By Brittany Cohen, MSW, Program Director for Wilshire PHP/IOP
As therapists treating teen addiction, we repeatedly hear one question from parents: “How could I not have known they were using?” Parents feel that they drive their kids to school in the morning, pick them up from a friend’s house after school, and generally feel their teen is with them most of the time, yet somehow they did not pick up on a change.
Finding out a child has been using drugs can make even the most attentive families feel completely out of touch. This is especially true with the realities of today. In our world today, a parent might find that some of their children’s friends’ parents are allowing them to do drugs “as long as its in the house.” The truth is it is so hard to see something when you are not looking for it or when it’s so close. It can be hard to know who to trust or what to look out for. There are warning signs. Parents should not be afraid to look for them.
At some point during treatment, we ask all of our teens what the warning signs were for them to relapse. We ask how can they help their parents notice when they are feeling vulnerable to using alcohol and drugs. Every teen gives different answers but there are ten very common threads between all responses:
- Poor grades at school
- Withdrawal/Isolation from family members
- Changes in their friend group
- Demanding more privacy from their parents
- Lack of interest in hobbies
- Sudden mood changes/Irritability
- Inability to focus
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in sleep habits
- Parents missing money
The most terrifying part about this list of warning signs is that parents have been led to believe that these signs are part of “normal teenage behavior”. Society also encourages parents to step back from their children and allow them to be independent. That idea couldn’t be more wrong. With the influence of peers being so strong, teenagers need their parents more than ever. If a child tries pushing their parents away, parents should not be afraid to push back. Ask questions and explore if there is something deeper going on in your child’s life.