How can I tell if my 16-year-old son is abusing drugs?

Do you think your child or adolescent may be using street drugs or abusing prescription medications like painkillers? Many moms & dads are faced with the difficult question of "Is my adolescent using drugs?" Read on to find out how to tell if your adolescent is using illicit drugs.

Things You’ll Need:

• A Drug Sniffer Dog for Hire
• A Home Drug Test
• A Notebook
• An Adolescent Who You Suspect May Be Using Drugs
• An Internet Connection
• An Observant Eye

• ADMINISTER A HOME DRUG TEST: Home drug tests are now available over-the-counter at most major drug store chains. Moms & dads can give their adolescent a drug test for marijuana, opiates, methamphetamine, cocaine and an array of other illicit drugs.

• DOES YOUR ADOLESCENT ACT DIFFERENTLY? Drug users experience high highs and low lows. Is your adolescent giddy, talkative and energetic one minute and sleeping excessively the following day? Is your adolescent edgier and moodier than usual? Also very common in drug users. Again, write down your observations in a notebook - it's often a lot clearer on paper.

• DOES YOUR ADOLESCENT LOOK DIFFERENT? Drug users will rapidly gain or lose weight. They will stop showering as frequently and you'll see a drop off in meticulous grooming that's common of adolescents. Pay attention to the adolescent's eyes. Are they bloodshot? Are the pupils dilated? Are the pupils tiny? These are all signs of drug use.

• DOES YOUR ADOLESCENT SEEM SICK VERY FREQUENTLY? Drug withdrawal can be easily mistaken for a stomach flu or virus, so if your adolescent seems to vomit frequently or gets the "flu" on a regular basis, this suggests drug use. Does your adolescent sniffle frequently? Is he reluctant to blow his nose? The sniffles or a stuffy nose are commonly associated with drugs like heroin, cocaine and other drugs that are snorted. When a drug user snorts drugs, this causes nasal inflammation that causes sniffling. Many drug users also sniffle frequently after they snort drugs, but they'll be hesitant to blow their nose, lest they blow out the powder that they've sniffed.

• HIRE A SNIFFER DOG TO SEARCH FOR DRUGS: Moms & dads can now hire a drug detection dog service to perform a search of the home and car. This can provide moms & dads with the confirmation they need before they confront a adolescent about drug use. A drug sniffer dog can also ease fears of adolescent drug use. These drug detection dogs can detect minute amounts of residue and they are known to be very accurate.

• IS YOUR ADOLESCENT STEALING MONEY OR VALUABLES? When recreational drug use turns into a full blown drug habit, a adolescent will need money and lots of it to support his or her drug habit. Is the adolescent suddenly focused on earning money that does not seem to go toward any obvious purchases (i.e. clothing)? Is the adolescent stealing money from family members? Are valuables disappearing from the home? These are all signs that can suggest that a adolescent is seeking money to support a drug habit.

• LEARN ABOUT DRUG PARAPHERNALIA AND BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR IT IN YOUR ADOLESCENT'S ROOM: Did you know that a light bulb can be used as drug paraphernalia? Drug paraphernalia can be obvious - like a pipe - or less obvious, like a light bulb. Surf the internet and learn about what household items can be associated with drug use.

• LOOK FOR BEHAVIORS THAT INDICATE DRUG USE: There are many behaviors that indicate drug use. Does your adolescent always wear long sleeves, even when it's hot outside? He may be hiding needle marks on his arms. Does your adolescent try to avoid making eye contact after returning home from friends? This may be due to bloodshot eyes, or dilated/pinpoint pupils that result from using certain drugs. Is your adolescent sneaky and deceptive? Sneaky, deceptive behaviors are very common in adolescents who are using drugs. Look at your adolescent's behavior with a critical eye and keep a notebook recording your observations.

Tips & Warnings—

• Home drug tests (and even professional physician-administered drug tests) are not fool proof. False positives and false negatives can occur. If a adolescent tests positive for a drug, proceed to the nearest hospital or doctor's office for a more reliable drug test. But do it quickly, as some drugs leave the system within a matter of a day or two.

