Are Your Kids on Drugs: 10 Warning Signs to Look For

Little is scarier to the parent of a teenager than the knowledge that, despite your best efforts, so many things could go wrong and this very important stage in their lives. Drugs are always a major concern and if they aren’t, they should be. Drugs are out there. If your child wants to get high, they will find a way to do it. If you feel suspicious and are intimidated to confront your teenage child, you can always reach out to drug abuse hotlines for great advice and assistance.

'Mom and Daughter' by Archibald Ballantine.

If you are open and honest with your kids, they’ll feel they can be open and honest with you. This is your best line of defense against drugs. You want that. You might sometimes hear things you don’t want to hear, but the important thing to remember is that they came to you with it. You don’t want your kids to feel afraid they’ll get in trouble or be punished for being curious.

'Evil Weed' by Rainer Vandalismus.

It is completely normal to be curious about drugs. Drugs are mysterious, forbidden and taboo. You need to take that mystique away. If your child comes to you with a question about drugs, you have done something right. Why? Because they could just as easily go out, find drugs and answer that question for themselves.

'Warning Sign' by Salim Virji.

There are ten warning signs you can watch for in your kids that could potentially mean they are using drugs. Remember to take other factors into account before you make any judgment calls though. You need to trust your kids, but you also need to be smart. If you see all ten of these warning signs, something is going on and it’s time for a talk.

'Shh' by Cass.

10: Secretive Behavior

As a parent, you will know when your child is hiding something from you. Pay attention to how they behave when they’re on the phone with their friends. If your child often appears to be speaking in hushed tones with their friends and doesn’t want to take their calls while you’re in the room, there may be something going on. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re planning secret drug adventures. Teens like privacy, but it is definitely behavior that’s worth keeping an eye on.

'Breaking Rules' by Andrew Mager.

09: Reluctance or Refusal to Follow Rules

It’s not at all uncommon for a teenager to take issue with the rules you’ve put in place (especially regarding things like curfew) but in they seem to want to battle you at every turn, they might be using drugs. There is a strong connection between drug use and rebellion. It only makes sense that if you have a problem with one, you may have a problem with the other.

'Piano' by Malta Girl.

08: Change in Interests

This one can be tricky. For teenagers, interests often change on a near daily basis. What you need to look for is whether or not your child seems to suddenly have a lack of interest in something they used to be passionate about. If your teenager excels in music but suddenly wants to put down their guitar or step away from the piano, you may have something to be concerned about.

Make sure, though, that piano or guitar was their interest in the first place and not just something you wanted them to be interested in. Oftentimes, parents will think they’re helping their child by encouraging them to pursue an instrument (the same applies to a sport) and they’ll go along with it because their children. A teenager will be more willing to take a stand. Think about which is true in your case before you count this one.

'Hole in Mirror' by Jo Naylor.

07: Decreased Interest in Personal Appearance

Your child will change styles throughout high school and likely beyond. A punk might shift to a goth to a jock and so on. It’s totally normal. Your child is trying to find out who they are and where they fit in. Let that happen. It’s important. You might not like all the dark makeup, but they’re just expressing themselves. Teenagers are vain because high school almost demands it. When they start showing a complete lack of interest in how they look, you have cause for concern.

A lack of interest in personal appearance might mean a lack of proper hygiene, but remember, this isn’t necessarily an indication of drug use if your child has always shown a lack of proper hygiene. If you had trouble getting your kids to bathe as children, it will be nearly impossible when they become teenagers.

If your child was once concerned with the clothes they wear, how their hair looks or pitches a fit at the mere sight of a pimple (not uncommon with teenagers) but suddenly seems fine with looking messy and unkempt, consider sitting down for a conversation with them.

'Full Plate' by Hungarian Snow.

06: Sudden Changes in Appetite

If your child has always been a hearty eater, but suddenly has little interest in food, several things could be happening. There are many drugs out there (particularly cocaine, crack, heroin and speed) that act as appetite suppressants. You also need to be concerned about eating disorders or other factors that may be causing this lack of interest in food.

Eating more – by a drastic amount – can also be an indicative of a problem. We’ve all heard of the ‘munchies’. The munchies are very real. If you’ve ever been around anyone that smokes weed, you know this. If your teen is suddenly very interested in the snack food you have around the house, even after a big meal, you should be concerned.

