The fact is that parents often are the last to find out—and by the time they do, their child may already be addicted.

There are some danger signals that a child may be abusing drugs or alcohol. Parents owe it to themselves—and their kids—to get the facts.

Why do kids use drugs?

Young people often experiment with drugs because they are curious. They want to fit in with their friends, and they want to do something that will help them find their own identity. Studies show that peer pressure is the most frequent reason young people first use drugs.

Kids, just like adults, use drugs because they like what it does to their brains. Whether they are chasing a euphoria rush or seeking to reduce social inhibitions and feel more confident, they like the way drugs make them feel. This is drug abuse.

Prolonged drug use, at some point, causes fundamental, observable changes in user’s brains, resulting in drug craving and dependence. This is drug addiction.

What are physical signs my child may be using drugs?

· Change in physical appearance.

· Fatigue.

· Bloodshot eyes.

· Consistently run-down condition.

· Sudden gain or loss of weight.

· Trouble sleeping.

· Burn marks on the fingers.

How may my child’s behavior change if he’s using drugs?

The best clue that a child may be using drugs is a change in behavior. A normally energetic child suddenly becomes very depressed. An outgoing child suddenly stops communicating with anyone.

Here are some other behavior changes that may be signals of drug abuse:

· A change in friends and dress. Teens who get involved with drugs often wear clothes that reflect the drug culture. They may start to spend time with friends who will not meet or talk with parents.

· A sudden withdrawal from activities. When teens get involved with drugs, they usually lose interest in the activities they used to enjoy.

· School problems. An average student may stop doing homework. A student who used to attend school every day may start skipping class. Grades may drop.

· Mood swings. Most mind-altering drugs produce mood swings—from emotional highs to depression.

· Lack of honesty. Addicts lie and they manipulate. If you catch your teen in lies about where he’s going, what he’s doing or who he’ll be with, you need to find out the truth.

I’m not sure, but I suspect my child may be using drugs. What should I do?

Trust your instincts. Many parents deny what their eyes and ears tell them. Still others try to tell themselves that what they’re seeing is “just normal growing up.”

If you suspect your child is using drugs, be honest. Tell your child what you’ve seen and what you suspect. Stick to the facts—let your child know the physical, mental and legal consequences of what he is doing.

If there is firm proof that your child is using drugs (you find drugs or drug paraphernalia in his room, for example), you need to take stronger action. Wait until you know he is sober. Then tell him what you have found.

You’ll need to be willing to place restrictions on your child—setting curfews and limiting contact with certain friends. You’ll also need to keep a close watch on how much money your child has.

Where can I get help?

If your child is using drugs, you probably won’t be able to solve the problem alone. Treatment is available in a variety of forms. To learn what treatment options are available in your community check with your school counselor, doctor or local mental health center, or call national Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration's toll-free, 24/7 hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Remember . . .

Drug use is a preventable behavior. Drug addiction is a treatable disease. Don’t think that your child could never abuse drugs. Your loving vigilance now can prevent problems that could ruin your child’s life tomorrow.

One of a series of QuickTips®, Copyright © Parent Institute