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Your Kids and Drugs

By: Lourdes Nena A. Cabison-Carlos, MD, DPPSYour Kids and Drugs

Drugs – it’s one of the things we parents fear. As a parent, you think not of a future where your child ends up addicted to anything, be it drugs, alcohol, smoking, or video games. As much as we try to keep our children sheltered, they will be exposed to different people and circumstances sooner or later. Despite our best efforts, drugs may creep in. The best defense is a good family relationship, open communication, and a good understanding of drugs and their appeal. So let’s talk about drugs, the temptress that has snatched many promising lives.

What predisposes a child to do drugs?

As we know, the family is the basic unit of a community and should be built on trust and love.  Since babies are initially exposed to and grow up knowing their parents and siblings, it is but natural for them to acquire or adopt what they see at home. For instance, studies have shown that children of drug addicts are up to eight times more likely to end up abusing drugs themselves compared to those whose parents are not. The same goes for children who grew up exposed to smoking or heavy drinking.

Social media and the Internet can also push your child to try out certain things. Remember that everything is digital, and you can purchase almost anything if you have access to the right resources.

Another factor is the friends that your child has, especially during their adolescent period. Your teenager may listen more to their friends than to you. There are kids who try smoking or drugs to appear cooler or because they are pressured by their peers. Sometimes, teens try drugs to seek that excitement or thrill. Lastly, a number of kids try it because they want to escape reality or forget their problems.  

What are the commonly abused drugs?

According to the Dangerous Drug Board (DDB) of the Philippines, the most frequently abused drugs are methamphetamine (shabu), marijuana, and contact cement or rugby. However, ecstasy (MDMA), heroin, cocaine, and opium are also common. Most of the time, drug addiction is not limited to one substance (poly use) only.

What are the stages of drug/substance abuse?

When teens – or anyone, really – try drugs for the first time, the possibility of falling into the trap of addiction is far from their mind. But that initial puff, taste, or drink can lead to a downward spiral that is hard to escape. Being sensitive to the clues exhibited by your child and an open and honest communication are the key in identifying and stopping possible dependency and abuse.

There are typically five stages in substance abuse:

  • Experimentation – Exploring new things is typical of adolescent behavior. However, some experiment with little regard of the consequences. Peer pressure can push a timid teenager into trying out tobacco, alcohol, or drugs.  Some might try it on their own ‘for fun’, curiosity, thrill-seeking, or as a way to deal with problems. Some adults start by legitimately taking a certain drug for a medical condition and that opens the door to abuse.  It is usually hard to catch them at this stage because they are typically normal in between use.
  • Regular use – This is the stage when substance use becomes regular (weekly, after exams) or predictable (before attending parties, when upset or bored). Teens at this stage can stop using whenever they want to, but those who regularly ‘use’ are at greater risk for developing dependency. They may also engage in ‘risky’ behavior such as disregard for authority, reckless driving, and sometimes they become unreasonably violent.     
  • Problem or risky use – This is usually when the individual continues substance use even when facing social or legal consequences. Signs of addiction become more obvious at this stage. Teens might be more difficult to deal with, get bad grades, miss classes, shun or be shunned by friends, and get in trouble in school or at home. Parents might start to discover that they are missing money or valuables.
  • Dependency – Substance dependency is closely intertwined with addiction. Signs of dependency include:
    • Inability to fulfil responsibilities in school, at home, or at work (including frequent absences)
    • Repeated use despite the obvious danger (driving under the influence, etc.)
    • Developing the need to take more and more of the substance (tolerance) to achieve the needed ‘high’ or ‘low’
    • Withdrawal symptoms when the substance is denied
  • Addiction – It is often described as an uncontrollable and compulsive craving, seeking, and use. At this stage, the use of the substance is out of control and done out of compulsion. The teen might be in constant denial of the actual addiction. There are evident physical as well as psychological changes as a result of the repeated use of the substance. Treatment at this point is usually hard, and can last from months to years.

What are the signs that your child is doing drugs?

A person doing drugs is usually good at hiding, but bring out the inner Sherlock in you because there may be specific clues that are just waiting to be recognized. Keep an eye out and your nose sharp for these signs.

  • Possession of the drug – This is a dead giveaway. They are not “keeping it for someone else” and even if they truly are, that in itself is alarming.
  • Odd smell – Certain drugs (like marijuana and rugby) have a specific smell. Be alert when you smell anything unusual or if your child starts using strong perfumes. They might do this to hide the odor.
  • Paraphernalia – Needles, syringes, tin foils, etc. are examples of drug paraphernalia. Look in your child’s trash cans or laundry for these items.
  • Change in attitude – This may be hard to tell from normal teenage moodiness, but drastic changes in attitude may indicate a problem (but not necessarily drugs). You may notice them to have a blank or ‘stoned’ expression. There may also be changes in grades, poor memory, jitteriness, or hyperactivity.
  • Change in interests, friends, and social circle – This may not necessarily be a bad thing, but if you notice your child to be suddenly hanging out with different people, you may want to initiate a heart-to-heart talk.
  • Unexplained injury or weight change – This may be a result of getting into fights or accidents while ‘high’. They may also use sweaters to cover up needle tracks.
  • Missing money – Most drug addicts resort to stealing to sustain their habits, so take note of missing money or valuables in your household.

How to help your child get back on the right track

Parents (and siblings) of drug addicts also suffer from the burden of addiction. In certain cases, it may push them further away from each other. But this is the time when everyone should show their support and pitch in. It is NOT easy, the road is long and will cost blood, sweat, and tears from every family member. But remember to ASK FOR HELP. There are professionals (doctors and therapists) and rehabilitation centers who can help your child successfully kick the habit. In addition, the following may be helpful:

  • Be calm. Avoid showing your anger or frustration to your child as this might increase the negative behavior.
  • Do not enable your child by making excuses for him/her. Let them know that bad behavior has consequences and help them face the aftermath.
  • Help your child break away from ‘bad company’. Cut the root of the problem and help him/her stay away from temptation. Change schools or change your address if needed.
  • Show your support. Try to accompany them to therapy and understand what pushed them to addiction.
  • Keep an open line of communication with every member of the family. Remember that even the siblings and grandparents can be affected by the problem. Listen and understand but do not judge.
  • Take care of yourself and don’t forget the other members of the family. Work as a unit and remember to love each other.

How to get kids to avoid drugs and other substances

You’re not yet there, but you want to protect your child from these substances. What can you do as a parent? As much as we like to be ‘perfect’ parents, we can’t. We also cannot NOT allow them to socialize, go out, and have friends. What is important is that early on, we let our child build self-esteem and help them become someone who knows what they like or dislike and can say no.

Be involved, but not too involved in your child’s life. Take interest in what he/she likes (K-pop, games, or social media). Keep an open mind and talk to your child about ‘things’: things you are scared to bring up like sex, drugs, friends, etc. Set boundaries but be understanding and answer their questions truthfully. You can be friends with your child, sure, but keep in mind that your primary role and responsibility is to be a parent first.

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