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Is Your Child Abusing Drugs or Alcohol?

As parents, we worry about our children’s use of cigarettes, alcohol and other drugs. The 2013 Ohio Youth Risk Behavior Survey revealed that 30% of all 9-12 graders drank alcohol in the past month. More than half of these students had five or more drinks of alcohol in a row within a couple of hours, on one or more of the past 30 days. Cigarette smoking on one or more of the past 30 days was reported by 19% of students and marijuana was used one or more times during the past 30 days by 21% of all students. Almost 13% of students have used prescription painkillers such as Vicodin, Percocet, OxyContin or Codeine without a doctor’s prescription one or more times during their life. These numbers show that the use of alcohol and other drugs is common in high school, and that any student is likely to be exposed to one of these drugs before graduating.

How can parents help their children make healthy decisions in their lives? Family discussions about the negative consequences of alcohol and other drug use should occur early in childhood. Parental expectations should be clearly stated frequently to let children know their parents beliefs. Patterning of responsible use of alcohol and minimal to no use of cigarettes and marijuana should be demonstrated by parents. As children grow older extracurricular activities can give students things to do and achievements to pursue rather than allowing boredom to drive substance use. Get to know your children’s friends and their families, avoiding exposure to people that might increase your child’s chance of using drugs.

How can you spot possible drug use in your own child? Look for:

Behavioral changes:

  •   Being unusually clumsy or lacking coordination
  •   New hostility or anger
  •   Decreased motivation
  •   Loud or obnoxious behavior
  •   Being deceitful or secretive

School or work changes:

  •   Truancy or loss of interest in schoolwork
  •   Drop in grades
  •   Failure to fulfill responsibilities at work or school

Personal appearance changes:

  •   Unusually messy, careless appearance
  •   Red, flushed cheeks or face
  •   Poor hygiene, and burns or soot on fingers or lips

Personal habit changes including:

  •   Smell of smoke on the breath or clothes
  •   Avoiding eye contact
  •   Secretive phone calls
  •   Heavy use of over-the-counter preparations to reduce things like:
  •   Eye reddening (eye drops)
  •   Nasal irritation
  •   Bad breath

If you have any concerns you should talk to your child about your concerns and if necessary, obtain a comprehensive substance abuse assessment by an addiction professional. Substance abuse is more easily treated if caught early and appropriate treatment is initiated. At Nationwide Children’s Hospital call (614) 722-2450 to schedule an appointment. An excellent publication, Family Checkup: Positive Parenting Prevents Drug Abuse  is available for parents to help prevent substance abuse through communication.

The publication asks parents 5 questions:

  1. Are you able to communicate calmly and clearly with your teenager regarding relationship problems?
  2. Do you encourage positive behaviors in your teenager on a daily basis?
  3. Are you able to negotiate emotional conflicts with your teenager and work toward a solution?
  4. Are you able to calmly set limits when your teenager is defiant or disrespectful? Are you able to set limits on more serious problem behavior such as drug use, if or when it occurs?
  5. Do you monitor your teenager to assure that s/he does not spend too much unsupervised time with peers?

If you are having trouble communicating with your child there are excellent suggestions on improving your communicating skills.

Steven C. Matson, MD
Steven C. Matson, MD, is interim chief of the Section of Adolescent Health at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and an Associate Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. He is the director of Opiate Addiction Clinic at Nationwide Children's Hospital and also is the Medical Director of the Franklin County Juvenile Detention Center. He is board certified in pediatrics and adolescent medicine. Dr. Matson is an active member of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. His clinical interests include treatment of opiate addiction in adolescents, pregnancy prevention, sexually transmitted diseases, health care of incarcerated youth, substance abuse, and evaluation and treatment of mental health problems.

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