Our 16-year-old son has been acting strange lately. He stays in his room a lot, keeps to himself and seems very secretive. Could he be getting into drugs?
Guest Expert Hilorie Baer, MSW, answers:
Mood swings and changes in attitude and behavior are often seen in teenagers and may simply be signs of normal adolescent angst. However, if they are extreme or are affecting the child's functioning, they could be signs of drug abuse or some other serious problem and should not be ignored. Signs of drug abuse can include erratic mood swings, irritability, falling grades, truancy, lack of interest in usual activities and hobbies, changes in eating and sleeping habits, weight loss and changes in personal hygiene. To explore what is going on, you might do the following:
- Talk to your child and ask him directly and specifically about your concerns rather than confronting him about possible drug abuse. You could say something like, "We've noticed that you've been spending more time by yourself; you're not talking to us like you used to; you seem to be less interested in school and we're concerned." It's important for a parent to let their child know they SEE what's going on with him.
- Find out if other people in your child's life, such as teachers, friends and neighbors share your concerns and/or have information that you lack. Don't keep this exploration a secret from your child.
- If you continue to have concerns after you have taken these steps, you would want to intervene. Try to get support as early possible. When parents feel alone they often feel helpless and at a loss. Possible sources of support are people who are already in your child's life such as teachers, counselors, friends as well as professionals who work with teenagers.
If the problem does turn out to be drug-related, it's important for you to know that this is a problem that CAN be dealt with with professional help and the earlier one intervenes, the more effective the intervention will be. Denial only allows the problem to continue and worsen. Do not allow your child's anger or frustration to keep you from taking the steps you feel are necessary.
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Hilorie Baer, MSW, is a psychotherapist specializing in addiction.