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How can I know if my child is facing a substance abuse problem?

Please note that these are just possible symptoms and do not clearly mean that your child is abusing drugs.  

Personal Appearance

  • Messy, shows a lack of attention for their appearance
  • Poor hygiene
  • Red, flushed cheeks or face
  • Sudden or dramatic weight loss or gain
  • Runny nose, not caused by allergies or a cold
  • Marks on their arms or legs (they usually wear long sleeved clothing in warm weathers to hide the marks)
  • Smoke or other unusual smells on their breath or clothing

  Personal Habits

  • Financial Problems
  • Reckless driving that may lead to car accidents
  • Constantly avoids eye contact
  • Always locks their bedroom doors
  • Goes out every night
  • Secretive phone calls

  Teenage Behavioral Issues

  • Noticeable change in their relationships with their family members or friends
  • Mood changes or emotional instability
  • Loud, obnoxious behavior
  • Unusually clumsy, lack of coordination, and poor balance
  • Sad, depressed
  • Constantly tired
  • Silent, uncommunicative
  • Hostility, anger, and uncooperative behavior
  • Makes endless excuses
  • Lack of motivation
  • Inability to focus
  • Hyperactivity
  • A long habit of sleeplessness which is followed by long periods of "catch up" sleep
  • Disappearances for unusual amounts of time

  School, or Work, Related Issues

  • Loss of interest in their school work
  • Loss of motivation for extracurricular activities, hobbies, or sports
  • Failure to stick to their responsibilities
  • Complaints from their teachers or coworkers
  • Reports of intoxication

Reasons why my child might use drugs

1.   To experiment

People can be motivated to live new experiences. It is in our nature to be curious and discover things that we haven't done before. However, the risk begins from the first time you try it. It always starts with a cigarette, narguileh, or a sip of alcohol. Then it goes on to the desire to try hashish, cocaine, pills, or even heroine. All this is considered as experiencing drugs, and this scenario can turn curiosity into addiction.

2.   To fit in

Many people would use drugs because they think everyone else is doing it. Users usually fear that if they say "no" to drugs, then they would not be accepted into the group. For a majority of their time, people are trying to figure out who they are, what they want, and where they fit in. It is a tough process, but everyone has a desire to be accepted and liked. This can make saying "no" extremely difficult because they think it can lead to being laughed at, teased, humiliated, or rejected.

3.   To feel better

The abuse makes people relieve stress, feel good, and gives them a chance to forget their problems and hurtful experiences. They start using drugs to boost their moods and increase their sense of well-being. Eventually, they would want to feel those moments over again and, would soon, find themselves unable to live without drugs.

4.   To do better

At times, people may turn to certain drugs hoping that they will enhance and improve their performance physically, sexually, or mentally. 


How to talk to my child about his/her substance abuse problem?

  • Be calm: Avoid letting your anger and frustration take over you and spill into the conversation. Don't yell, threaten, or lecture your child. Don't accuse them of anything, otherwise they will continue to hide their problems
  • Talk to your child when he/she is not under the influence. It is very important to choose the perfect timing to have this conversation
  • Ask open-ended questions such as:
    - "Can you tell me what is going on, because the other day…?"
    - "How would you like to move on from here? Because you can't continue like this."
  • Don't ask close-ended questions such as:
    - "Are you still taking drugs?"
    - "Don't you think you are doing something wrong?"
  • It is crucial that you give them a chance to express themselves. Make it a two-way conversation that will give them a better environment to speak up
  • Talk to your child about the problems that the drug use is causing. Prepare them, write them down, and make sure that the examples are very concrete. For example, it's better to say "you weren't driving well last night, we were going to crash" than to say "when you use drugs, you become uncontrollable". Prepare a long list of examples that might give them a sense of what is going on
  • Support your child if he/she tells you that they are on drugs. Thank them for having the courage to come to you with honesty. Tell them that you are there to help them, that you love them, and that you will move passed this with them. Make them see that you will be there for them through the whole struggle, otherwise you might lose them
  • Let them know, calmly, that the rules are the rules. Your child is engaging in illegal and risky behavior. Remind him/her that it is the parent's job to help their children remain healthy physically and emotionally. Tell them that you don't want them to go to prison, to get sick, or to die. Assure them that you will help them along the way
  • Make an appointment with a professional. Let your child know that you will be looking for help. Go alone to the appointment if it ever came to that, but make sure that you don't skip it. Not only is it important for your child, but it will give you a better insight on how to help them
  • It might not be easy for your child to follow what you or the professionals are asking of them. It might be difficult for them even if they acknowledge their problem. Yet, your acts can encourage them. Many addicts who went to rehab and recovered, owe a great deal to their parents for never giving up on them


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R, 62 years old, father of M, M is now recovering from drug addiction

"I used to think that, as a father, it was my job to get the money for the house, school, university, and the gifts." - "What about now?" - "I made him eggs today" - "Last week, we went hiking. It was just him and me"