By Laraine Stumpf
In my first article, I talked about the overwhelming battle of addiction. As a parent whose son has lived through drug addiction and is still fighting these demons, the telltale signs and symptoms of drug use became unquestionably evident when he was quite young.
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of drug abuse can be challenging. A son or daughter may use drugs casually with little or no negative impact to their life or day-to-day routine. On the other hand, drug use causes problems at home, school, and even in relationships especially with family members. The fallout can be devastating, leading to feelings of helplessness, shame, apathy, and a host of other negative feelings. And while much is written about signs and symptoms either online or in other media, nothing is more real than experiencing firsthand the abominable effects of drug addiction of a family member.
So how does a parent identify the signs and symptoms of drug use? At first, it may be difficult to distinguish typical moodiness or uneasiness as a result of drug use. Yet, certain behaviors begin to emerge from your child that are not characteristic that you as a parent observe from day to day. “The shift becomes more about you and your own personal needs, no one else seems to matter, not even your family,” my son remarked.
As a parent, you know your child best, more than his or her friends and classmates. Above all, it is important for a parent to recognize, understand, and communicate with your son or daughter about your concerns. It may be not uncommon for a user to express that “they (drugs) make me feel good and help me forget about all the bad things that happen to me.” Statements of this nature should raise serious concern, and should not be rationalized that drug abuse is not occurring or just a phase of growing up.
At the same time, it is important to note that drug abusers try to hide their symptoms or minimize their problem. A number of physical signs become inherent when a son or daughter abuses drugs. Some signs are bloodshot eyes, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, and sudden weight gain or weight loss. “When I was using, I didn’t care much about how I looked or if my hair was styled any particular way,” mentioned a drug user whose life now seems to be taking a positive turn.
Not only do physical symptoms arise concurrently but behavioral signs begin to show. “I was an honor student during my early years in high school but then I started not to care and all I could think about was getting high. It was almost like an obsession,” recalled a drug user in a support group function I attended recently. It is hard to dispute the observations, but yes, academics do suffer. A child could have been a star student in school but the demons of heroin or other drug use consumed his or her academic promise.
I have also witnessed the behavioral changes in my son. A tablet mysteriously goes missing or some other valuable is no longer in the house because it was used as a means to “pay” for drugs, which exemplifies secretive and suspicious behavior not to mention that a sudden change of “friends” has transpired.
The mental signs and symptoms are equally disturbing. A parent may notice abrupt mood changes, unexplained angry bursts, and hyperactivity. Seeing your child firsthand with feelings of paranoia and fearfulness for no reason adds another agonizing layer to all the signs and symptoms.
When a parent recognizes and identifies the sign and symptoms of drug use, what happens next? Communicate your concerns to your son or daughter. Offer your support and help without rushing to judgment. Be prepared for excuses and expressions of denial. Be mindful to take care of yourself and do not blame yourself. Remember, you as the parent can offer support, but it is a challenge to make an addict change. Your son or daughter has to accept responsibility for his or her actions, which is one pathway to recovery.
Seeking assistance and other forms of intervention is a step toward addressing drug abuse and should not be overlooked. Being “cured” of substance abuse will not happen overnight. Usually recovery can begin at any point during addiction. Offering unconditional love and support is critical. Becoming sober may take time as every person is different, but as their thinking becomes more clear, hopefully the road to recovery becomes a priority in their lives and they decide it is a time for a change—a change with a new beginning and a road map to a constructive, productive lifestyle.
Any questions or comments? Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org