• Surf the internet and learn about the effects of various drugs. If a parent understands how a particular drug affects the body, the parent will be more likely to recognize signs of drug use.

She'll hit herself in the head everytime she doesn't get her way...

Hi Mark,

My daughter seems to constantly dwell on negative things, talks about death a lot. When she doesn't get her way, she makes statements such as hurting or killing herself. She's six years old!!! She'll hit herself in the head everytime she doesn't get her way. She has even said she wanted to kill me. She has very poor self esteem, (why I'll never know) she calls herself stupid and an idiot. These thing do not come from within our house. This morning she said she wanted to hurt her little sister. I'm very confused because we practice love and logic in our home. Consequences with empathy. We do not spank or yell. We let the consequence be their punishment. She brings me to tears with her behavior and scares me that she will hurt herself or someone else. I've been reading about childhood Bipolar. Do you think she could be Bipolar? But she turns the switch on and off with control; for instance she's never a problem child at school. All her teachers say she's a model child and is extremely well behaved in their presence. This behavior is not daily, she does have good days, but usually has bad day or two a week. It's also intermittent during the day if it's a bad day. One minute she'll be just fine and as soon as she doesn't get her way, bam, it's like a bomb going off. She uses great manners around other people, but doesn't heistate at all to be rude and very disrespectful to her family members. She uses the word hate a lot. I'm always correcting her and saying "I don't like" is a little nicer way to say you disapprove of something. Please direct me with her. My heart breaks for her and I only want her to be happy, and healthy. I have two other girls, S___ 5yrs and A___ 18yrs. Neither of these two girls have ever acted this way in a consistent manner. This is not a phase, this is a scary situation. Thank you so much for responding.



Hi C.,

Re: She'll hit herself in the head everytime she doesn't get her way.

This is her weird way of reducing her stress. Please refer the page on cutting:

...replace "cutting" with "hitting" and you will gain some insight into this phenomenon.

Re: Do you think she could be Bipolar?

Does bipolar run the the family (parent, grandparent, aunt, etc.)? If so, she should have a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation to rule out bipolar as well as any other childhood disorder.


5 Teen Behavior Problems & Their Solutions

Is your kid rebelling, defying your curfew, or hanging out with questionable kids? Here's how to nip behavior problems in the bud. To be fair, no one has ever pretended that parenting a kid was going to be easy. Still, until your own kids reach that stage, it's tempting to believe your family will be immune to teen behavior problems. No, you tell yourself, your kid will never talk back, stay out too late or pierce her eyebrow.

Dream on...

Adolescents are basically hard-wired to butt heads with their moms & dads, says Stuart Goldman, MD, director of psychiatric education at Children's Hospital in Boston. "Adolescence is a time of rapid change for kids both physically and cognitively," he explains. "It's the task of the kid to fire their moms & dads and then re-hire them years later, but as consultants rather than managers."

But that doesn't mean you have to take it lying down. With the right approach, you can troubleshoot the following teen behavior problems in a relatively civilized fashion.

Teen Behavior Problem 1: Your Teen Seems To Hate You

One minute your sweet child is begging you to come on the class trip or to lie down with her while she falls asleep. Then, seemingly overnight, she starts treating you like dirt, discounting everything you say and snickering at your suggestions. If you look closely, you'll see that you've been through this before, when she was a toddler -- only instead of shouting "no!" like a two-year-old would, a kid simply rolls her eyes in disgust.

"It's so hard for moms & dads when this happens," says Nadine Kaslow, PhD, a psychologist specializing in kids and families at Emory University in Atlanta. "But part of adolescence is about separating and individuating, and many kids need to reject their moms & dads in order to find their own identities." Teens focus on their friends more than on their families, which is normal too.

Parent’s solution—

Sometimes moms & dads feel so hurt by their teens' treatment that they respond by returning the rejection -- which is a mistake. "Adolescents know that they still need their moms & dads even if they can't admit it," says Goldman. "The roller-coaster they put you on is also the one they're feeling internally." As the parent, you need to stay calm and try to weather this teenage rebellion phase, which usually passes by the time a child is 16 or 17.

