Identifying the signs of substance abuse
Teens are in a phase full of life changes. Their relationships, interests, personality and even bodies are transforming. While most are natural, there are some that should catch parents’ eyes.
That is what Dodi Wilson, director of Valley Behavioral Health in Summit County, said about how to detect drug and alcohol use in youth. While not every sign points to substance abuse, multiple ones could.
Most changes are subtle, such as an increased use of mints and gum or excessive sleeping. Others are a little more obvious, like finding drug paraphernalia in a child’s bedroom or seeing open windows in winter with a lingering smell of marijuana.
One of the biggest drug use crises in Summit County is vaping, said Alyssa Mitchell, a health educator for Summit County Health Department. In the last few years, the number of students caught, including at school, has increased dramatically.
She said that one of the easiest tell-tale signs is the scent, since youth often purchase fruity or sweet-smelling vape juices because they taste better than traditional tobacco products.
“There tends to be a sweet, fruity, kind of old candy-like smell on their clothes and maybe on their breath,” she said.
Parents should also keep track of their Amazon account and credit card, since many students will purchase vaporizers and juice online. A spike in spending habits is a sign that students might be purchasing products like vaping devices, which are called MODs, or other drugs and alcohol.
Monitoring a teen’s behavior is one of the three suggestions Pamella Bello-Straus, prevention coordinator at Valley Behavioral Health, said will help parents discover if their children are using substances.
Being informed about who a child hangs out with and what they are doing makes it so parents can tell if there is a change that they should look into. A shift in friends, particularly if the child does not want their parents to meet the friends, could be another sign of drug use, Wilson said.
“Bonding and boundaries” are the two other suggestions that Bello-Straus tells parents.
When parents interact with their children regularly, there will be more trust in the relationship, she said. Plus, if parents know what is going on in a child’s life, they will also be more aware of anxiety or depression-invoking events such as a break-up or falling out with friends that could possibly trigger them to turn to drugs, Wilson added.
Eating one meal together five days a week with children is one of the biggest ways to prevent substance abuse in teens, Bello-Straus said.
When clear boundaries are set, children know what the expectations are. Bello-Straus even recommends setting punishments for bad behavior with children ahead of time so they are aware of consequences before acting.
She said that reminding youth of these boundaries and consequences is not a bad idea either, especially if they are at a party or in a situation where they might be offered. At ParentsEmpowered.org, a media and education campaign, parents can find ideas of texts to send, including messages written only in emojis.
Mitchell suggests that parents remain educated as well, because many students who are caught with drugs, especially vaping devices, explain that the substance is not that harmful. But some vaping MODs have 56 milliliters of nicotine in it, which is more than a pack of cigarettes, she said.
Because of that, those who are vaping might appear to be more jittery.
Terminology is also something that parents can be on the lookout for. Phrases such as “We are going to go juuling” or “chasing the cloud” refer to vaping. A PV is a personal vaporizer. The Juul is a vaping MOD that has gained popularity because of its low cost and shape. It resembles a USB flash drive, Mitchell said.
There is also clothing, called Vaprwear, that includes hoodies and backpacks that make it easy for students to hide their vaping device.
Bello-Straus said that parents need to learn about the effects on alcohol on children’s brain. She said that a big problem in Summit County is that parents will allow their children to drink at home, but being exposed to alcohol at a young age, even with adult supervision, leads to an increased change of other drug use.
If parents do learn that their children are using drugs or alcohol, Wilson said they should approach their children and be ready to listen instead of focus on the punishment. Parents can ask about what their child thinks the pros and cons are of the substance. They can then come up with next steps together.
There are educational classes at the school like PRIME For Life or resources in the community like Valley Behavioral Health.
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