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The Subtle Signs of Abuse

Raising teenagers is a tough gig.

Raging hormones, the pressures of school life and a heightened interest in the opposite sex are all daily battles. Add to this the topic of drugs and it’s understandable why parents sometimes feel at a loss.

Discussing drug use, and being open and honest about drugs with your children is an important way to help them make good decisions about using drugs. (For tips on how to approach this, see our previous article about talking to your kids about drugs).

However, even though we make every effort to educate our kids about drugs, sometimes it doesn’t work. Whether its peer pressure or the result of other circumstances, sometimes the lure of the escape drugs promise is just too strong for an adolescent mind.

As a parent, being educated on what the signs of drug use are can go a long way to detecting if your child is using. Below is a guide of some of the common indicators of drug use:

In the home

  • loss of interest in family activities

  • disrespect for family rules

  • withdrawal from responsibilities

  • verbally or physically abusive

  • sudden increase or decrease in appetite

  • disappearance of valuable items or money

  • not coming home on time and not telling you where they are going

  • constant excuses for behaviour

  • spending a lot of time in their rooms

  • lies about activities

  • finding the following: cigarette rolling papers, pipes, roach clips, small glass vials, plastic bags, remnants of drugs (seeds, etc.).

At school

  • sudden drop in grades

  • truancy or always being late to school

  • loss of interest in learning

  • sleeping in class

  • poor work performance

  • not doing homework

  • defiant of authority

  • poor attitude toward sports or other extracurricular activities

  • reduced memory and attention span

  • not informing you of teacher meetings, open houses, etc.

Physical and emotional

  • changes friends

  • smell of alcohol or marijuana on breath or body

  • unexplainable mood swings and behaviour

  • negative, argumentative, paranoid or confused, destructive, anxious

  • over‐reacts to criticism

  • acts rebellious

  • sharing few if any of their personal problems

  • doesn’t seem as happy as they used to be

  • overly tired or hyperactive and drastic weight loss or gain

  • unhappy and depressed, sloppiness in appearance

  • cheats, steals, always needs money, or has excessive amounts of money.

Older teenagers and young adults

Look for a pattern of behaviour rather than a one‐time instance since these symptoms can indicate other problems as well.

  • difficulty learning and paying attention; poor grades

  • low self‐esteem

  • aggressive behaviour

  • the homicidal triad and other violent outbursts

  • social withdrawal and poor social skills

  • clinginess, anxiety and bullying

  • psychosomatic symptoms (frequent headaches and stomach‐aches)

  • property destruction and vandalism

  • reckless, risk‐taking behaviour

  • inability to express feelings

  • drug/alcohol use

  • involvement in abusive dating relationships.

For more advice on how to understand and cope with the results of substance use and abuse visit our family support section.

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