Crucial Signs of Teen Drug Use that all Parents should Look Out For
Is your teen using? Discover the warning signs for teenage drug use and abuse.
A parent’s worst nightmare is to find out that their teenager is using drugs, but in a country like Singapore with such harsh drug laws being aware of signs of teen drug use — and keeping yourself and your teenager informed of the negative consequences is essential. For example, under the Misuse of Drugs Act if your teenager is caught with drugs they may get up to 10 years in prison or a $20,000 fine. If drugs are found in their room then the owner of the house may also be fined or sentenced for possession, so drug use is something that parents need to look out for and to educate their teens about at a young age. According to the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB), the number of young users and first-time abusers arrested is on the rise in Singapore. So whether or not you suspect your teenager is using drugs — would you be able to recognise the signs?
Signs of Drug Use in Teenagers
Short of catching your teenager in the act of doing drugs it is difficult to know whether your teen is using and abusing substances. While the following signs and symptoms are common indicators of drug use, they could also signal bullying, anxiety disorders or even depression.
Warning Signs of Teen Drug Use at Home
One of the first signs that might indicate your teen is using drugs is a change in behaviour and/or appearance.
Appearance. Does your teen have any burns on their fingers, marks on their arms, unusual smells that they might be trying to cover up or have they stopped caring for their appearance? Red, diluted or contracted pupils are also a clear warning sign that your teen might be taking drugs as most substances affect the pupils. Depending on the drug, sometimes a new found preoccupation with hygiene might occur to mask the smoke smell of marijuana — like chewing gum to cover up their breath.
Behaviour: As well as appearance your teen’s behaviour might change. Suddenly they start breaking curfew, locking their room door, become unusually clumsy, tired or avoiding eye contact. A loss in appetite may signal amphetamines or cocaine or a sudden burst of appetite may be linked to the marijuana ‘munchies’. Another warning sign of drug use is a noticeable change in character — mood swings, becoming withdrawn, depressed, hostile or aggressive. Teens may also become secretive, or suffer changes to their sleeping patterns, for example going for days without sleep from stimulants, only to crash and spend days catching up on sleep.
Another essential warning sign is if prescription drugs, over the counter medicine or money starts to go missing around the home. They may be abusing parents trust or stealing to buy drugs.
Warning Signs of Teen Drug Use at School
Teachers at schools spend a significant amount of time with their students. Not only do they regularly see your teen interacting with friends, they know how motivated each student is for different subjects and are the first people to notice a change in behaviour. If you are worried your teenager might be using drugs or other substances then it is a good idea to set up a parent-teacher meeting to discuss your teen’s behaviour changes. At school the tell-tale signs are often changes within friend groups, unusually loud or withdrawn behaviour in the classroom, extreme tiredness, inability to focus, slurred speech, and loss of interest in extracurricular activities. Behaviours affecting studies include missing home works, declining grades, decreased motivation and increased absences or even skipping school all together.
Sometimes teachers might call parents in to discuss a problem, but other times parents might need to actively ask the teachers for their opinions on the teen’s classroom behaviour. While at the extreme end of drug use, behaviour and appearance change is very noticeable to parents, sometimes the changes are subtle and might be for different reasons. A combination of changes in behaviour at home and declining grades at school signal that your teen is suffering from some sort of problem. It may be drugs, alcohol or something else that needs to be addressed.
How Can I Help My Teenager?
If you think the warning signs show your teenager is using drugs then the first thing you should do is ask your teen. Communication and unconditional support is essential for helping your teenager to stop using substances. Asking simple questions like ‘Have you tried drugs?’, ‘How often are you smoking marijuana?’ and preparing yourself for any possible answer beforehand is a good start.
If they admit drug use then try not to become angry or emotional, rather be supportive and tell them that you will help them seek help. It helps to know if they are using drugs with friends as then you can limit their interactions, but at the same time do not immediately call the friends’ parents and blame them. Accepting the situation and supporting your teenager is the best course of action when your find out your teenager is using drugs.
Depending on the frequency and type of drug being used there are a range of options available to help your teenager overcome a drug addiction. In Singapore there are some clinics and professionals that run outpatient early intervention programmes, where your teenager can get professional help after school and make a full recovery at home. Occasionally the situation might be better handled at an inpatient rehabilitation centre to take the teen away from their normal environment in order to get clean. In both cases seeking professional help is advisable to prevent relapses in the future. It is also better than attempting to fix the problem at home without professional help, as the parent should stay supportive throughout the rehabilitation phase, and the supportive home environment is key to making a full recovery. Trained doctors and counsellors can guide you and your teenager though the steps to recovery and offer advice to the parents as well as the teenager. So if you think the warning signs apply to your teenager it is wise to communicate openly with them and also seek professional advice.