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Teens & Substance Abuse: How to Handle Your Suspicions

Maybe you were doing the laundry and found cigarette rolling papers in the pocket of your son's jeans. Maybe you think your daughter isn't being honest about where she hangs out on Friday nights.

Many parents have experienced moments like these, but does it mean your teenager has a substance abuse problem? How can you learn the truth without pushing your child away? More importantly, what can you do to make sure your adolescent doesn't develop an addiction?

We asked the clinical staff at the Dual Diagnosis Clinic at Riley at IU Health what tips they give to parents who suspect their child is using drugs or alcohol. Below is what they recommend.

Look for Warning Signs of Use or Addiction

Symptoms of alcohol or drug use or addiction tend to be gradual, so it will take time to see them in your teen. Don't jump to conclusions on first suspicion, but do investigate the issue as fully as possible. If you're intuition tells you there is a problem, trust it. However, be aware that many of the symptoms for teenage drug use are the same as those for depression or the normal ups and downs of adolescence. There's also a possibility the symptoms are related to a physical or emotional problem.

Talk to Your Teen

Talk to your child about alcohol and drug abuse without going on the attack. Don't have this talk if he or she seems under the influence. Wait until they are sober and calm and then explain that you are worried about their behavior. Don't do all the talking; give them the chance to explain their behavior.

Get Help From a Professional

Ask your family doctor, a mental health professional or a substance abuse counselor for help if your teen seems evasive or if his or her explanations are not convincing. They will help you rule out physical or mental illness. If your child is using, a healthcare professional skilled in diagnosing adolescent alcohol or drug abuse will recommend the best addiction intervention program for your teen's needs. Types of programs available include self-help, outpatient, inpatient and 24-hour hospitalization.

Get Your Family the Help it Needs

Personal or family counseling will help address issues in the home that could be connected to your child's drug or alcohol problem, and it can teach your family better ways to communicate. The ENCOMPASS program at the Dual Diagnosis Clinic at Riley at IU Health allows adolescents to receive the help they need while also offering at least four parental-support sessions with a separate psychologist.

In addition to these tips, the staff at the Dual Diagnosis Clinic also recommends the Parent Toolkit, an online resource provided by Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

If your child is struggling with substance use or addiction, we can help. Visit the Psychiatry Dual Diagnosis Clinic to learn more about our program or call us at 317.948.3481.

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