It gives you the heebie-jeebies. 

These kids whose brains aren’t even fully developed are pouring God knows what into them, doing God knows what damage. It’s why you see so many bald and grey-haired addictions counselors. And parents — don’t forget the parents.

But if you are a kid and someone offers you a “totally man, totally harmless” way to get high and you believe you’re bulletproof, you’d take it. Even if it’s called cheese, and you hate cheese.

Kids don’t take drugs ‘cause they’re stupid. They take them ‘cause they’re there. If if you feel immortal, what harm can they do?

Teen drug use has been called the No. 1 health problem in the country. Nine out of 10 of today’s 2.9 million New York state adult addicts and alcoholics say they started using before the age of 18. So says the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. So what’s a parent to do?

First off, it’s been my experience that it helps to be a shining example of moderation. If you reach for a drug to go to sleep, to wake up, to chase away minor aches and pains, your kids can get the message that drugs are the cure-all. If you smoke and get drunk a lot - well, there you go.

Secondly, who are they hanging with? Do you know their friend’s values? Invite them over for movie night and check them out. Who is your child texting? Who are his or her friends on Facebook? Who are his or her heroes? You just have to know this stuff to know your kid.

Other good stuff that helps is going to a church or synagogue, and community activities. Stay in touch with their teachers and coaches. Give them a chance with your guidance to make choices that include evaluating risks and making decisions that have long-term consequences.

Discuss the dangers of drug use with them. But don’t lie or exaggerate. Let them know your expectations and what the family values are. Kids want to be good. They want to please those they love. Keep communication wide open.

Remember, the frontal lobes that control children’s impulses, decision-making and judgment don’t develop fully until their late 20s. 

Watch for common signs and symptoms of drug use. These can include sudden negative reports at school, a drop in grades, loss of interest in school activities, mood swings, unusual eating or sleeping patterns, unusual laughing and silliness, sudden carelessness about hygiene, slurred speech, red face or whites of the eyes, pinpoint pupils, an odor of smoke or chemicals, runny nose, paint stains on the face or clothes, and more.

Watch for missing household items, such as money, spray cans, alcohol, tobacco, your prescription or over-the-counter drugs, or valuables that could be sold or traded.

If you suspect your teen is using, ask them in a quiet and compassionate way. They may immediately deny it and that may be the truth, but you can also say, “Well, I see you have lost weight and aren’t sleeping much, and I want you to know I love you and are concerned. This isn’t about punishment, it’s about caring.”

If they say, “Well, OK, but just a little bit. I’m not a druggie or anything,” you can go from there. Using doesn’t equate to immediate in-patient rehab. It may mean finding some outside help, such as an addictions specialist, a school counselor, the coach or a spiritual leader, a knowledgeable and trusted grandparent or a family doctor, many of whom are trained in this area today. My doctor always asks what the kids in our area are using now, to stay on top of this. Great doc.

Most of our local pharmacies now carry urine screen tests. In my experience, this is a last resort, as it can damage trust. But better trust lost than the child.

If it looks like they’re heading into the danger zone, as opposed to trying something just once, it’s time for a pro. Remind yourself that drug use can and does kill. So check the Yellow Pages online or in the phone book under “addiction treatment.”

Note: This is part one of a two-part column on kids and drug use. The next column is current drugs they are using. Oh yeah, and “cheese” is a heroin derivative the kids are smoking. 


Liz Barnes has been a credentialed alcoholism and substance abuse counselor for more than 25 years. She lives in Cayuga County with her family. This column is not meant as medical advice. For that, see your health professional. Got a question about alcohol or drugs? Ask away. Comment on this column online at www.auburnpub.com, or send them to The Citizen, 25 Dill St., Auburn, N.Y. 13021, care of “Addictions/Abuse.”

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