more than $20,000 a month, with few medical insurers paying anything on such a claim.

Parents of drug or alcohol using teenagers often feel intimidated, and face a lot of frustration. They face heartbreaking days ahead if their teenager is caught in the web of addiction. The key is to catch drug use and put a stop to it before it turns to addiction.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program.  Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.

 

 


Signs of Drug Use in Teens and Tweens

If you’ve seen an unexplainable or drastic change in your teenager’s honesty, grades, behavior, attentiveness, or friends, it may not be hormones. It could be that they are experimenting with intoxicating substances that are as close as your kitchen drawer, medicine cabinet or garage.

It used to be that older teens were most susceptible to drug experimentation, but kids today are experimenting earlier and earlier.  In fact, 10- to 14- year-olds are now the most likely to begin experimenting with one intoxicating substance or another.

One fad is a throwback to the 60’s “hippie” culture, marked by an increased popularity, availability and use of marijuana (“pot”), as well as the more seriously addicting 60’s drugs like heroin and LSD (“acid”).  Today’s pot is several times more potent than it was just a few years ago and heroin is even more accessible in some schools today than alcohol.

Illegal drugs get a lot of news coverage, but there are literally thousands of less sinister, but potentially more dangerous, ways for kids to get high, including: potent concoctions of common household glues, solvents and aerosols, prescription pain medications like Oxycontin and Vicodin, or even some of the plants found in your yard. Some kids even get a buzz off of massive doses of certain vitamins.

Most teens think they’re invincible, so their drug history is their badge of courage.  They learn about every source of intoxication from the Internet and then try them one after another.  So, they could be experimenting with huffing aerosol propellants, glues, gasoline, or paint.  Or, they could be crushing cold medications and sniffing them like cocaine or guzzling liquid cold medicines.  They could be taking your prescription drugs or taking nothing at all and just playing the “choking game” to get a temporary high from near asphyxiation.  Still others show their courage by experimenting with the harder drugs like ecstasy, crystal meth, crack, cocaine, LSD, or heroin, which are all highly addictive. For a good overview of popular illegal drugs, look here.

When Does It Start?

When I ask kids in our counseling program the age they started experimenting with drugs or alcohol, they usually report it was in the 7th or 8th grade; and some as early as the 5th grade. Most say they were introduced to drugs or alcohol when staying overnight at a friend’s home or other overnight youth event; or, at their friend’s house after school when their parents weren’t home. Others were introduced to drugs or alcohol when attending parties – usually parties where older teens are present and parents are absent, distracted, or don’t care.

Fact is, parents today who allow their teenagers to stay overnight with friends may be putting their teen in peril. After the parents are asleep, the kids try to outdo each other in regard to how far they will go, armed with the latest vices from the Internet. That’s why I recommend putting a stop to slumber parties at age ten. From then on, the normally innocent agenda of pizza and pillow fights tends to shift to more sinister things these days.

By the time most parents first discover their child is using drugs, the child has usually been involved for several years. But if parents can be diligent in keeping their kids from experimenting with intoxicating substances before age 14, they’ll be less likely to get started at all, so it’s important to be the most vigilant in the critical tween and early teen years.

The Addicted Teen

There’s obviously a difference between experimenting with drugs and being addicted. However, experimenting is no less dangerous, since we hear stories every day of deaths of first-time users.  And some drugs are so addictive, that they can lead to a lifetime addiction with their very first use.

There’s nothing more gut-wrenching for a parent than to deal with their teenager’s drug addiction.  Just watch a few episodes of the show “Intervention” on television and you’ll see what dealing with an addict is like.  It’s a constant nightmare, not just for an addict, but for the entire family.  The lying, stealing, fits of anger, run-ins with the law and constant fear that the child will overdose, can destroy and bankrupt a family. And it won’t get better without treatment and ongoing support, sometimes spanning the addict’s entire life.

