Aug 28, 2017

Dr. Gellner: Drug and alcohol use in adults seems to be on the rise, and that means more kids are being exposed to substance use. How do you know if your child might be using drugs or alcohol? We'll discuss some signs on today's Scope. I'm Dr. Cindy Gellner.

Announcer: Keep your kids healthy and happy. You are now entering "The Healthy Kid Zone" with Dr. Cindy Gellner on The Scope.

Dr. Gellner: We've all heard the ads about teens and peer pressure about using drugs and alcohol. They've been around for years as public service announcements. Kids, teens especially, are faced with peer pressure to be cool, and that means making the choice to use or not to use when their friends offer them drugs or alcohol. Figuring out if your child is using can be a challenge, as many of the signs are also those of typical teen behavior, and of depression and anxiety.

Behavior changes are one of the first things to note. Are they hanging out with the same friends they've always had, or do they have new friends whose behaviors you question? Are they chewing gum or mints all the time to cover up breath odors? Do they go out every night, lock the doors more, or make phone calls in secret? Have their sleep patterns changed, where they have periods of extreme high energy followed by long periods of catch-up sleep? Mood changes are common in teens due to hormones, but if your child has extreme mood changes, seems overly hostile or hyperactive compared to their norm, that could also be a red flag.

Hygiene is also a challenge for teens, in general, but if your child completely lacks any effort to keep clean, their clothes have odd odors as opposed to normal teenager body odor, or they want to wear long sleeves, or pants even, when it's hot outside, perhaps in an effort to hide track marks, pay attention.

School changes can be one of the biggest signs that there's a problem. A child who normally doesn't miss school is all of a sudden ditching classes, not keeping up with assignments, or the teachers are calling with concerns about your child's behavior or performance.

Finally, look around the home. Are prescription medications disappearing, alcohol bottles getting less full, money missing from your wallet? Does the car smell odd, or strange wrappers and trash are left behind?

The first thing you should do if you suspect drug or alcohol use is to have a conversation with your teen, and tell them you want them to be completely honest. Be prepared if they say yes, they're using, and don't fly off the handle. Keep calm and let them know that you are by their side to get them help. If they say no, they're not using, don't assume they're lying. This may be the time to talk to your pediatrician about getting help with a mental health provider.

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