Identifying signs of substance abuse in teens
This story is found in the Summer 2019 edition of Park City Parent.
The technology-driven era is a different time. Teens can hide behind a screen as they order drugs from the internet, and drug paraphernalia is miniaturized and made to look like computer equipment.
Community leaders say drug abuse remains a major issue in Summit County, and parents need to be on their toes to recognize the signs of substance abuse.
One of the biggest crises of drug use 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 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.
Greg Winterton, a lieutenant with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, said parents should track purchases on their kid’s bank accounts and their Venmo
accounts. He said a lot of today’s youth use the mobile payment service Venmo to purchase drugs. Parents should track their Amazon accounts and credit cards, too.
He also suggests that parents pay attention to any changes in behavior in their children, such as changes to sleeping habits or in their personality. Pamella Bello-Straus, prevention coordinator at Valley Behavioral Health, said parents should know who their children hang out with so they know if their friend group changes.
A shift in friends, particularly if the child does not want their parents to meet the friends, could be another sign of drug use, said Dodi Wilson, director of Valley Behavioral Health in Summit County.
Wilson and Bello-Straus recommend that parents interact with their children regularly to build trust in the relationship. 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.
If a youth goes through surgery or
needs prescribed medication for another reason, Winterton said parents should monitor their child’s use of the prescribed painkillers.
Good communication between a parent and child goes a long way. Bello-Straus suggest that parents talk with their children about their expectations, and the potential consequences if the child strays from the expectations.
She said parents should remind their children of the expectations, especially if they are at a party or in a situation where they might be offered drugs or alcohol. At ParentsEmpowered.org, a media and education campaign, parents can find ideas of texts to send to their youth to remind them to avoid harmful substances.
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.
Parents can also learn the terminology. Phrases such as “We are going to go juuling” or “chasing the cloud” refer to vaping. A PV is a personal vaporize. Youth are increasingly using the vaping product Juul, a small device that resembles a USB.
There is also clothing, called Vaprwear, that includes hoodies and backpacks that make it easy for students to hide their vaping device.
Health professionals also want parents to be aware of the effects of drugs and alcohol on children’s’ brains. Some- times, Bello-Straus said, parents allow their children to drink at home. Being exposed to alcohol at a young age, even with adult supervision, leads to an increased change of other drug use, she said.
If parents learn that their child is 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.
Educational classes like PRIME For Life and resources such as Valley Behavioral Health are available to families in Summit County.
For more stories from this edition, visit the Park City Parent special section.
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