If there is anything that can derail a child within the blink of an eye, it is drugs. An addiction to drugs can trigger a downward spiral in your child, till he reaches a place where he is so lost, no amount of love or communication from your side can make any difference. It is best if you confront your child as soon as you realize that he is doing drugs. Here are a few things to keep in mind when confronting your child about drugs.
Once a child enters his preteen or teen years, parents take a backseat and friends are the people he turns to for advice and support, and also to confide in. They become the most important people in his life, and you are left thinking wistfully of the past, when you were his friend. You are no longer in on his secrets, and do not have any idea what problems he is going through. In such a case, how to know whether your child has a drug abuse problem, and more importantly, how to confront him about it? Specially, now that he considers you no longer “in tune” with his frequency and generation? This article will answer both of your questions.
Knowing Your Child Is Abusing Drugs
Although the communication between children and parents takes a back seat when children enter their teens, there are many teens who still consider their parents to be their friends, and tell them their problems and worries. In case your child and you are no longer close, and you think that the bond is getting frailer every passing day, check for symptoms. If your child has serious problems, the symptoms will show provided you are willing to see them. Wild fluctuation in his mood, eating habits, academic performance are the warning flags which indicate something is awry in your child’s world. Similarly, if you child is seriously abusing drugs, then there are a few signs of drug abuse that will manifest in his behavior.
If you suspect that your child is doing drugs, then here are some things you could watch out for…
- Physical appearance is the first indication. Paleness, dark circles, red, glazed or watery eyes, sudden weight loss or gain, needle marks on hands, coughing fits, reduced personal hygiene, etc., are all signs which indicate you may be dealing with drug abuse.
- Change in the sleeping and eating patterns and habits is a pretty grim indication of drug abuse and it is also a very common manifestation. If his appetite has suddenly increased or decreased, if he has become very picky about what he eats, if he is either sleeping more or is having trouble sleeping, the reason could very well be drug abuse.
- Another sign is a sudden shift in behavior, interests, friends, etc. If your child has suddenly become moody, started getting angry and irritated frequently, unnecessarily and at the slightest provocation, if he has suddenly withdrawn and become quiet and secretive from being expressive and friendly, then it could be a strong indication that he may be using drugs. You must also check if he seems disoriented, forgetful, depressed or hostile, or if he seems to be lying more frequently, is getting distracted easily, avoiding work and staying out more often.
- A change in the academic performance for the worse, is also a sign that your child is in serious trouble. If he is bunking school or college, failing exams, or if he is finding it difficult to keep a job, or getting fired, then these are also indications of drug abuse.
Although the signs listed above are not conclusive in any way, all of them put together with suspicious behavior, will be a pretty reliable indication that your child is doing drugs and is in need of help. If all or most of the above signs are obvious then it is best to confront your child straightaway instead of wasting time. If it comes to the worst scenario (or the best), it could be that your child is not doing drugs and will be really upset by your accusation. But that is better than letting it go ignored and regretting it later. So here are a few things that you should be careful about, when confronting your child about drugs.
Confronting Your Child About Abusing Drugs
If you are wondering how to confront your child about drugs, keep in mind the following DOs and DON’Ts to ensure that you are approaching this sensitive issue in the best way possible. This is important if you get your point across to your child gently yet firmly. If you yell and accuse, you are never going to get him to admit that he is in trouble. Moreover, this approach will only serve to make him more hostile towards you and blow any chance that you may have had of reaching out and offering help and support. Go through the following paragraphs and prepare yourself accordingly.
Try to understand that your child is just normal and that he made a poor choice. That does not make him bad. It may have been really easy for you during your teen years to resist peer pressure, but you have to realize that times have changed, and so have people and ideas. What was cool in your time is probably unworthy of mention now, and that the issues of peer pressure and trying to fit in, have become more serious today as compared to a few decades ago. I’m not advocating for your child. But it is necessary to point out that if you ridicule his reasons for turning to drugs, you may as well say bye to the remaining conversation. All you will get is a hostile, “You never understood me! You will never get this so just leave me alone, dammit!!”.
To avoid your child closing up on you at the start of the conversation itself, try saying something like, “I can see you are in some serious trouble, and it really hurts me to see you like that. I’m sure you have problems, but I’m hoping that if you share them with me (us), we can work something out….”, or something along those lines. Voice your concerns as sincerely as possible and take care to not sound patronizing. Drug abuse in teenagers is far more rife than we like to admit.
Avoid Accusations and Hostility
When you ask your child about his drug abuse, it is a given that he will not immediately be forthcoming with his confession. He will refuse for as long as possible, so be prepared for it to avoid getting frustrated and accusing him of being a liar. Saying things like, “Don’t you dare lie to me! You think I can’t see?! You are doing something wrong, and you have the nerve to lie to me about it!”, “How could you possibly be dumb enough to get yourself into this mess?! Who the hell is going to help you, if you continue lying to me?”, etc., are not great ideas either. The case is not that he has the nerve to lie to you, the case is that he does NOT have the nerve to admit the truth to you. So be calm, and do not make him feel obliged because you are helping him. Avoid getting angry, because that will only fetch you more hostility in return.
If you think that you are really angry at the moment and cannot handle an emotionally charged conversation, then take ten minutes to breathe deeply and calm yourself, before going ahead and confronting him.
