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Being the parent of an adolescent is an often frustrating and challenging task under the best of circumstances. The adolescent is flooded with hormones, new demands, escalating peer pressures, and the many confusing tasks of leaving childhood and becoming an adult. Emotional instability is often the norm during this period. Unfortunately, drugs are often turned to as a possible means of calming down the tides of internal chaos and feeling better about themselves.  

In this first column on adolescent substance abuse, some of the basic warning signs and symptoms of adolescent substance abuse will be presented and discussed. These are the basic general guidelines that are used by professionals and every parent should be aware of them.  

There are many varied reasons why adolescents are particularly vulnerable to substance abuse. Some of the more common reasons are; trying to fit in with the crowd, escaping emotional pain, the pure thrill of risk taking, boredom, and simple curiosity. Many of these reasons are the same for adults who turn to drugs.

Before I get in to more specific signs and suggestions, let me repeat some of the important parenting issues that I have stressed in earlier columns. It is critical that you have developed good strong lines of communication and trust with your child before they become adolescents. They need to be able to bring their problems and confusions to you without fear, have real discussions with you, trust in what you say, and know that you really do care about them. Although it will be much more difficult, you will also need to continue to know where your child is, who they are with, who their friends are, and generally what they are doing. Also, always be mindful of your position as a primary role model.  

You should also remember that you should not expect your child to avoid taking drugs to get through life's problems if they constantly see you using alcohol and pills to get through yours! Yes, I know that last statement may be a tough one for some of you. However, as difficult as it may be - it remains very true.

Previous columns on how to have effective discussions with your child, building trust, and the importance of role modeling were presented first for a reason.  

The following is a list of some of the more common signs and symptoms of substance abuse that parents should be aware of. Let me stress however that most adolescents will display some or all of these behaviors at some time during their adolescence. Parents should only become really concerned when these behaviors become extreme, excessive, and persistent. Multiple symptoms occurring simultaneously should also raise potential warning flags. Some of the more common warning signs are;

1)Drastic changes in mood with no apparent reason or pattern.
2)Noticeably dilated or constricted pupils with severe mood swings*
3)Sudden change in friends.
4)Sudden loss of interest in previously favorite activities.
5)Loss of money or possessions that can not be explained.
6)Sudden and pronounced periods of depression and isolation.
7)Decline in personal hygiene.
8)Unusually aggressive behavior*.
9)Changes in appetite or sleep patterns*.
10)Sudden decrease in school or work performance.
11)Onset of continuing fatigue or unexplained bursts of energy*.
12)Sudden breaking of family rules and withdrawal from family activities.
13)Large amounts of unaccounted for time.
14)Lying about where they were or what they were doing.
15)Finding a lot of materials with drug references – or finding drug paraphernalia.

*These behavioral changes might also suggest that perhaps a visit to a physician might be considered to rule out any physical problems that may be developing.

Hopefully, you now have some general ideas of what to be aware of with your adolescent with respect to substance abuse. In the next column, I will discuss some of the specific things that a parent can do with their adolescent to prevent or resolve substance abuse issues. The following column will go beyond drug abuse and will present the facts, myths, and complicated realities of addiction.  

About The Author
James is a Masters level Child Psychologist and Internationally Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor who has worked with distressed families for 40 years. He is the author of the Seamus the Sheltie series of children's books that were designed to assist parents in discussing difficult issues with younger children. Both books have received multiple national awards from parenting organizations. Mr. Beverly has written and published articles on parenting in a variety of media.


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