The Opioid Epidemic—How to Recognize Red Flags

By Karl Benzio
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No family is immune from the opioid epidemic, and sadly, teens are one of the fastest growing segments of opioid abusers. This series will help you understand the problem and prevent your family from becoming a statistic.

One of the most heartbreaking things a family can experience is drug abuse and addiction. Watching a child struggle with a drug problem is miserable; watching a child die from drugs is shattering. 

One particular class of drugs has enslaved young people in recent years—opioids. No family is immune, and sadly, teens are one of the fastest growing segments of opioid abusers. 

How do I know if my son/daughter is involved with opioids?

If you have suspicion, you probably have a pretty good reason, even if you can’t put your finger on any one thing that worries you. Be on the lookout for the following red flags. 

Personal Changes

Have you noticed anything different or “off” with your teen lately? Any sudden or dramatic changes in his spiritual walk? Has he stopped going to church?

What about psychological health? Have there been any sudden changes in mood or behavior? Differences in family relationships? With peers? Are good friendships deteriorating? Are there new friendships with shady characters? 

Are interests changing? For example, is she normally concerned about school and grades but suddenly doesn’t care? Is her usual interest in sports suddenly waning? All of these could signal a problem.

Do you see a change in his finances or financial habits? Are his savings dwindling without explanation? Is his money going out to some unknown destination as fast as it comes in?

Note that there are many reasons for changes in youth, so don’t immediately assume the worst. Talk with him about what you’ve noticed, and watch his reaction. Red flags include an unwillingness to discuss, secrecy about the changes, or explanations that don’t add up.

Evidence of Drugs

These may include:

  • Burnt spoons, tiny clear baggies, matches, tin foil wrappers
  • Tan or whitish powdery residue, or traces of dark sticky residue around his or her room
  • Small glass smoking pipes, syringes, needles, needle caps
  • Rubber tubing, small belts or strips of cloth that act as a tourniquet

Missing pill bottles from your medicine cabinet (or reports of missing medicine from relative’s medicine cabinets) are another problematic sign.

Symptoms of Opioid Use and Withdrawal

Be on the lookout for:

  • Acute appearance:
    • Tiny pupils
    • Drowsiness, sleepy eyes
    • Slow breathing
    • Flushed skin
    • Runny nose
  • Acute actions and behaviors:
    • Vomiting
    • Itchiness; scratching
    • Slurred speech
    • Tendency to nod off
    • Constipation or nausea
    • Neglect of grooming
    • Decreased appetite; failure to eat
    • Long sleeves to hide injection sites
  • Chronic indicators:
    • Constipation
    • Weight loss
    • Slow movement or speech
    • Lethargic behavior
    • Lack of motivation
    • Diminished self-care or appearance
    • Cognitive dysfunction with concentration, memory, disorganization
    • Lies, lame excuses, things not adding up, money missing (theirs or yours) 

    Summer is Prime Season

    Summertime often brings disposable income and unstructured time with peers. During summer breaks parents often relax on parental supervision and curfews. Extra time often results in boredom and risky behavior becomes more attractive.

    What do you do if you know your child has a drug issue?

    First of all don’t panic!

    Your initial reaction may be heated—a natural response when your child is doing something dangerous. But you need to manage your “emotional volume” to think clearly. In this state, you can easily say or do things you might later regret.

    Also, don’t start the blame game—with yourself or others. The goal right now is to help find solutions. Looking to lay blame will only make that more difficult.

    Relationship is #1

    Remind yourself that relationship with your child is top priority, despite his behavior. Words or actions that sever the relationship make it more difficult to constructively deal with the problem. Hard as it is, leave communication channels open so your child can ask questions and trust you are his advocate. 

    Really, no parent knows how to deal with drug abuse. Even though you may feel embarrassed, ashamed, angry, and desperate don’t isolate yourself or sweep the problem under the rug. Your emotional pain is important, but your top priority at the moment is to get help for your son or daughter. 

    Don’t Go it Alone—Seek help

    Your pastor or a school counselor can point you to resources relevant to drug abuse. You can also call Focus on the Family (1-800-A-FAMILY) for expert consultation and referrals for resources and further help in your area.

© 2018 by Karl Benzio. Used with permission.


Understand How to Respect and Love your Son Well

Why doesn’t my son listen to me? Have you ever asked that question? The truth is, how you see your son and talk to him has a significant effect on how he thinks and acts. That’s why we want to help you. In fact, we’ve created a free five-part video series called “Recognizing Your Son’s Need for Respect” that will help you understand how showing respect, rather than shaming and badgering, will serve to motivate and guide your son.
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