Sadly, each year more than a million teenagers need to go into substance abuse treatment programs.  And just like alcoholism, many of them will struggle with that addiction throughout their entire life.  That’s why it’s far better for parents to prevent kids from experimenting with drugs early on, before they get a foothold.

Why Do They Experiment?

Kids are usually motivated to experiment with drugs by curiosity and the need to fit in.  They want to try what their friends are trying, and they have a great need to belong.

Some kids experiment because they are seeking relief from anxiety or emotional pain. In essence they are self-medicating or using drugs or alcohol to cope with the stresses they are feeling.  For instance, many kids use marijuana to reduce their anxiety, but medical studies show that the prolonged use of the drug has the opposite effect, leading to heightened anxiety, depression, nervousness, mental disorders, paranoia and panic attacks. While some parents diminish the seriousness of use of marijuana, they should pay attention to what the National Institute on Drug Abuse says are the effects of its prolonged use.  They report it can cause, “…impaired attention, memory problems, diminished learning capacity, interference with the formation of memories and the ability to retain knowledge, a general apathy toward life events, poor coordination, diminished interpersonal skills, and poor judgment.”

Sadly, other kids experiment with drugs to tempt their fate.  Teens with more serious emotional and psychological problems turn to dangerous concoctions or massive doses of drugs as a form of “Russian Roulette.” They reason, “If I die, then so be it.”  Not a week goes by that I don’t receive a message from a parent or grandparent, heartbroken that their teen overdosed and died.

Signs of Drug Use

There are many signs of substance abuse that a parent should watch for, but the only way to know for sure is to take your teenager to get a full-spectrum drug and alcohol test (a test for many types of drugs).  To be sure, have it done professionally by a local lab that processes tests for businesses.  Give your teen little forewarning to prepare for the test, since they can usually find ways on the Internet to falsify the results.

A substance abuse test is warranted if you see any of these signs:

Masking — you notice that they are consuming mega doses of vitamins, teas and herbs in attempt to mask drug use.

Increased lying – not just once or twice, but chronic dishonesty, especially if lying is new for your teen.

Breakdown in normal habits – drastic changes in sleep, appetite, the ability to complete schoolwork, loss of interest in things they once loved, extreme forgetfulness, and marked decrease in hygiene.

An unusual odor on clothes or in the room — frequent use of incense or deodorizers to mask the smell, frequent use of eye drops (to alleviate bloodshot eyes), extended periods locked alone in their room or the bathroom, frequent use of the garage or shed or other vacant buildings.

Change in friends – your teen exchanges healthy friendships for fierce loyalty to questionable people you don’t even know. They may even run away, or disappear with their new friends for long stretches of time.

Stealing or sudden wealth — shoplifting, credit card abuse, valuables disappearing from the home without explanation. Or, you may see unexplained money, jewelry, new clothes, or new gadgets from the selling of drugs (even from selling your prescriptions).

Change in schedule – up all night, or up very late at night, sleeps for days, misses work, misses appointments, wants to be on the phone late at night or regularly wants to stay overnight at a friend’s house or out camping.

Aggression, anger, mood swings, disrespect, and blaming – to an unreasonable degree, and directed against you and your family or other authorities.

Drug paraphernalia — pincers or paper clips for smoking, empty or disassembled pen cases for snorting, empty aerosol cans, burnt spoons, homemade pot pipes, steel wool, hypodermic needle parts, unknown prescription bottles, empty liquid cold remedy bottles, cold remedy blister packs, missing glues or solvents, or knives and spoons used for crushing and sniffing pills repeatedly show up in their room.

Dropping grades– lack of care for school, sports or other healthy pursuits.

Drugs May Be the Behavior Issue

It’s easy to identify bad behavior and blame drug use on teenage rebellion, but it could be that drugs are what’s affecting your child’s behavior.  The real dilemma comes from the parent not believing their child might be experimenting with or using drugs in the first place. This is simply denial. Until a parent understands the real possibility of drugs use — even if their teen has good Christian friends and is active in church — they won’t be able to get to the root of the problem.

