Substance Use Problems: How to Help Your Child
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Substance Use Problems: How to Help Your Child
Use of alcohol, cigarettes, inhalants, and other drugs among young people is a major concern for parents. Using these substances can affect a young person's general health, physical growth, emotional development, and school performance. You can recognize and respond to substance use by:
- Knowing the signs of substance use.
- Discussing substance use with your child.
- Getting appropriate help if your child has a substance use problem.
You can recognize and deal with substance use in your child by using the following techniques.
Is your child using alcohol or drugs?
If you think your child may be using substances, look for warning signs such as:
- Signs that suggest substance use. Watch for a decline in personal appearance or other evidence of substance use such as discarded chemical-soaked rags or drug paraphernalia.
- Changes in peer relationships. Peer influence has the greatest effect on whether your child is using substances.
- Changes in home behaviour that are more severe than expected from your child, such as aggressiveness or withdrawal.
- School problems that indicate a loss of interest or lack of involvement.
Has he or she experimented?
If you believe that your child has begun experimenting with alcohol or other substances:
- Ask about use. Find out what substances he or she has tried, what effects the substances had, and how he or she feels about substance use. Listen carefully to what your child liked about using the substance and why. The closeness of your relationship will determine the quality and accuracy of the information shared with you. Ask your child about peers who provided drugs and peers with whom your child used drugs.
- Share concerns. Talk about your concerns, not only about drug and alcohol use problems but about other problems that may be going on, such as problems at school.
- Review expectations. Talk with your child about the family rules concerning substance use and what might happen when rules are broken. If you do not want your child to use any substances (including cigarettes and alcohol), make that clear.
- Ask that he or she stop. Ask your child to stop, especially if there is a strong family history of substance use problems. If your child stops now, he or she probably will not develop a substance use problem.
- Provide drug education. This is an important time to provide additional drug information. Whether you or a doctor provides this information, talk about the immediate effects and consequences of using alcohol, inhalants, cigarettes, and/or other drugs. Don't talk only about long-term health problems.
Is it "getting out of hand"?
Your child may be having problems in school, at home, with relationships, or with the law related to substance use, pointing to a substance use problem. If you think your child is using any substance, including alcohol, cigarettes, inhalants, or other drugs—regularly or daily—don't ignore it. Frequent or regular use of a substance can quickly lead to physical or psychological dependence—or dependency may have already developed.
To help your child:
- Investigate. Look for evidence of your child's use. Review the information on ways to identify use. (For more information, see the Is Your Child Using Alcohol or Drugs? section of the topic Alcohol and Drug Use in Young People.) If you suspect a specific drug, gather other information about that substance and its effects.
- Choose a time. Wait until he or she is not high (intoxicated) to confront your child about using a substance. Talking to someone who is high on drugs or alcohol usually does not work and may make the situation worse.
- Ask about use. Find out what substances are being used, how often, in what setting, and where your child is getting them. Your child may be very reluctant to give you all this information.
- Talk with a doctor. Your child may need help, and early help may prevent future alcohol and drug use problems.
- Get support. You may find it helpful to participate in a support group for family members of people with alcohol use problems, such as Al-Anon. There are Al-Anon meetings specifically for parents, and these meetings include discussions about family effects from alcohol and other substance use. A substance use problem is a family issue: all family members are affected by it, and they need some form of help to change the ways they react to the person who has a substance use problem.
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Is it an emergency?
If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be life-threatening. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately. If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.