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Spotting Teen Drug Use

Updated: Nov 24, 2017

Michael Richman MA, LPC 11/20/17

It’s challenging to be a parent today, especially when your child enters into the teenage years. Not only do you have to be vigilant about their educational needs and responsibilities but also their private social and emotional needs. Armed with the Internet and Smart phones there are so many ways a teen can be led astray in today’s day and age. Unfortunately, this era of lax drug laws also means that drug use by your teen is easier and more excisable than ever before.

So how can I spot a potential problem brewing? and then, what do I do about? Teens are of the age, starting at about 12yrs old, that their brains are not fully developed but have the cognitive ability to make elaborate plans, hide their personal and social life from parents and make up sophisticated stories to mask their motivations and actions. Common sense is not a strong suit for most early teens. It’s not until the age of 18 that your child’s brain develops to the point where it recognizes the long-term consequences of the actions taken today and it’s not till the age of 25 that the brain is fully developed and able to comprehend the big picture that you as a parent now take for granted. This may answer some of the questions about “Why on earth would my child get involved in drugs”. Statistically about 80% of all adults entering drug and alcohol treatment will point to starting their use at about 12 -14yrs old. The story almost always go’s something like “I started smoking pot at around 12-14 and then progressed to mixing it with alcohol at about 16 and I first tried Cocaine at about 17-18, I have witnessed literally thousands of intake assessments that were these words verbatim and for many the experimentation with other more potent and addictive drugs continues like the chart below.







Prescription Drugs

You’ll notice that prescription drugs have their own pathway and in fact, it is the quickest route to Opiate and Heroin addiction today. This new pathway started to emerge about 6 years ago and is now at epidemic proportions for a multitude of reasons. This new route to serious addiction is hard to detect and parents are often times completely unaware of the problem until they find their teen hospitalized or dead of an overdose. This new pathway effects every socioeconomic class in every state and city in the nation, most on this path are people who never used drugs of any kind until they found some pills in the medicine cabinet or were over-prescribed opiate painkillers for an injury or surgery recovery. When the prescription runs out and the doctor is no longer willing to continue to prescribe, many go to the streets to find pain relief and many find Heroin as a cheap replacement for their prescription. Nationally 64,000 people died of opiate overdose just last year, it’s a serious concern.

Typically, when a parent becomes concerned about their teens drug use it has been going on for a while. Teens will undoubtedly take every precaution to hide their use from parents for as long as possible so I’ll give you some initial things to look for that point to early drug use:

Physical Items - Marijuana

· Rolling papers

· Hallowed out Cigars used for making “Blunts” and loose cigar debris

· Seeds the size and shape of BB’s usually green in color

· Small burn holes in clothing and car seats

· A distinctive smell on the teen, in the car or the room the teen was in

· Small wads of paper with a burnt end on them called “roaches” in an ash tray or other smoking disposal areas

Behavioral Items – Marijuana

· Dramatic change in energy level, slow, lethargic

· Laughing and giggling at inappropriate times

· Squinted, blood shot eyes

· Avoiding any and all parent contact and adult social events

· Change in school work and attendance

· Less concerned with physical appearance

· A completely new crowd of friends (with the same appearance and demeaner as listed above)

· Eating everything in sight (called the munchies”) upon coming home at night.

· A consistently increasing need for cash with no apparent purchases

If you find that any of these descriptions fit your teen, you most likely have a problem that will need to be addressed soon, before it gets any further down the ladder. Teens today consider Marijuana “All most legal” and have very little deterrent from social media, television or local laws to dispute the reason for doing it. Th response “But everyone does it” is a typical response to being confronted. Certainly not every teen will progress down the ladder of use but they are certainly playing with fire over an open gas can. Many parents will think "it's only Marijuana" but statistics once again point to this being the gateway to further use of strong more addictive drugs. Even though the descriptions above are aimed at spotting marijuana use they are much the same for other drug use including prescription drugs with the addition of:

· Pills missing from your medicine cabinet

· Missing school more often because of illness without symptoms

· High levels of irritability

· Shaky hands, scratching of arms and face, nervousness and complaints of internal pain.

· Burnt, bent spoons and/or syringes

· Small resealable baggies with white or brown residue in them

· Small pieces of paper folded to make a small envelope

If you as a parent even suspect your teen is using drugs, an appointment with a local therapist that specializes in teen addiction is the first step you should take and is the best way to verify your suspicions and get answers to your questions about what to do next.

If you reside in the Kent county area you can contact Michael Richman MA, LPC at New Revelation Counseling Service LLC for experienced counseling in the area of teen and young adult Substance Use at his Website: https://www.nrcsllc e-mail or call 616-888-4353 for more information.

It may be a matter of life or death.

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