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Battling Drug and Alcohol Abuse

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Woman sitting hunched over with a glass of red wine, looking contemplatively at the empty bottle beside her
Learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of drug and alcohol abuse.

Stage One: Experimentation

  • Use is occasional, sporadic, often unplanned — weekends, summer nights, someone’s unsupervised party.
  • Use is precipitated by peer pressure, curiosity, thrill seeking, desire to look and feel grown-up.
  • Gateway drugs are usually used — cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, possibly inhalant abuse.
  • A drug high is easier to experience because tolerance has not been developed.

Parents may notice:

  • Tobacco or alcohol on the breath or intoxicated behavior.
  • Little change in normal behavior between episodes of drug use.

Stage Two: Regular Drug and/or Alcohol Use

  • Alcohol and other drugs are used not only on weekends but also on weekdays, not only with friends but when alone.
  • Quantities of alcohol and drugs increase as tolerance develops; hangovers become more common.
  • Blackouts may occur — periods of time in which drugs or alcohol prevent normal memories from forming “What happened last night?” becomes a frequent question.
  • More time and attention are focused on when the next experience will occur.
  • Fellow drinkers/drug users become preferred companions.

Parents may notice:

  • Son or daughter will be out of the house later at night, overnight, or all weekend.
  • School performance worsens-unexplained school absences.
  • Outside activities such as sports are dropped.
  • Decreased contact with friends who don’t use drugs.
  • Disappearance of money or other valuables.
  • Child withdraws from the family, is increasingly sullen and hostile.
  • User is caught in one or many lies.

Stage Three: In the Mire of Addiction

  • Alcohol and drugs become primary focus of attention.
  • Becoming high is a daily event.
  • There is a use of harder, more dangerous drugs.
  • More money is spent each week on drugs: theft or dealing may become part of drug-seeking behavior.
  • Adolescent displays increasing social isolation; no contact with non-drug-using friends; more drug use in isolation rather than socially.

Parents may notice the behaviors listed above, plus:

  • Escalation of conflicts at home.
  • Loss of nearly all control of the adolescent.
  • Possible discovery of a stash of drugs at home.
  • Arrest(s) for possession of and/or dealing drugs or for driving while intoxicated.

Stage Four: Drowning in Addiction

  • Constant state of intoxication; being high is routine, even at school or job (if there is any attendance at all.
  • Blackouts increase in frequency.
  • Physical appearance deteriorates — weight loss, infections, poor self-care. Injectable drugs are possibly used.
  • Involvement in casual sexual relationships (at times in exchange for drugs). User will likely be involved with theft, dealing, and other criminal activity.
  • Guilt, self-hatred, and thoughts of suicide increase.
  • Adolescent abandons any apparent interest in spiritual matters.

Parents are likely to be dealing with:

  • Complete loss of control of adolescent’s behavior, escalation of conflict, possibly to the point of violence.
  • Ongoing denial by user that drugs are a problem.
  • Increasing problems with the law and time spent with police, attorneys, hearings, court officials, etc.
  • Other siblings negatively affected because the family is preoccupied or overwhelmed by consequences of drug user’s behavior.

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