Over the past year of so, I have been a volunteer on the Lomita-Torrance Teen Drug Prevention Council. It has been a most eye opening experience, and not in a very positive way. This is because there are so many terribly damaging drugs out there that didn’t exist in my day, most especially the synthetic ones. Teens are using these drugs more then in my day because they are: so overwhelmed with all the stimulation in their lives via technology, handling images and ideas that they aren’t old enough to understand, forced into competitive activities to get them into the best colleges before they are even old enough to talk, stressed to the max. The need to escape their frenzied minds puts them at risk for drug and alcohol abuse at earlier ages.
To give you an idea of what my own community here in the South Bay area of Los Angeles is dealing with, other wise known as “the Beach Cities” here are some statistics: 53% of teens drank alcohol in the past month, which is 14% higher then the national average. Binge drinking was reported by 25% with 52% riding in a car with someone who had been drinking. It is somewhat easy to get alcohol according to 67% of the teens in this community.
Teens have access to all the usual drugs parents are familiar with including: marijuana, prescription pills, and cocaine. Add to these synthetic marijuana, inhalants and ecstasy, many times more potent over the last two decades making them much riskier to use.
You need to understand that a teen’s brain is still developing until they are 25 to 26 years old. The areas of the brain that are involved are those needed for decision making, impulse control, judgement, and risk assessment. Sadly, drug use and abuse can alter the structure and the development of these functions. Those who start drinking before age 15 are much more likely to have alcohol dependency or abuse later in life.
You need to be observant and be speaking to your teen to get an idea whether they may be headed into these troubles that neither of you want to deal with given the great pain it creates for entire families. Drug testing is highly recommended if you feel your teen is experimenting or abusing drugs. If your teen has nothing to hide, there will not be any resistance with your desire to have the testing done.
A negative reaction, a reluctance to be tested for drugs, could indicate use. When addressing your teen about your concerns, both you and your spouse need to be involved to let your teen know that you are aligned together on this important subject of your teens health and wellbeing. If there is any discord between the two of you, your teen could use it to his or her advantage, so be speaking as a unified couple.
Signs to look for:
Physical: blood shot eyes, dilated/contracted pupils, deterioration of personal appearance, impaired coordination and speech, tremors, and unusual smells on breath, body, and clothes.
Psychological: sudden mood swings, irritability, unexplained changes in personality, lack of motivation, periods of unusual hyperactivity, paranoia/anxiety.
Behavioral: drop in performance and attendance at school, unexplained financial problems, missing money from your wallet, unusual secretiveness, unwillingness to communicate or cooperate, loss of inhibitions, sudden change in friends and places where hanging out, and unwillingness to discuss new friends and activities.
Health: frequent nosebleeds, runny nose not caused by allergies or cold, sores and/or spots around the mouth, queasiness, vomiting, and sudden dramatic weight gain or loss.
Possession of Paraphernalia: these items include: eye drops, matches and lighters, rolling papers, pipes, multiple pill bottles, make-shift tourniquets, needles, and mirrors (used for drugs that are snorted, usually having powdery residue on the surface.
What can you do to help your teen think twice before using drugs or alcohol:
- Maintain positive family rituals and traditions to create a happy and loving home atmosphere.
- Serve as a good role model. Never be drinking around your own home unless you are doing so with company and while eating a full meal – and drink one drink at most – your kids will do as you do, not as you say, so always keep this in mind.
- Set limits and consistently enforce them: times when they are to be home, and for you to know with whom they are hanging out and the parents of the teens that they are hanging out with as well. Let those parents know your desire to not have your teen involved in any drugs or alcohol in their homes when you are not present.
- Most of all help your teen feel good about him or herself, by acknowledging successes, accepting failures and always praising a good effort.
- Encourage your teen to say “no” to peer pressure and avoid situations that could be destructive such as being in places where drugs and alcohol are being used.
- Encourage your teen to choose happy and healthy friends who are doing productive things with their time.
- Give support to your teen to do well in school, minus the pressure to have to be the best. So long as your teen is giving a good effort, that is all that needs to be accomplished.
- Keep any alcohol or prescription drugs locked and out of sight of your teens. Any drugs that you have that you no longer are using need to be discarded in an appropriate manner and out of the home. Many teens get their drugs right out of their parents and grandparents medicine cabinets, so be vigilant on this point.
- Realize that even if you have done your best to be present, and involved in a healthy supportive manner to your teen, substance abuse could still occur. Be vigilant in your observations and communications with your teen. Acknowledge any indicators and address these concerns in a loving and assertive manner. You are the parent and as such it is your right and responsibility to make sure your home is safe for everyone who lives their including yourself.
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