What To Do When You See Your Teenager Heading Down The Path Of Addiction

by Sumdima Rai

Teenagers, universally, are sullen and disinterested. Ask them how their day was, and they say "fine". Ask them what they did all day, and they reply "stuff". Parents fail to see the most obvious signs and symptoms of addiction because they confuse it with regular teenage behavior. Not only is teenage addiction to alcohol, prescription drugs and illegal drugs quite common, it seems to be showing no signs of decreasing.

Substance abuse is a very serious matter. Sustained drug use harms the brain and dumbs down reflexes. As a responsible parent, if you think your child is using drugs, then the time to act is now! Here’s what you can do to help your child beat the addiction.

1. Recognize The Symptoms 
It can be quite tricky to identify symptoms of addiction that bear a close resemblance to symptoms of adolescence. Teens can be moody, irritable, angry, distracted and they tend to sleep too much. So how do we recognize if these symptoms have crossed over to addiction? The first step as a parent is to be aware of behavioral changes in your child. Assess which changes spell trouble and which don't.
Behavioral Signs: Change in peer group, decline in academic performance, depression and withdrawal for no reason, poor hygiene, loss of interest in favorite school activities, skipping school, changes in eating or sleeping habits, and deterioration in family bonding.
Physical Signs: Dilated pupils, red-rimmed eyes, bad breath, red, flushed face, dramatic weight loss or gain, dry mouth, red, cracked lips, headaches, and frequent nausea.

2. Don’t Be In Denial
Most parents overlook these signs since they are closely associated with puberty. Do not live in denial; if your child is displaying behavioral changes, it might be the right time to sit up and take note. Addiction does not discriminate and can happen to anyone.   

3. Communicate With Your Child
This is most important. Be calm, don't panic and sure as hell, do not rant. As a responsible parent, establish a healthy communication link with your child. It's more important to know what caused the addiction and figure out ways to resolve it rather than blaming your child for the addiction. Do not be judgmental and really listen to what your child has to say. It is only by being a friend to your child can you trace the root cause of addiction and deal with it. There are ways to have a conversation about drugs without escalating it into an argument. NIDA’s Family Checkup tool provides science based techniques to help you communicate with your child. 

4. Counseling
Many people with substance abuse problems are afraid and ashamed and they may not always tell the truth. Therefore, it is wise to involve medical professionals who have experience dealing with substance abuse. You can either take your child to a doctor who can screen for signs of drug use and other health related conditions or you can choose to contact an addiction specialist directly. There are 3,500 board-certified physicians specializing in addiction in the US. The American Society of Addiction Medicine and American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry have features enabled in their site to guide you to physicians who can help you decide if your child should be referred to a treatment. Treatment approaches must be tailored to address each patient’s unique substance abuse patterns and related medical, psychiatric and social problems. Treatments are available in forms of medication and behavioral counseling that offer a variety of individual therapy, group therapy and even self-help groups. Self-help groups in particular can be helpful for recovery, offering an added layer of support to help your teen overcome addiction. Some of these most well-known self-help groups are those affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous,and Teen-Anon.

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