Three out of every five teenagers I have met for the past few months have opened up and admitted to having smoked weed at least once. Two have admitted they smoke it at parties or don’t even mind having a few puffs when someone offers. Meaning they smoke marijuana at least twice or thrice a month. And one out of the five knows a fellow teenager who is totally hooked to marijuana.
These may not be professional statistics but just a DIY research that I carried out with different teens that I had the chance to meet from different parts of the country. However, this could be a reflection of larger population of teenagers out there.
It is a common thing to find young people smoking weed in most parties nowadays. In fact, in every party there is someone in the organizing ‘committee’ whose job is solely to bring enough weed for everyone at the party. We have heard of weed birthday cakes, cookies, fries etc. It can actually be added to anything you want and made edible. This shows how readily available it is and how easily it can land in your son or daughter’s hands. It’s just a party away.
Unless someone is a drug junkie, it may not be obvious to notice that they use any drugs. In this case, your teen could be smoking or indulging in these drugs once in a while and you might never catch any air about it. Unless it is a serious case of course. How do you make sure that however exposed they are to these drugs, they can still make proper decisions not to indulge and get dragged into the drug world? What do you do if you have just found out that your son or daughter once in a while indulges in drugs at college parties and events? Do you beat yourself black and blue calling yourself the worst parent? No, that will not help. You need to realize that this is a decision that they made on their own. It could be out of peer pressure or just mere curiosity.
Drug use can happen in any family, to great kids with great parents. If your teen is using drugs, you need to know that this is not a reflection on your parenting or your teen. The same brain that can lead to experimentation with drugs is likely to be creative, curious, intelligent, and beautifully open to the possibilities that exist outside the box. One question you may ask yourself, “Why are they vulnerable to addiction?” Teens are particularly vulnerable to addiction for a few reasons. The first is that their brains are wired to encourage risk-taking, courage, discovery, exploration, and a greater reach into the world. Some teens will be more wired towards this than others, but the potential will be there in all of them. This is a great thing and it’s what they are meant to do, but it’s easy to see how those same strengths can land them in trouble.
Secondly, their brains are at a critical point of development. Think of it like a bridge that is in the middle of construction. If that bridge is exposed to traffic before it is completed, it will break, sometimes irreparably. If that same bridge is exposed to traffic when it is completed, it will withstand most of the stresses and strains that it’s exposed to. Teen brains are in the process of forming billions of new connections – bridges – between brain cells and between parts of the brain. If these are stressed at critical times, the damage can be devastating and will make it more difficult for a healthy adult brain to form. The critical period will last until they are about 24 years old.
Here are some of the signs to watch out for. Many of these will just be a normal part of being a teenager and each of them separately can be explained by something other than drugs. They might also be a sign of a bigger problem. The main things to be wary of are changes from what you have come to know as normal for your teen, or when you see more of these signs starting to emerge.
- Change in friendships (it’s normal for teens to want to spend much more time with their friends, but watch out for a change in the friends they are hanging out with and the time they spend with them.)
- Change in the way they relate to you or other people in the family; more silent and reluctant to communicate with you.
- Change in study habits or grades
- Problems with school attendance (consistently late or away)
- Loss of interest in hobbies, sports, friends or other activities
- Decreased motivation (failure to meet responsibilities, showing up late to school or work etc)
- Less money or more money than usual (this could be a sign that your teen might be dealing or spending money on drugs)
- Increased time away from home.
- Quick to flare, fluctuations in mood
- Depressive, moody, withdrawn
- Hostile, angry, aggressive
- Elation that seems unusual or without reason
- Lying, deception, secretive behaviour
- Laughing at nothing in particular, or at things that wouldn’t ordinarily be funny
- Clumsy, stumbling, falling over, uncoordinated
- Periods of sleeplessness, followed by long catch up sleeps.
- Poor hygiene (with themselves and their space)
5 STEPS TO TAKE WHEN YOU SUSPECT YOUR TEEN
- Schedule Time
There is no point having the conversation when your child is under the influence. The part of his or her brain that will be receptive to the information and able to engage with you on that level will have been sent temporarily offline. It will just be frustrating for both of you, with huge potential for things to get heated. Similarly, if you are angry wait until you’re calm. When you’re angry your capacity to think and respond clearly diminishes significantly. Your brain will be running on impulse and instinct, overwhelming the part that is able to bring clarity and sensibility to the table.
- Work out a plan
Work out a plan that includes boundaries and consequences for crossing the boundaries. Do this with your teen so they feel more empowered and less like you’re trying to control them. Acknowledge that they are old enough now to make their own decisions and that you can’t control their behaviour, but that as with any relationship, there are certain things you expect. They expect freedom and independence, you expect them to be responsible with that independence and freedom. Work out a contract. What do you want? (Information? Accountability? The truth?) What do they want? What has to stop? (Drug use? Lies? Violence? Aggression? Be really specific here – when you say ‘aggression’, exactly what do you mean?) What are the consequences for using? For violence? For breaking the rules that you both agree to?
- Help Them
Your teen is using drugs to fulfill a need, probably several. The needs will be valid ones, but using drugs will always be a disastrous way to meet them. Help your teen find other activities that are challenging, engaging, maybe a little risky, and that give them a sense of meaning or belonging. It will be much easier for them to give up the drug when there is an alternative way to meet their important needs.
- Get them moving
Exercise is a natural stress-reliever and anti-depressant, and has been proven to ease the symptoms of anxiety. It also releases endorphins in the body, which are the body’s own chemicals that trigger the brain’s reward pathways and bring on a feel-good. It won’t replace the highs that your child might be craving, but the endorphins will help.
- Professional Help
Neither you nor your teen has to do this alone. What you’re doing is hard and what your teen is doing is harder. Along the way you or your teen might need a hand to stay on track, and that’s completely understandable and very normal. Don’t underestimate the important difference you will be making by the way you respond, and be open to seeking professional if you see the need.