This is a common question that we hear at the FSAP. Every situation is different and we are glad to meet with you and your child to help provide an accurate assessment of the situation.
“Most teenagers will have some experience with alcohol and other drugs. Most will experiment and stop, or continue to use casually without significant problems. Some will use regularly, with varying degrees of physical, emotional and social problems. Some will develop a dependency and be destructive to themselves and others for many years. Some will die, and some will cause others to die.”
Some people grow out of their use of alcohol and other drugs. But since there is no certain way to predict which teenagers will develop serious problems, all use should be considered dangerous. Saying no is often part of the solution, but "just saying no” is seldom enough.
Some teenagers are more at risk than others to develop alcohol and other drug-related problems. Highest on the list are those teenagers with a family history of Substance Abuse problems. Legally available products include alcohol (over 21) and tobacco (over a certain age),prescribed medications, inhalants and over-the-counter cough, cold, sleep and diet medications. Illegal drugs include marijuana, cocaine/crack, LSD, PCP, opioids, heroin and “designer drugs.”
Those who begin to smoke or drink during their early teens are at particularly high risk. These substances (nicotine and alcohol) are the typical "gateway drugs" which lead first to marijuana, and then to other illegal drugs. Most adolescents continue using the earlier drugs as they begin using still others. Warning signs of teenage drug abuse may include:
Physical: lasting fatigue, repeated health complaints, red and dull eyes, and a steady cough.
Emotional: personality change, sudden mood changes, irresponsible behavior, low self-esteem, depression, and a general lack of interest.
School: drop in grades, many absences, discipline problems.
Social problems: new friends who are less interested in standard home and school activities, scrapes with the law, and changes to less conventional styles in dress and music.
Some of the warning signs listed above can also be signs of other problems. Parents may recognize signs of trouble but should not be expected to make the diagnosis. An effective way for parents to show care and concern for their teenager is to honestly discuss the use and abuse of alcohol and other drugs with them.
Consulting a physician to rule out physical causes of the warning signs is a good first step. This should often be followed or accompanied by a comprehensive evaluation by a child and adolescent psychiatrist or licensed substance abuse counselor, psychologist or social worker.