'Too Skinny' by xXlyzzimarieXx.

05: Sudden and Dramatic Change in Weight

Weight is a major concern among teenagers. If your teenager seems to be withering away to nothing in front of your eyes, you need to be concerned. Rapid weight loss is not healthy and could be indicative of drug use. Drugs like cocaine, crack, heroin and speed are notorious for making users shed pounds. Apart from drugs, sudden weight loss could also be related to other factors – illness or an eating disorder among the most pressing issues. All of the same things can be said about sudden weight gain. If your teenager is shedding or gaining pounds quickly, definitely sit down with them and see what’s going on.

'6th Grade Math Book' by James Emery.

04: Sudden Change in School Marks

Don’t be fooled – this can go both ways. While clearly a sudden drop in school marks is a problem, so too is a dramatic increase in marks. If your child is abusing an amphetamine, sometimes this can manifest in improved grades as they may be able to focus better… for a time. Inevitably, as an addiction or dependence occurs, marks will drop or more serious things (such as overdose, violent or irrational behavior) may take place. Pay attention to your child’s grades. A sudden change in marks often means something has happened in your child’s life that needs to be addressed whether that is drugs or not.

'My Dilated Pupil' by grendelkhan.

03: The Eyes Hold the Truth

If your child comes home from school or from hanging out with their friends with shiny, glassy, red eyes, you need to pay attention. In addition, you need to pay attention to their pupils. Dilated pupils can indicate many different types of drugs and you shouldn’t have to shine a light in their eyes to see the truth. Just try to look them in the eye when they come home in a normally lit room.

Handcuffs (Photo by Steven Depolo)

02: Trouble with the Law

If your child is suddenly getting in trouble with the law, you need to determine why that is. There is always the chance they were in the wrong place and the wrong time, but it’s much more likely that they were up to something they shouldn’t have been up to and got caught. The police will have a pretty good idea of which is true, so make sure you find out.

Trouble with the law does not necessarily mean getting arrested for a drug or alcohol related crime. In a lot of cases, continued drug use will lead to secondary crimes (break and entry, robbery, assault, trespassing, vandalism etc) for which your child may be arrested. Regardless of the reason, it’s important you find out what that reason is. It could be a cry for help. It could be the result of something bigger. It’s your job as a parent to find the underlying problem and address it.

'Teenage Angst' by Andrew Savedra.

01: Changes in Behavior or Attitude

This is probably the biggest give away, but it’s also a pretty hard one to rely on. Teenagers are full of hormones, boredom, anxiety and awkwardness. They’re temperamental. Mood swings, outbursts and general bad attitude is really a part of being a teenager. If your teenager starts acting more aggressive or possibly even violent, you need to consider drugs as a factor. Alternatively, if your child is more excitable or chipper than usual, drugs may also be at play. Some drugs can create a prolonged feeling of euphoria. This is something you need to consider. Excessive giggling over nothing is a telltale sign that your child is high.

'Talk Soup' by Jason Ippolito.

If you see these warning signs with your kids, you need to sit down and talk with them immediately. They may not be using drugs, but chances are, something serious is going on that you can help them with. Some basic guidelines for starting the conversation are as follows:

  • Choose a setting that is comfortable for them – the living room, the kitchen or somewhere they can feel safe.
  • Don’t bring the subject up in front of their friends.
  • Don’t be confrontational, angry or aggressive. If your child feels threatened, the line of communication will immediately closed and they’ll likely react defensively.
  • Listen to what they’re telling you. This could not be more important.
  • Let them know you’re there for them regardless of what happens.
  • If there is a drug problem, let them know there are options. Tell them you’re disappointed but not angry. Discuss options and lay out clear ground rules.
  • Above all else, if they ask for help make sure they get it.

If your child tries drugs, they have not thrown their life away as long as you aren’t willing to let them. Be tough if you need to be tough but if they genuinely want help, support them. Finally, make sure you remember that trying weed once or twice at a party does not mean your child is a drug addict. Don’t treat them like one. Make it clear that drugs aren’t welcome in your house but, for the love of all things holy – practice what you preach. If you smoke weed and don’t want your kids to, put down the pipe and the papers and quit being a hypocrite.


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