You may not understand the reason your child has chosen drug use as their way to “cope” with some giant in their life, but that’s another matter altogether. And because it is inconceivable that your child would ever do such a thing, you may fail to consider it, discuss it with him or drug test him to find out.  I’ve found that parents with kids in Christian schools are the least likely to admit their teen has a problem.  After all, they are in a “safe” environment, right?  Wrong!  Kids that have come to our program with drug issues tell me that the drug problem is more prevalent, not less, in the Christian schools they’ve attended than in public schools.

Before Counseling, Get the Drug Use Under Control

Since drug use may be the cause of behavioral issues, all the behavioral counseling in the world will have little positive effect until the drug use is stopped and the lingering effects of the drug are out of the teenager’s system.  Depending on the drug that was used, the after-effects can last several months. That’s why at Heartlight, we require that kids with known drug dependencies first go through a separate addiction treatment program.  We cannot deal with their inner issues until the drug issues are taken care of.  Likewise, don’t attempt to get counseling for your teen until the drugs are out of their system.  It’s a waste of money and time.  The best plan is to have the two therapies work hand in hand, ensuring that the ongoing support of an Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous program continue in tandem with your teen’s counseling for emotional and behavioral issues.

If your teen is showing any of the signs I’ve already mentioned, I recommend that every few weeks, unannounced, you drug test your teen. Make it a prerequisite for using the car.  Hold them accountable to the results, just as if a court would hold them accountable if they were on probation.  Test them even when they squeal in protest or appear disappointed that you don’t trust them. Easy-to-use home drug and alcohol test kits can be bought in almost any drug store that can be used for regular monitoring. And when you test them, stay in the room. Don’t trust them to give you a valid sample. If they are getting caught up in that culture, they’ll also know ways to get around the test and they’ll have no trouble lying to you about it.

Overall, your teenager needs to know you will do everything in your parental power to keep drugs from becoming a part of their history, even if it means putting them in an addiction treatment program or reporting them to the authorities and landing them in jail. Better a few days in jail and a time on probation where they’ll get tested regularly, than a lifetime in the grip of drugs.

Don’t stick your head in the sand or otherwise pretend that your teen knows better than to try drugs. If you are dealing with an out of control teen, and there have been no other traumatic events or psychological problems in your child’s life, you are most likely dealing with the effects of drugs or alcohol or other intoxicating substances in one form or another. The sooner you know what you are dealing with, the better the chance you’ll have for finding the right kind of help for your child.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program.  Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.


The Hidden Culprit of Teen Troubles

Whether or not you think it can happen in your Christian home, your teenager is most likely experimenting with drugs or alcohol.  I say that because you probably wouldn’t be reading this article unless you were already having problems with your teen.

It’s always surprising to me when parents ask for my help, and then list their teen’s issues, all pointing clearly to drug use:

“My son is truant, lies, steals, runs away, is disrespectful, deceitful, has anger issues, failing school, has the wrong friends, and seems to hate our family.”  Or, “My child has stolen my car, my wallet, my cell phone, left his relationship with God behind, is cutting, has depression, ADD, ODD, or seems to have identity issues. He is a great kid but has turned into someone we don’t recognize.”

Fact is, parents are facing a difficult battle of raising kids in a teen culture bent on experimenting with every possible drug.  In addition to alcohol and the common illegal drugs we all know about, teens today are learning from the Internet and from their peers about every other way to get high, including potent concoctions of common items and prescription drugs readily available in your home and even some of the plants found in your yard.  Though usually less addictive, some of these are even riskier to your teen’s health and mental stability than the better known street drugs!

What these parents don’t seem to realize is that hidden drug use may be the underlying reason they are seeing behavioral issues in their teen. In fact, unless the possibility of drug use is first ruled out, all the counseling help in the world will have no positive effect.  Your teen will continue to struggle with life for as long as they are taking drugs, and usually for many months thereafter.

