Indepth – Drugs and your kids
“YOU HAVE EVERY RIGHT TO TEST YOUR CHILD IF YOU NOTICE ANYTHING SUSPICIOUS.”
says Myers. “So this is a period of experimentation with who you are: new clothes, hairstyles, lifestyles... and this might include experimentation with alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Many people outgrow this as part of normal development. The problem is that if this experimentation involves risky use or dangerous drugs, there may be many unanticipated consequences – including addiction.”
What every parent wants to know, of course, is how to tell if your child is experimenting with drugs. Teens can be naturally uncommunicative and secretive, so short of finding actual drugs or associated paraphernalia in their possession, it can be difficult to tell if their behaviour is a side effect of ordinary teenage angst or signs of substance abuse. “Parents need to know what they’re dealing with when it comes to drugs,” says Karassellos. “Children who’re usually honest and open tend to be quite dishonest and secretive about drugs. We encounter many situations where parents noticed warning signs two years ago, say, and since then it’s become a lot worse.”
If you’re suspicious, Karassellos urges you not to hesitate, but to find out definitively if your child is using a harmful substance: get them tested. “Parents need to be aware that they have a right to know what’s going on in their home. Their children are living under their roof, they’re still minors. You have every right to test your child if you notice anything suspicious, just to be sure.
“Teenagers can experience depression. If you’re not sure, you need to rule out drugs by having your child screened via a drug test to make sure that’s not what’s causing them to behave differently. Even if drugs aren’t a factor, your child might still need counselling.” Addiction is a progressive illness. It starts at a certain point – a point that may not feel serious to you at the time. For example, your child smokes dagga occasionally. Even if they’re only ‘experimenting’ and do not appear to be dependent on the drug, they may still be on their way to dependency, and you have every reason to be concerned about it.
Addressing teen drug use at an early stage is your best-case scenario. “Rather get it out in the open and address it,” says Karassellos. “There’s a public misconception that getting help means ‘in-patient treatment’ such as packing your kid off to a rehabilitation centre — but we prefer to work on an outpatient basis, and a lot of good work can be done this way.”
You can have your child screened at most drug centres; it’s a simple, quick procedure that’ll tell you what you need to know. If the test comes back positive, you can at least begin to treat the problem. If it’s negative, there may be another problem that requires attention.