But no one's saying your teen should be allowed to be truly nasty or to curse at you; when this happens, you have to enforce basic behavior standards. One solution is the good, old-fashioned approach of: "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." By letting your kid know that you're here for him no matter what, you make it more likely that he'll let down his guard and confide in you once in a while, which is a rare treat.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Teen Behavior Problem 2: Communication Devices Rule Their Lives

It's ironic that teenage forms of communication like IM-ing, text-messaging and talking on cell phones make them less communicative, at least with the people they live with. In today's world, though, forbidding all use of electronic devices is not only unrealistic, but unkind. "Being networked with their friends is critical to most teens," says Goldman.

Parent’s solution—

Look at the big picture, advises Susan Bartell, PhD, an adolescent psychologist in New York. If your child is functioning well in school, doing his chores at home and not completely retreating from family life, it's probably best to "lay off." It's also OK to set reasonable limits, such as no "texting" or cell phone calls during dinner. Some moms & dads prefer not to let teens have computers in their rooms, since it makes it harder to supervise computer usage, and this is perfectly reasonable. Many experts also suggest establishing a rule that the computer has to be off at least one hour before bedtime, as a way to ensure that teens get more sleep.

One good way to limit how many minutes your teen spends talking on his cell and texting: Require him to pay his own cell phone bills. And do your best to monitor what your child does when he's online, particularly if he or she is using networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. You still own the home and computer -- so check into parental Internet controls and software to monitor use of any questionable web sites.

Teen Behavior Problem 3: Staying Out Too Late

It's 10:30 p.m. and you told your daughter to be home by 10 p.m. Why does she ignore your curfew again and again?

"Part of what teens do is test limits," explains Goldman. "But the fact is that they actually want limits, so moms & dads need to keep setting them."

Parent’s solution—

Do some research before insisting that your child respect your curfew because it's possible that yours is unreasonable. Call a few of your kids' friends' moms & dads and find out when they expect their kids home. Goldman suggests giving kids a 10-minute grace period, and if they defy that, to set consequences -- such as no going out at night for a week.

If it seems like your child is staying out late because she's up to no good, or doesn't feel happy at home, then you need to talk with her and figure out what might be going on. However, if your curfew is in line with what what's typical in your teen's crowd, then it's time to set consequences and then enforce them if your teen continues to break your rules. When you make a rule, you have to mean it. You can't bluff adolescents -- they will always call you on it.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Teen Behavior Problem 4: Hanging Out with Kids You Don't Like

You wince every time your son traipses through the door with his greasy-haired, noisy buddies. Should you suck it up, or say something?

Parent’s solution--

Kids can wear weird clothes, pierce their lips, act rudely and still be decent kids, says Bartell, who advises moms & dads to hold off on criticizing something as superficial as fashion in their kids' friends. "Adolescents are so attached to their friends that it's like criticizing them directly."

On the other hand, if you know that your child has taken up with a group of troubled teens who skip school and do drugs, a talk is in order. "Without putting him on the defensive, tell your child you're concerned about who he's hanging out with and that you're worried he's doing drugs," says Bartell. While you can't forbid your child to hang around with certain kids, you can intervene and try to nip dangerous behaviors in the bud. Don't be afraid to ask for professional help about hanging out with a crowd engaged in negative behavior. Counseling or family therapy can help.

Teen Behavior Problem 5: Everything's a Drama

Every little thing seems to set your daughter off lately, and the more you try to help, the more she sobs or shouts or slams the door.

Part of being a kid is feeling things intensely, so what may seem like no big deal to you is hugely important to her.

Parent’s solution—

Moms & dads tend to trivialize the importance of things in adolescents' lives, says Bartell: "What happens is that kids feel misunderstood, and eventually they will stop telling you anything. Right now it is the most important thing in the world that her best friend is flirting with her boyfriend, and you need to take it seriously."

Don't offer advice, disparage her friends or try to minimize it by saying that one day she'll see how silly high school romances are. "Just listen and sympathize," says Bartell. And put yourself in her position -- because, after all, you were once there yourself.


==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

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