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I think my child is abusing drugs. What can I do?

And your next thought might be, is my child addicted?  Or are they suffering from mental illness? Or both? If you are unsure they are using drugs, here are signs they may be.

I’m going to address this from the parent view and this is the beginner’s guide. If you want to know some good resources from a recovery pro click here. This guide written by Tom Bannard is excellent.

This is the most distressing place to be. You feel so helpless. You’ve talked about the dangers, you’ve taken things away, they’ve been grounded, you’ve told them it’s illegal but they are still using. Or you suspect they are.

Nothing seems to work. You can’t fix it but you may be able to make it more difficult and weather the storm.

1. First, figure out what’s wrong

If your child is literally using every day. There is a reason and that’s a problem.

Does he have the illness of addiction and can’t stop? Is he feeling unworthy or suffering low self esteem which might point to depression and self medication? Is there mental illness in your family? Have grades dropped or friends changed? Do you think they may be feeling some social anxiety?

Again, these are from a parent not a mental health or recovery professional but questions to start with. It could be a mental illness and not drugs or it could be both in which case you might also need a psychological assessment.

2. Change your style of conversation

I found this guide years ago to having a conversation and allowing your child to problem solve. It takes a lot of practice, but once I changed my tactic, things improved. Obviously, it wasn’t the solution but there was less screaming and yelling, more understanding of the teenage brain. This guide is good for any parent.

While it’s not geared to troubled teens, it offers a way to have a conversation that allows them to come to conclusions. Because lectures don’t work and oftentimes grounding and typical punishments can exacerbate feelings of low self esteem.

3. Get linked in to their text messages

There is way too much freedom given to our kids before they are ready with those handheld computers known as mobile phones. But do know even if you are monitoring those text messages they’ll find a way around it in apps such as snapchat and facebook. You can make it a pain to work around you. Try to take a break and not be obsessive. I know that’s hard but you have to find a balance.

I think as account owners, our kids should not have their own phone passwords and I rallied manufacturers and the wireless phone companies for years to figure a way that the account owner has the master password. If I’m paying, they shouldn’t be able to lock me out. If the teen doesn’t want it that way, they can buy their own doggone phone!

4. Get an alarm system to keep them in

One thing’s for sure, you can’t throw them out when they are under 18. While some of you react in horror to that statement, it’s pretty distressing if you’ve lived with it for years. Being sucked into the world of drugs and/or watching your child self destruct is about the most gut wrenching stress you can experience.

They are under your roof, so first step is to see if you can nip it in the bud. See if you can make it hard for them to sneak out.

5.  Secure all medications including ones you use for the dog

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Do not buy any rediwhip or air spray cleaners. Do not leave Robutussin lying around. You’d be surprised at what can be abused. Buy a safe and not the Walmart kind. Charles got into mine one time because he looked it up.

If you, your spouse or another child takes a stimulant medication, do not keep that readily available. If you have a child that is using and isn’t stopping at some point they will sell it for money or their friends will find it and use it. You have no idea what your kid’s friends are doing either. This is a good rule of thumb in any household with pre teens or teenagers.

6. Drug test your child 

If he’s under your roof, they need to comply. Since you don’t know for sure and they are not telling you, buy a drug test and make it mandatory. Surprise them with it. If they have time to plan, they can do things like get someone else’s urine or get masking agents. You have to stand there near them to keep them honest so make sure you have the same sex parent very nearby. If possible.

I think there are places to get them inexpensively now but when I was testing Charles, I bought them in bulk online.

It won’t pick up all drugs. Charles was a master at finding “under the radar” drugs like Robitussin and ‘shrooms. However, if it’s your first time testing them, you can get a pretty good read.

Some drugs leave the system very fast. Others like marijuana hang around a while.

how long are drugs in the system
Source: FDA

5. Join a group

Find a support group or an educational group FOR YOU. Here’s where you’ll find them in and around Richmond Virginia. It’s not all about touchy feely emotional talk.

It’s about getting educated and finding out what resources are available and learning the habits and what others are doing that works. If you are not wiling to do that, you will find yourself in a situation where you can’t make an educated decision.

You also owe it to yourself to take a break and find out what could lie ahead. Hopefully, you won’t need it but it never hurts to learn more.

This isn’t everything but it’s a start. The most important thing to remember, ironically, is to take care of you.

You are no good to anyone if you are coming unglued. That’s not to say you can’t have moments of falling apart but if you’ve got a good foundation of support, you have someone to help you pull yourself together when you need it.

Published by

Anne Moss Rogers

I am an emotionally naked mental health speaker, and author of the Book, Diary of a Broken Mind and co-author with Kim O'Brien PhD, LICSW of Emotionally Naked: A Teacher's Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk. I raised two boys, Richard and Charles, and lost my younger son, Charles to addiction and suicide on June 5, 2015. I help people foster a culture of connection to prevent suicide, reduce substance misuse and find life after loss. My motivational mental health keynotes, training and workshop topics include suicide prevention, addiction, mental illness, anxiety, coping strategies/resilience, and grief. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now the legacy I try and carry forward in my son's memory. Mental Health Speakers Website. Trained in ASIST and trainer for the evidence-based 4-hour training for everyone called safeTALK.

5 thoughts on “I think my child is abusing drugs. What can I do?”

  1. Once again Ann you have provided to parents some answers and guidance to help them when they start to say… I think my child is using! It’s a lonely journey for a parent and you feel helpless to know which approach to use and how to set boundaries. I have been there.. thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks Anne–we did most all of these and still lost our son. He was 9 months clean and didn’t die with a needle in his arm, but died from Congestive Heart Failure as a result of Heroin. Parents need to know that drugs kill in many ways.

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