How to tell if your child is using drugs or alcohol. Here are the signs of alcohol and drug abuse.
Parents sometimes tell me they had no idea that their teenagers were drinking or using drugs. That's usually because they've been oblivious to the telltale hints all around them. Don't let this happen to you. Here are the signs you should be on the lookout for.
The Nose Knows
Your teenage son breezes into the house on a Saturday night after a night out with the guys. How do you know if he was drinking or smoking? Make a point of having a conversation with him -- not a yelled conversation through various rooms and closed doors, but a real, face-to-face conversation. If your child has been drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, or smoking marijuana, the smell will be on his breath. Any smoke he's been around will also soak into his clothing and hair. That's not necessarily a sign of personal guilt, but if it's pot smoke you smell, you have the right to be alarmed; even if he wasn't smoking it himself, he was with peers who were. You should also be suspicious if your teen enters the house chomping on a fresh wad of spearmint gum or a handful of Altoids, or smelling of freshly applied lotion or perfume. He's probably trying to cover up a telltale odor.
Take a Closer Look
If your teenager is using or abusing an illegal substance, there's probably visual evidence to support it too. While you're chatting with her after she gets back from going out with her friends, take a close look. Pay attention to her eyes -- they tend to reveal any substance use. If she's been smoking marijuana, her eyes will be red and heavy lidded, with constricted pupils. If she's been drinking alcohol, her pupils will be dilated, and she may have difficulty focusing on you. In addition, some alcohol effects are red, flushed color to the face and cheeks. There are also telltale signs of more serious drug use. Intravenous drug use leaves track marks, usually on the arms, but occasionally other places like the legs. Long sleeves in scorching hot summer weather may be an attempt to hide something. Cocaine use effects are nosebleeds and eventually eats away at the septum inside the nose. Finally, if there are strange burns on her lips or fingers, she may be smoking a substance through a hot glass or metal pipe. Sores or spots around the mouth along with paint stains on the body or clothing, a chemical odor or a runny nose can also indicate inhalant use, the practice of inhaling the fumes from household chemicals for a high. Ecstasy causes involuntary teeth clenching, increased affection and a loss of inhibitions. Also look for a fascination with sights and sounds, excessive water consumption and child-like toys.
Okay, the scenario is the same as above; it's Saturday night, and your son has just gotten back from a night out with his friends. How is he acting? Is he loud and obnoxious, or laughing hysterically at nothing? Is he unusually clumsy to the point where he's stumbling into furniture and walls, tripping over his own feet and knocking things over? Is he sullen, withdrawn, and unusually tired and slack-eyed for the hour of night? Does he look queasy and stumble into the bathroom? These are all signs that he could have just been using some kind of illegal substance: alcohol, marijuana, or something else. You shouldn't read too much into a slight mood change after he gets home from being with his friends, but you should be on the lookout for unusual or extreme behavior. You should also pay attention to your teenager's behavior over time. If your teenager has become silent, angry, withdrawn, and uncommunicative, and this has lasted for at least a few weeks, something else is going on. He may get angry if you try to reach out to him, and insist that you leave him alone, but you need to find out what's going on. While there are a number of reasons for a child to be moody, you should certainly consider the possibility that he has formed a habit of substance use.
For many older teens, their cars are their lives. If you suspect your teenager has been using illicit substances recently, see if the car has any clues to offer. Maybe her driving is noticeably more reckless when she's coming home after being with her friends. She might whip into the driveway at eighty miles per hour, run over sections of lawn, hit things, or park carelessly. Or maybe there's a new dent in the front of the car and she claims she knows nothing about it. If you're suspicious, examine the inside of the car too; most teens are pretty sloppy about cleaning the inside of their car. Does it smell like marijuana smoke or alcohol fumes? Are there any bottles, pipes, bongs, or other drug paraphernalia rolling around on the floor or hidden in the glove box? If you find anything, challenge her on it immediately: be forthright, and tell her exactly what you've discovered and why you're concerned.
Deceit or Secretiveness
Suddenly you find your normally honest child lying to you all the time. Her evening and weekend plans are starting to sound a little fishy; she's either vague about where she's going or her alibis don't work (she can't describe the movie she supposedly just saw; or the friend she's supposed to be out with just called looking for her). She says that parents will be at the parties she's going to but can't give you a phone number, and comes home acting intoxicated. She gets in way past her curfew or estimated time, and she's got a seemingly endless string of excuses to justify her behavior. Even if you find evidence of substance use -- drunken or high behavior, a beer can or a marijuana rolling paper in her room -- she's got someone or something else to place the blame on. When excuses fail, she'll respond to your inquiries and concern by telling you that it's none of your business. Something is wrong, and you need to figure out what she's really up to.
- Created: 03 January 2009
- Last Updated: 14 January 2014