Battling Drug and Alcohol Abuse

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Woman finishing a bottle of wine
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.

This column was adapted from Complete Book of Baby and Child Care, published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 1999 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.

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