Sometimes—no matter how hard parents try—their children will experiment with drugs or alcohol. If you think something is going on with your child, take steps to find out for sure. For example, a child who starts acting withdrawn or seems tired, depressed, or mad for no reason could be experimenting with drugs. Other signs43 can include: ■ Changing friends ■ Not caring about personal appearance ■ Slipping grades, skipping classes ■ Losing interest in favorite activities ■ Trouble at school or with the law ■ Changes in eating or sleeping habits ■ Not getting along with family members ■ Lying or stealing These signs do not always mean there is a drug or alcohol problem. But you should be concerned and try to find out what is going on. HOW TO PROCEED Share your suspicions with your spouse, partner, or someone you trust who is unbiased and can help you sort out your feelings and help answer your questions, such as a doctor, faith-based leader, school nurse, or a school drug and alcohol counselor. Before talking with your child, practice the conversation until you are sure you can remain calm. Wait until your child is sober (or has not used drugs) before starting the conversation. Start by sharing your suspicions but do not make accusations. “Susan, I suspect you may be smoking pot occasionally. I love you and I’m concerned about you. Is there something going on that we need to talk about?” Be prepared for all kinds of reactions. Your child may accuse you of snooping, say that you are crazy, or call you a hypocrite (especially if you smoke or occasionally have a drink). Your child may express hatred and threaten to leave home. Remain calm. If your child denies there is a problem, emphasize how much you care. “I want to believe you, because young people who use drugs are at risk for many bad things. I’d be devastated if something bad happened to you while you were high.” If you have evidence your child is using drugs or alcohol, enforce the discipline you agreed on for breaking the rules. “Remember, we had a deal that no member of this family would use drugs.” During this conversation, express your love and concern through your words and your tone. “Sweetheart, I (we) love and care about you. I (we) want you to be healthy, safe, and successful.” A word of caution. It is human nature to want to believe your children. If your suspicions are strong (and especially if you have hard evidence), do not pretend that everything is fine. It obviously isn’t. Also, do not blame yourself or believe that your family is beyond these challenges. Drug misuse occurs in all kinds of families. If the conversation becomes heated or out of control, express love for your child and end the discussion with a plan to resume it later. You took a big step, and you can try again another day. If your child refuses to talk or takes a turn for the worse, ask a school guidance counselor, family doctor, or drug treatment referral center for help. SUBSTANCE USE DISORDERS Society used to think people with a substance use disorder lacked will power. Today, science tells us that a substance use disorder is a chronic brain disorder with the chance for recurrence (relapse) and recovery. It is a brain disorder because it changes multiple brain circuits that control decision making, impulse control, reward, stress response, learning and memory, motivation, and other functions. The changes can be long lasting and can cause people to engage in harmful and self destructive behaviors.44 Substance use disorders can be treated, but long-term recovery may take several attempts, so do not give up hope! SCREENING AND TREATMENT Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (commonly referred to as SBIRT) is one way to help young people at risk for drugs.
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