Teen using drugs

Is My Child Using Drugs?

You have been concerned about your child’s behavior over the past several months. Falling grades, a new set of friends and some marijuana under the bed lead you to talk with your child about drugs. Your son or daughter simply says that you don’t understand. What can you do to get the help you need? What can you do to get your child the help he or she needs?

Finding Help for Kids Using Drugs

A great place to start is your child’s doctor. Most physicians are comfortable having a confidential discussion with teens about risk-taking behavior and deciding if it is normal adolescent behavior or a more serious problem. Adolescent Medicine doctors are experts in this area as well. You can find and Adolescent Medicine specialist by going to The Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine website and searching for a physician in your area. Ultimately, your child should receive a comprehensive substance abuse assessment by a specially trained chemical dependency counselor who is comfortable with adolescents.

These assessments can be performed by an individual with a PhD or master’s degree in psychology or counseling. If possible, try to find an expert certified as a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor. You could also consider having your child visit a medical doctor with special training in Addiction Medicine or Addiction Psychiatry. You can search for addiction specialists in your area via The American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM) and The American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry (AAAP).

The Comprehensive Substance Abuse Assessment
When your child is evaluated by an expert in adolescent substance use, the results should help guide treatment. The assessment should also help you, as a parent, to learn more about why and how your child is using drugs.

According to the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment1, there are several specific goals of a comprehensive substance abuse assessment:

  1. To document in more detail the presence, nature and complexity of substance use reported during a screening, including whether the patient meets diagnostic criteria for abuse or dependence
  2. To determine the specific treatment needs of the child if substance abuse or substance dependence is confirmed, so that limited resources are not misdirected
  3. To permit the evaluator to learn more about the nature, related factors and consequences of the youth’s substance-using behavior
  4. To ensure that related problems not flagged in the screening process (such as problems in medical health, psychological health, social functioning, family relationships, educational performance or behavior) are identified
  5. To examine the extent to which the youth’s family can be involved not only in comprehensive assessment but also in possible subsequent interventions
  6. To identify specific strengths of the child, family and other social supports (such as coping skills) that can be used in developing an appropriate treatment plan
  7. To develop a written report that:
    1. Identifies and accurately diagnoses the severity of the use
    2. Identifies factors that contribute to or are related to the substance use disorder
    3. Identifies a corrective treatment plan to address these problem areas
    4. Details a plan to ensure that the treatment plan is implemented and monitored to its conclusion
    5. Makes recommendations for referral to agencies or services

Your job as a parent is then to accept the assessment’s results and the health professional’s recommendations. It will be a difficult experience for your family, but it is important that you require your teen to get the help he or she needs.

More Help for Parents of Children Using Drugs
To help guide you through the difficulties of getting your child the appropriate care, you can continue to rely on the doctors your child worked with for the comprehensive assessment. You can also reach out to parent and family support groups, such as Learn to Cope and the Parent Addiction Network.

No matter the path your family takes to resolve your child’s drug use, you are not alone in your struggles. Equipping yourself with the know-how to get your child the help he or she needs is the first step toward healing your family.

Request an appointment with one of our Adolescent Medicine specialists to start getting your child help today.

1Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Screening and Assessing Adolescents for Substance Use Disorders . Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 31. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 12-4079. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1998 p17.

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, adolescent medicine and addiction 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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