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Could Your Child Have a Drug Problem?

Many parents blame themselves when faced with the possibility that their child may be using drugs. But most experts recommend that parents worry more about helping the child, rather than trying to figure out the reason for the behavior.

Children who use drugs often exhibit certain behaviors:

  • Isolation. They want to hide the effects, the smell and the incriminating paraphernalia. They also want to avoid direct questions about where they've been and what they've done. The easiest way to do this is to stay out of their parents' sight.

  • Personality or attitude changes. Changes in personality or attitude may be gradual, such as a decreasing interest in school. You may also witness sudden mood swings, irritability, anger and euphoria.

  • Physical changes. Difficulty with concentration, loss of coordination, weight loss and an unhealthy appearance are signs of drug use.

  • New friends. A sudden exchange of one set of friends for another indicates something drastic has changed in the child's life, and it may be drug use.

Before assuming your child is taking drugs, find out if something else may be causing him or her to behave unusually. Are classes getting harder? Did a friendship fall apart?

If you suspect your child is using drugs, take action. These are some suggestions:

  • Voice your suspicions. Talk to your child when he or she is sober and you're calm.

  • Ask questions. Ask what has been going on in the child's life. Start by asking how things are in general. Then make it clear what's bothering you. Maybe you've smelled something, or you've seen grades drop, or behavior has changed.

  • Look up the teacher. If your child is reluctant to talk, it may be time to talk to teachers or a school counselor. These conversations don't have to focus on your drug suspicions. Just ask these people if they've noticed anything unusual about your child's behavior. If you hear anything that deepens your suspicions, bring that information back to the child.

Seek help if you don't get a response from the child. Ask your family health care provider for referrals to professionals and organizations in your area.

Treat infractions of your household and family nondrug use rules the same way you'd treat falling grades. Re-establish rules that will help your child manage his or her time and activities. Such rules may include spending more time at home, improving grades and calling in when away from home. You can loosen the restrictions when you believe the child no longer uses drugs and can be trusted again.