Do you feel overwhelmed and out of touch with your teenager and their unexplained behavior? Are you confused by the strange attitude, erratic, spontaneous outbursts and periods of giddiness? If you are like most parents of teenagers, the period between ages 12 and 19 can be frustrating, confusing, stressful and downright baffling. Is it normal behavior or a sign of something deeper and more dangerous looming in your teen’s life?
Know that you are NOT alone as you try to unravel the mystery of the adolescent living in your home!
Millions of parents are currently in your shoes, dealing with the endless number of “normal” behaviors your teen is displaying on a regular basis. Sometimes they may sleep for hours while at other times, they can stay awake all night. They may tell you every last detail of their day, their life and that of their friends in one moment. The next thing you know, you are shut out, lips sealed up like a clam. This behavior can cause even the most dedicated, concerned parent to think that one of them has lost their mind completely.
The lines between normal behavior and unusual behavior are very blurry most days. Yet, it is the patterns of this behavior that is important and can be very telling in determining what is really going on in a teen’s life emotionally, physically and mentally. Changes in mood, sleep patterns, behavior, eating habits and motivation can all be signs that “something” is going on in their life that may be out of the ordinary.
What can this “something” be that has changed your once sweet, adorable, well-behaved child into some alien living in your child’s body? Is it possible that an invasion has occurred causing you to not even recognize the person who you once thought you knew so well? Rest assured that no alien invasion has occurred nor has your teen been abducted and replaced with a look-alike!!!
Teens are confusing and challenging creatures. Yet, it is extremely important that you, as a concerned parent or caregiver, understand all of the odd behaviors so that you can better identify when the source of the behavior is caused by “something” other than age, hormones and a desire to be autonomous.
Of course, being the parent of a teenager is no easy task. You may be trying to juggle multiple children, dropping off, picking up at sports, homework, dinners, play dates and your career. You try to spend time with your spouse, carve out a little bit of time for yourself and enjoy life. But, understanding this behavior of your teen seems more than you can bear.
While much of what you are experiencing or witnessing with your teen may be “normal” teen behavior, it is important to know when that normal behavior is, in fact, the result of “something” more serious. Changes that may be an indication that your teen needs help may stem from many factors including depression, eating disorder, mental health issues, and substance abuse and addiction. It is this last “something” that we want to target and the red flags for you to watch for to distinguish between what is normal and what in fact is a sign of teen addiction.
- If you find drug paraphernalia in your teen’s possession, this is the number one red flag to indicate that your teen may be using or have an addiction to drugs. According to the US National Library of Medicine, this might include small porcelain bowls, hypodermic needles, vials, capsules, tin foil, scales, bongs, square folded paper or envelopes, cigarette lighters, and zip lock bags. Of course, some of these things may be normal household items which may not be cause for alarm in all cases. For example, if your daughter likes the scent of candles in her room, she may have a cigarette lighter. A zip lock bag may be leftover from a snack. However, hypodermic needles, porcelain bows AND the lighter may be cause for concern.
- When you try to have a conversation with your teen and find that they are unable to hold a conversation, this should be another red flag that your teen may have an addiction to a substance. Your teen may slur their speech or not be able to follow the conversation. Even formulating a response to the simplest of questions may seem difficult.
- Teens who are using heroin may suddenly be cautious about hiding their bodies. If you notice that your teen is wearing long sleeve shirts in the summer, he or she may be hiding needle marks, sores or scars. They may also be experiencing extreme changes in their skin due to drug use.
- If your usually reserved, cautious teen is suddenly engaging in higher-risk behavior, this may be a red flag of drug use or addiction. Drugs use will cause teens to believe that they may be invincible or even immortal. This sense of immortality will encourage them to seek and engage in more dangerous and exhilarating activities while lacking the ability to perceive the danger or be concerned about the consequences. This extremely dangerous mindset may cause your teen to put himself in harm’s way before even realizing the severity of the situation. Once identified, this type of behavior requires immediate attention by a trained professional, preferably at a qualified treatment center.
- Drastic and sudden changes in your teen’s academic performance may be an indicator that they are actively participating in drug usage. Your student’s grades may suddenly turn for the worse or you may notice that homework is not being completed. If teachers suddenly contact you about the lack of interest, poor attention or uncharacteristic behavior, this should be a red flag identifying teen addiction. Of course, sudden changes in school could also be a sign of other issues as well such as mental health issues or other challenges such as bullying.
- While you may have already experienced the erratic mood swings of your teen, you may see increased paranoia, irritability, and bouts of anger. Your typically calm, level-headed teen may now react with aggression, explosive anger or extreme sensitivity. Any of these extreme reactions or swings should be cause for concern and further investigation into substance abuse by your teen. Although it is normal for teens to be unpredictable and oftentimes, irrational as their brains have not completely formed yet, there will be a very clear distinction between irrational thought and outrageous, unexplained, uncontrollable outbursts.
- Even as adults, if we don’t sleep or eat well, and engage in risky behavior, we suffer the physical consequences of our actions. Bloodshot eyes, changes in pupils and lack of coordination may appear to be signs of a hangover in adults but could possibly be symptoms of drug use and addiction in your teen. Your athletic teen may suddenly trip over her own feet or your health-conscious girl may appear as if she just spent the whole night partying. In fact, maybe she did!
While these signs taken individually may still fall into the category of “normal” behavior, it is when you recognize three or more of these changes in mannerism or behavior that you should seek professional help for your teen for their addiction or substance abuse problem.
In most cases, you as the parent or caregiver are the first resource for teens struggling with an addiction. As difficult as it may be for you to accept that your teen may be addicted to a substance or drug, it is critical that you remain calm and find the best and most appropriate resources to get your teen the help that they need. Some parents may feel that punishment and restrictions is the best way to solve the problem, but unfortunately, this type of reaction may only push the teen further into addiction, and even possibly harming the relationship between parent and child itself.
So, what is the best course of action to take once you suspect your teen has an addiction problem?
Begin with communication and this does not mean that you start talking to your child when you believe that there is a problem. The conversation about drugs needs to occur as soon as your child is able to understand the harm and detriment to substance use and abuse.
However, more importantly, engage your child in conversation regularly, about everyday things such as their likes and dislikes. When parents take a genuine interest in their children’s lives, the door is opened for two-way conversation in which the teen may feel comfortable to share what is really going in their life, the situation as well as possible substance abuse.
Of course, at this volatile stage in your teen’s life, they may be resistant to speak to you at all, let alone about important issues that they may be experiencing. But, by laying the foundation in your child’s life to openly and honestly communicate with you, they may be more likely to come to you with information, seeking assistance than if you have not encouraged this previously.
Once you identify that your teen may have an addiction problem, seek help immediately. Your teen’s school may be a great resource to help you identify any challenges that they are experiencing in class, socially and educationally, and can direct you to a reputable treatment center such as Beachside.
Your teen’s doctor should be the next call you make to help you take the appropriate measures in getting your teen the help he or she needs. After an evaluation, the medical professional can guide you as to the appropriate route to take to address not only the immediate challenges of the teen’s addiction but any deep-rooted issues which may impact your teen’s road to recovery.
Your teen will be referred to an addiction treatment center like the one at Beachside where they will receive care, detox assistance, unconditional support, cognitive and behavioral therapy, and medication if necessary to assist them to become free of the addiction and begin their lives again.
Teen addiction is a serious, life-threatening challenge that if left untreated, may lead your teen down a path that may prove to be fatal. With the proper therapy and support, your teen can make a full recovery from their addiction. But it is up to you and the action that you take once you notice the red flags identified above that will determine the outcome and result of your teen’s addiction issues.