Offer Love, Support and Help
Tell your child that you love him. Chances are pretty high that he won’t believe you, but tell him anyway. Tell him you are there for him, ready to help him whenever he requires help, and to support him in the process of quitting drugs. Tell him this even if he scoffs at you. Love can break barriers and walls much faster than hate and anger. Ask him to tell you the reason why he chose to do this and offer to find a solution for the problem. Say things like, “We’re right here if you need any help.”, “Anytime you think you have a problem which you can’t handle, do not hesitate to come to us. We are always there to support you.”, etc., and let your child know that he can rely on you for help. If he believes that telling you the truth will land him in further trouble, then it is obvious that he will avoid telling you things.
One thing to remember is, if your child believes that telling the truth is going to have dire consequences, he’d rather not tell you. So instead of saying things like, “You better tell me right now, because if I find out on my own later, then you are going to get a good whipping.”, try saying things like, “I really hope you can see why I’m so angry and hurt. It is because I care about you and even if I lose my temper right now, know that it stems from concern, and that I only want to help.” Inject as much honesty into the conversation as possible, if you wish to get the same in return.
Be Firm, Impose Discipline and Drive Your Point Across
Ever heard the saying, A picture is worth a thousand words? It’s true. Do your homework before confronting your child. The internet is at your disposal. Go online and print a few pictures of drug abusers who are getting treatment. Get as many graphic pictures as possible, to really impact your child with the consequences. Get scary statistics. Get a few rehabilitation stories printed if you find them, and hand them over to your child. He will obviously not read them or see the pictures straight away. But leave them in his room for him to go through them later. Tell him that this is not the right behavior, and that you are in no way going to allow this to continue.
Tell him that he is going to be strictly monitored from now on till he overcomes his habit. If necessary, ground him, and reduce or discontinue his pocket-money for a while, so that he does not have money to buy drugs. These are major steps, and you need to remember that your child will still figure out a way to get out or get some money. Be prepared. And do not threaten your child with these things. Explain to him instead. Saying things like, “You will not get out of your room till I say so!”, or “No more pocket-money for you. Let me see how you get your drugs now!”, is definitely not the right approach.
Whether you like it or not, your child is going to be more innovative than you are, so he may just come up with different ways of getting drugs, and you will end up ‘seeing how he gets drugs now’. Instead, explain to him why you are taking the strict action that is necessary by saying things like, “I have to know where you are at all times and who you hang out with, so if you are not ready for a reasonable curfew, then I have no choice but to ground you.”, or “I will have to stop giving you pocket-money so that you do not have the means to buy drugs. I will give you whatever you need when you ask for it, but no more pocket-money.”. These sentences are a lot more effective.
Do Not Make It About You
Your child is in serious trouble. This is really not the situation to make it about you. It is about helping him. Self pity, self blame are not going to do anything to aid your case, and are just low tactics. You have to seriously avoid the whole added drama of, “What have I done to deserve this?!”, “Where did I go wrong in raising you?”, “How could you do this to me. Can you not think about anyone else for a minute?”, etc. This is not about you, so do not twist the scenario to make it look like you have been wronged in a deeply fundamental way. Your child made a mistake, a big one. Agreed. So help him, instead of whining about your life. It is not going to help the situation, and in case you are doing it to heap guilt on him, you should really know that he probably doesn’t care at this moment.
Instead, tell him about the opportunities that he will be missing out on, if he doesn’t get a grip on himself. Tell him that there is every chance that all his dreams, ambitions and hopes will remain unfulfilled. Build up scenarios for him by telling him that his peers will be living their dreams while he struggles with addiction and rehabilitation. Tell him how drugs seriously limit one’s ability and potential to live a normal and happy life.
Get Professional Help if Required
Knowing how to confront your child about drugs is not necessarily something that parents are equipped with. If you think that the addiction has progressed to a stage where restrictions imposed by you are not going to be enough to deal with the problems, then there are professionals who can help your child. The school counselor for starters. There are psychologists and social workers who work specially with kids doing drug abuse and who can help. Besides these individuals, there are also institutions which have programs to help children get over their addictions. There are drug abuse rehabilitation facilities and programs, and also many emergency hot lines which are open throughout the night. Find someone who can and will help your child get through this rough patch.
Helplines and Websites
A few hotline numbers and rehabilitation centers have been listed below for your reference.
- Cocaine Anonymous – 800-347-8998
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – 800-662-HELP / 800-662-4357
- Alcohol and Drug Helpline – 800-527-5344
- Drug Abuse Helpline (24 hours) – 1-866-675-4912
- Alcohol Abuse and Crisis Intervention: 800-234-0246
- Alcohol and Drug Abuse Helpline and Treatment: 800-234-0420
- Alcohol Hotline Support & Information: 800-331-2900
- Drug Rehab – 888-260-7638
- usdrugrehabcenters.com is a good site that will give you detailed information based on your location.
- drug-rehab.org is another useful site where you can find drug rehab facilities and programs.
Get help from any of the places mentioned above and help your child get back on track as soon as you can. Drug addiction is not easy to overcome, so offer as much support as possible and be there for your child throughout this difficult and trying phase. Wish you luck.