Usually, adolescents like to start experimenting with gateway substances like marijuana, alcohol and tobacco. In adults, these gateway drugs may or may not increase an individual’s risk to addiction. But all substances are gateway drugs if used during adolescence or young adulthood while brain development is still underway.
It can be hard to know if your teen is misusing or dependent on substances, including a prescription pain medication. Major changes in behavior including erratic, impulsive and agitated behaviors can be signs that your teen may need help.
Early signs of substance misuse may include loss of interest in activities/hobbies your teen once enjoyed, low academic performance, isolation, nodding out, lack of personal hygiene, changes in eating or sleeping habits, and/or change in friends. Physical signs of opioid misuse include itchy skin, constricted/”pinpoint” pupils drowsiness, nausea, constipation, slowed breathing and slurred speech.
To spot opioid misuse early on, take note if your child is asking for pain medication more frequently than prescribed, or seems insistent on refilling the prescription. If necessary, consult the original prescriber to determine if pain is persisting beyond its expected term.
What should you do if you think your child is misusing opioids?
If you are concerned that your child may be misusing or dependent on substances, including a prescription pain medication, consult the prescriber or contact a substance use counselor to complete an assessment. An assessment should include a thorough look at the extent of your child’s drug/substance and alcohol use, his/her mental and physical health as well as personal, medical and family history.
Sit down and talk to your child about changes you may have noticed in his or her behavior. Tell them in a nonjudgmental way that you are concerned about them and want to help. Ask them about how they are feeling and if they are worried or scared about anything. You can also reach out to their close friends or other family to express your concern and discuss whether or not they have noticed any changes in your child.
In addition, as soon as you find out or suspect that your child is misusing, seek professional medical help. You can start by bringing your child to a doctor who can screen for signs of substance use and other related health conditions. You might want to ask your provider if they are comfortable screening for substance use with standard assessment tools and making a referral to an appropriate treatment provider. If not, ask for a referral to another provider skilled in these issues. You can also start with an addiction specialist. As always, knowledge is power. Learn what steps to take when you think your teen or young adult is using substances.
Even in the best of circumstances, parenting a teen or young adult can be challenging. But when opioids become part of your family’s story, you’re likely to feel overwhelmed by fear, stigma, worry or guilt. However, don’t allow your own perception of drug use or addiction become a blinder that hinders you from recognizing signs of substance use in your child. Trust your instincts and reach out for help. Teens are resilient and can recover quickly if given the appropriate resources.
You wonder how you can overcome negative feelings and fear?
It’s normal to feel consumed by your child’s substance-related problems. Your feelings may range from being overwhelmed with fear and anger to experiencing resentment, shame or guilt. Whether it’s fear of what might happen next, shame associated with the stigma of substance use, isolation, resentment that this is happening to your family, guilt that perhaps you could have done something differently as a parent, or grief over lost opportunities that you wanted for your child, these emotions are very powerful. You may even feel depleted of emotional and physical energy to address the issue. And it’s not uncommon to develop physical symptoms like headaches, insomnia and stomach aches. As a result, you may feel helpless and hopeless all around.
It is important to understand that social support and social inclusion are leading contributors to a successful recovery from addiction. It is necessary to develop skills to help your child and your family heal from the disruption the substance use has caused. You have several options to turn to:
Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) is a scientifically proven approach to help parents change their child’s substance use by staying involved in a positive, ongoing way.