Published in the Times Villager, August 2015 “I wish I could tell my mom I smoke weed.” “I wish my dad would tell me that he knows I am high all the time-does he           even notice?” “I wish my mom would tell me she knows I am taking her prescription       meds and stop me.” “I wish I could tell my dad I am addicted to heroin. I need help.” When I started capturing messages from teens on the rekenekt graffiti wall six years ago, I rarely saw messages written about drugs. Now, it is common. The evidence of local teen drug use is more noticeable and the drugs of choice more deadly. While some teens boast about their drug use, some feel trapped in addictions and are unable to speak up. Many are crying out for help. Surviving the teen years is difficult. In today’s high-stress, fast-paced world where teens are forced to deal with adult issues, the calming effect of alcohol and drugs can be appealing. Escape and self-medication are listed as the top reasons teens use drugs and alcohol. Peer pressure is another reason teens start using. A fierce desire to fit in often pushes kids who normally would stand against drugs and alcohol to conform to expectations of ‘the cool’ students they perceive as more popular. The average age of experimentation with drugs is 13. Saying no is extremely difficult for teens with low self-esteem and other emotional problems. Curiosity, prompted by online posts and the media sensationalizing the ‘fun’ effects of drugs and alcohol, can be enough to get a bored teen to try drugs for the first time. With more teens spending time alone after school, the majority of drug use is reported between the hours of 3:30 and 7:00 daily. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), there were over 2.8 million new users of illicit drugs in 2013, or about 7,800 new users per day. Over half (54.1 percent) were under 18 years of age. In the annual nationwide Drug Facts Survey, the NIDA says there are reasons to believe drug abuse awareness campaigns are working in our schools. “Use of synthetic marijuana, K12/Spice, and bath salts is down by 2% across all age groups. Use of over the counter inhalants and other readily available formulas like cough syrup is also down by 3%.” Even though this trend seems positive, we cannot ignore the fact that teens in our community are using drugs and alcohol every day. Marijuana use among teens has remained stable, but the numbers are still alarming. Twenty-one percent of high school seniors admit using marijuana regularly. Six percent use it multiple times daily, and 81% report that they have easy access to prescription drugs, marijuana, cocaine and heroin. The prescription drug Adderall is still the most highly abused prescription drug for teens with 6.8% of high school seniors reporting regular usage. Seventy percent of teens report that home medicine cabinets provide easy access to their main source of drugs. Fifty percent of teens believe that using prescription drugs recreationally is safer than taking street drugs. Over 1 million Emergency Room visits annually are for prescription drug related overdoses. Prescription drug misuse account for 45% of fatal drug overdoses, more than methamphetamines, cocaine and heroin combined. Alcohol abuse in our area cannot be ignored. Thirty-seven percent of high school students report alcohol use in the past month. The good news is the disturbing trend of binge drinking among teens has declined from 39% at its peak to only 19% last year. Nineteen percent is still too high. Binge drinking accounts for most teen alcohol related accidents and fatalities. Another trend to be aware of is that traditional cigarette use is down among teens across the nation, but E-cigs and hookah usage has increased to 17% and 23% respectively. Many students report starting E-cig and hookah use with tobacco but then start adding other ingredients to enhance the high. Parents are the best defense for teens at risk for alcohol and drug abuse problems. Do you suspect your teen son or daughter is using drugs or alcohol? Learn the signs of alcohol and other drug abuse and be aware of changes in your teen’s behavior before it gets out of hand. As parents, we must be proactive with our teens about drug and alcohol use and keep lines of communication open. Consider these five action steps and review the warning signs of drug and alcohol abuse to help keep your teen drug and alcohol free. TAKE FIVE ACTION STEPS
  1. Trust your intuition. Most parents suspect their teen is using long before they confront them. Listen to that small voice inside and be courageous enough to follow it up with some hard investigative work. One mom who lost her son to a heroin overdose said she wished she would have snooped more and been bold enough to confront her son while she still had the chance.
  1. Stay informed. There are lots of myths about drug and alcohol abuse. Don’t rely on media or third hand information. Do some research and get the facts for yourself. Understanding the drug and alcohol problems in your community will help you better care for your own son or daughter’s needs especially if they are struggling. It is not a matter of if, but when and how much, your teen will be exposed to drugs and alcohol.
  • Talk with your teen about drugs and alcohol. Try to reconnect with your teen by having a heart to heart talk about drug use. Ask them about drugs in their school, within their friends groups, and even their own usage. Especially if you think it could never happen in your home, the discussion may surprise you. Avoid the temptation to lecture, but rather open up an honest dialogue from a heart that loves them and cares about their well-being.
  • Make a plan. If your teen is at a party or with people who are drinking alcohol or using drugs, give them an out. Let them know they can call you any time for any reason and you will come and pick them up. Teens need parents to protect them. Come up with a code word that will help them save face with their friends and help get them home safely. One simple pro-active plan may mean the difference between life and death for your teen.
  • Get help yourself. Being helpful to a son or daughter who is struggling with drug and alcohol use may depend on how healthy you are yourself. If you have drugs or alcohol in your past, or come from a family that struggled with alcoholism or drug addiction, you may need to get some counseling before you can effectively help your teen. Be honest with your teen about your own history with drugs and alcohol. Knowing your pain and regret may be enough to help deter them.
rekenekt with Trish Propson is a monthly column devoted to raising awareness for families about issues they face and helping them strengthen relationships. Trish Propson is a local author, speaker, and family advocate committed to reconnecting families, one conversation at a time. WARNING SIGNS OF DRUG USE Physical and health warning signs of drug abuse
  • Eyes that are bloodshot or pupils that are smaller or larger than normal.
  • Frequent nosebleeds could be related to snorted drugs (meth or cocaine)
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns.
    • Sudden weight loss or weight gain.
  • Seizures without a history of epilepsy
  • Deterioration in personal grooming or physical appearance.
  • Impaired coordination, injuries/accidents/bruises that they won’t or can’t tell you about-  they don’t know how they got hurt
  • Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing.
  • Shakes, tremors, incoherent or slurred speech, impaired or unstable coordination.
  • Behavioral signs of alcohol or drug abuse
  • Skipping class, declining grades, getting in trouble at school
  • Loss of interest in extracurricular activities, hobbies, sports or exercise-decreased motivation
  • Complaints from teachers or classmates
  • Missing money, valuables, prescription or prescription drugs, borrowing and stealing money
  • Acting isolated, silent, withdrawn, engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors
  • Clashes with family values and beliefs
  • Preoccupation with alcohol and drug-related lifestyle in music, clothing and posters
  • Demanding more privacy, locking doors and avoiding eye contact
  • Sudden change in relationships, friends, favorite hangouts, and hobbies.
  • Frequently getting into trouble (arguments, fights, accidents, illegal activities)
  • Using incense, perfume, air freshener to hide smell of smoke or drugs
  • Using eyedrops to mask bloodshot eyes and dilated pupils.
  • Psychological warning signs of alcohol or drug abuse
  • Unexplained, confusing change in personality and/or attitude.
  • Sudden mood changes, irritability, angry outbursts or laughing at nothing.
  • Periods of unusual hyperactivity or agitation.
  • Lack of motivation; inability to focus, appears lethargic or “spaced out.”
  • Appears fearful, withdrawn, anxious, or paranoid, with no apparent reason.
Used with permission from: National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. Phone: 212-269-7797 | Fax 212-269-7510 • HOPE LINE: 800 NCACALL (24 hour Affiliate referral)