In­depth – Drugs and your kids

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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.

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