Is drug use happening right under your nose? Possibly. No, it’s more like a real probability if you’ve seen drastic and unexplainable changes in a teen’s thinking, behavior, grades, or circle of friends. You may be fortunate and discover your teen is just in the early stages of experimentation, or you may be shocked to find they have been at it in secrecy for quite some time.  In either case, the key is to find out, for sure.

Any behavioral issue that remains unresolved, despite repeated attempts to address it with differing approaches is one indicator you may be dealing with a teen who is abusing drugs in one form or another.

A few other behavior signs of undetected drug abuse include:

Lying – not just once or twice, but chronically, especially if lying is new for your teen.

Breakdown in normal habits – drastic changes in sleep, appetite, the ability to complete schoolwork, loss of interest in things they once loved, extreme forgetfulness, and no longer keeping themselves clean.

Change in friends – they exchange healthy friendships for fierce loyalty to unhealthy relationships and friends you don’t even know. They may even run away, or disappear with their friends and you don’t know where they are for long stretches of time.

Stealing or sudden wealth – shoplifting, credit card abuse, things disappearing without explanation, joyriding, money or valuables missing. Or, you may see unexplained money, jewelry, new clothes, or new gadgets from the selling of drugs (even from selling your prescriptions).

Change in schedule – up all night, or up very late at night, sleeps for days, misses work, misses appointments, misses school repeatedly, wants to be on the phone late at night or regularly wants to stay overnight at a friend’s house.

Aggression, anger, mood swings, disrespect, and blaming – to an unreasonable degree, and directed against you and your family or other authorities.

And, look for homemade drug paraphernalia, like: pincers or paper clips for smoking, empty or disassembled pen cases for snorting, credit cards or razors for sniffing, empty aerosol cans for huffing, match piles and lighters, bags of unknown leafs, burnt spoons, homemade pot pipes, steel wool, hypodermic needle parts, unknown prescription bottles, unexplained empty cold remedy blister packs, empty alcohol cans or bottles, missing glues or solvents, or knives and spoons for crushing pills repeatedly show up in their room.

Do you want to know one of the main sources of drugs for teens today?  The evidence of your teen’s use can be seen in the dwindling supply of prescription meds you have in your medicine cabinet.  Some kids are even getting a buzz off of massive doses of certain vitamins, or they are consuming mega doses of vitamins, teas and herbs in attempt to mask their drug use in drug tests.

The problem lies not in recognizing how drugs might be affecting your child’s behavior. It’s easy to identify bad behavior and blame it on normal teenage emotions. The real dilemma comes from the parent not believing their child might be experimenting with or using drugs in the first place. It’s simply called denial.

You may not understand the reason your child has chosen drug use as their way to “cope” with some giant in their life, but that’s another matter altogether. And because it is inconceivable that your child would ever do such a thing, you may fail to consider it, discuss it with him or drug test him to find out.

Don’t stick your head in the sand and pretend that your teen knows better than to try drugs. If you are dealing with an out of control teen, and there have been no other traumatic events or psychological problems in your child’s life, you are probably dealing with drugs or alcohol in one form or another.  The sooner you know what you are dealing with, the better the chance you’ll have for finding the right kind of help for your child.

So, here’s the answer. If your teen is showing some of the signs I’ve already mentioned, I recommend that every few weeks, unannounced, you drug test your teen. Do it even when they squeal in protest and are disappointed that you don’t trust them. Easy to use home drug and alcohol test kits can be bought in almost any drug store.  And when you test them, stay in the room.  Don’t trust them to give you a valid sample.  If they are getting caught up in that culture, they’ll also know ways to get around the test and they’ll have no trouble lying to you about it.

Overall, they need to know you will do everything in your parental power to keep drugs from becoming a part of their history, even if it means putting them in a drug rehab program or even reporting them to the authorities and landing them in jail.

Better a few days in jail than a life in the grip of drugs.

If your teen is acting up, act now to drug and alcohol test them, not later. Every day you wait is possibly another step closer to your teen becoming a drug addict or alcoholic, or worse yet, overdosing and dying. Sadly, it happens every few minutes of every day to a family just like yours.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.