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How can I notice the signs?

Most parents often ask this question to themselves and also to professionals who work in the sector of prevention of drug, alcohol and other related substances. Some adults, as well as parents think that they are not capable to distinguish the signs as they do not have enough awareness or knowledge to enable them to realise that there is in fact a problem.

A not so easy situation

This is a situation where even the people who studied on addiction might get some doubts especially if the person involved is a family member. It is true that often parents do not have the basic objective knowledge related to addiction of chemical substances. It is also known that some do not see seriousness the of such addiction, especially when consumption is of small amount. It is also a known fact that it is more difficult to detect the signs when one is too close to the person with the problem. Children have a way of hiding these signs from their parents.

Addiction, especially in adolescence, is difficult to detect during their developing stage. Most adolescents are preparing themselves “to leave their nest” when they are passing through their rebellious stage by unfounded arguments for self-independence. It was stated by a lecturer at the University of Tucson, USA, that excessive attitude and rebellious conversations are the alarming signs that something else is behind this attitude and are not always related to the developing stages. Mood swings are more visible than the average where substance use is involved.

Gradual Development

Substance abuse develops gradually and these can be divided into five steps:

First step: consists of the potential use leading to abuse already existing within the individual.  This includes very common factors in our society, such as children with parents using drugs or alcoholics themselves. Easy excess to these substances at home make it easier for the children to start using as well. Low self esteem in children and personality disorders are also dangerous factors in this regard. Most times, personality disorders develop from careless upbringing and unstable childhoods.

Second Step: is the experimental stage, a phase which is dramatically minimized by the person using. The person sees nothing wrong in smoking cannabis occasionally. Same applies to alcohol; one sees nothing wrong in drinking alcohol on daily basis as long as one is within the limits according to the drinking by laws.

Third Step: is when the person is exposed to what is on the market and experiments in various types of drugs and even consume with a mixture of alcohol.

Forth Step: consists of being actually addicted to substance use or alcohol. The main aim of the user would be solely to get high and feel better.

The fifth and final step: is the result of a typical drug addict or alcoholic – the physical and psychological deterioration of the individual.

It is wrong when we say that drug and alcohol abuse start during adolescence, when children reach the age of sixteen or eighteen. Various studies have shown that some sort of drug and alcohol use start during the secondary school years (as early as 11 years of age).

Patience and an open mind are highly required

If a family member is a drug or alcohol addict, you should not expect that person to be honest with another family member. Therefore, it is very important that you remain calm, patient yet strong and determined to use a positive strategy towards the issue. Addiction can be fatal and the lives of your child can be in danger. It is very important to take immediate action when you are certain that your child is abusing substances.  You must not think twice and hope that the child will come out of this addiction alone. You have to act fast!

Mistakes that should be avoided

You might ask: but what should I do? First off, you should not waste time.

ꓫ Do not pity yourself.

You can do this at a later stage, should you really want to.

ꓫ Get angry.

It will be more worth using your energy in a positive way.

ꓫ Explain and emphasize.

Nothing changes with repetitive advice.

ꓫ Blame yourself for the current situation of your child.

Parents full of guilt are not effective parents.

ꓫ Argue inside the family.

Arguments gets one nowhere.

Confrontation based on help and guidance

The best action you can take is to confront the addict, only if you are sure that there is abuse taking place, whether it relates to drugs or alcohol. You must not forget that the aim is to help your son/daughter and not create confrontation where you accuse and blame him/her for his/her own problems.

You need to be well prepared before confronting the user. One recommendation would be to get hold of four pieces of paper; on the first paper, jot down the physical and emotional signs you would notice. On the second paper, write down what you would think would be the effects of drug or alcohol abuse, such as car accident, illness, loss of money, poor examination results, excessive complaints related to work and unemployment.

On the third paper, write down your own feelings towards the situation. Simple terms should be used such as anxious, weary, angry and hurt. On the fourth paper, write down a list of consequences related to drug and alcohol abuse, which can include memory loss, unable to concentrate, failing to solve issues and physical harm. You should keep these notes as reference.

You must find the best time or moment when to talk to your son/daughter – the same applies should it be your husband/wife.

Prepare yourself in advance

  • You should speak to your son/daughter when and if possible, he/she is not under the effect of substance use. It is useless to try and reason out with someone who is under the influence of substance use.
  • You should always remain calm and honest, using simple clear words during confrontation. If your son/daughter has been using for a while, it is likely that long conversations, using strong language, will not work.
  • You should not speak out of anger. To keep calm is probably the biggest challenge in this situation.
  • You should discuss only what you have observed. You should not be sarcastic or state what other people would think about this situation.
  • You should describe the dangerous repercussions when someone is a drug addict or an alcoholic. You should be clear and concise in the words being used, especially if this is advice forwarded by professionals in the field.
  • You should recommend outside help. It is important that when you refer to professional guidance, you should go together as support.

 The First Step

This is when you would realise that your son/daughter is afraid. Afraid of his/her peer group, afraid that they will be defined as weak individuals. All this fear is due to the damage he/she would have sustained through drug and alcohol abuse. If ever there was a time where your son/daughter really needed you…...NOW is the time! With your help, your son/daughter will be on his/her first steps to recovery.