How to tell whether your child is doing drugs

Tuesday, October 7, 2014 - 9:44am

By Margaret Schwartz

Bringing up drug and alcohol use with your children can be one of the most uncomfortable conversations to start. It's also one of the most important.

Whether parents are aware of it or not, their children are living in a culture that socially accepts adolescent drug use. According to the Nova Scotia student drug use survey, 49 per cent of adolescents tried alcohol and 34 per cent tried cannabis in 2012 and those numbers are increasing.

“Both prescription and intravenous drug use have increased dramatically since (2012),” says Jeffrey Thoms, clinical social worker with the IWK Choices Addictions program for youth.

“Regardless of the anti-drug campaigns and the explicit pictures you see on the side of a cigarette package, the population will still abuse drugs,” says Dan Steeves, health promotion team lead for Addictions and Mental HealthProgram at Capital Health.

“As long as they are accessible, inexpensive and effectively marketed, drugs will continue to be a normalized part of our culture”.

To combat these challenges, it is important for parents as role models to address their child’s experience with substances and find ways to counteract the norm of drug abuse in our community.

Here are some tips from Steeves and Thoms on how can parents communicate with their kids to prevent adolescent drug abuse.

  • Have a family dinner: “Sitting down as a family for at least one meal a day has been proven to decrease the likelihood of a child’s substance abuse problem,” says Steeves.
  • Reference pop culture: Linking to the use of alcohol or drugs in popular culture or recent media is a great way to indirectly ease into the conversation. Have they watched a movie recently that ‘normalized’ the use of cannabis? Does their music promote underage drinking?
  • Withhold the ‘fear-reflex’: “Do not cut them off as soon as you hear something that doesn’t jive with what you want them to say,” says Thoms.“Be curious about their opinions and ask about their beliefs and experiences with drug use.”
  • Be protective: “Strengthening family bonds and discontinuing drug-enabling behaviours can diminish the likelihood of a substance abuse problem,” says Thoms. Behaviours to be aware of are: a rapid change in identity such as clothing and interests, a change in friend group, a decline in school/employment performance and a transformation of attitude likely resulting in irritability, anger or sadness.

“In general, parents are doing the best they can to communicate with their kids about drugs,” says Steeves.

In a culture that socially accepts alcohol and drug use, parents who oppose these activities can be labelled “party poopers” by their peers. Families find it socially challenging and often uncomfortable to ask for help, fearing judgment.

“Do not let this stop you from addressing a substance abuse problem in your family,” says Steeves.

Capital Health supports parents who wish to address these issues through our addiction, prevention and treatment programs.

Parents seeking more information can visit Addictions and Mental Health Program and the IWK CHOICES Addictions programs.