Children And Substance Abuse
Children And Substance Abuse
Charles Sophy (Private Practice in Adult, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry) gives expert video advice on: How can I deter my child from trying substances?; What are signs that my child is experimenting with substances?; What do I do if I suspect my child is experimenting with substances? and more...
What is "substance abuse"?
Substance abuse, again, has specific criteria. There's substance use and substance abuse. Depending on the amounts and the frequency and the deficits in your life that it takes, whether it's from work or from school -- functioning and sleeping and eating – will depend on whether you fall in the criteria of a disorder. But it is the use of alcohol, it is the use of drugs – elicit drugs, street drugs – that a child or an individual has decided to do, and it then starts to derail their life. Substances that are commonly abused by children are the ones that they can readily get their hands on: alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, oftentimes heroin, depending on the age of the child, the school environment or the community with which they live in.
At what age is my child likely to experiment with substances?
Children, adolescents are individuals as we are and they are expected to experiment and rebel and do all the kinds of things that we did. Typically around the ages of 12 to 15 is when you'll start to see that start to rumble and they will start to experiment. Whether it's sexually or it's with drugs or substances or just pushing back somehow to send a message to their parents that, "I'm going to separate and individuate soon and I've got to fight through this in order to give myself a reason to go. Often times they'll feel feelings they don't want to feel and that's what the use of substances will do. It's self medication. So around 12 to 15 is really when you have to start to keep your eyes open.
At what age should I discuss substance abuse with my child?
The age to start to discuss substance abuse and substance use with your child will be dictated by your family, cultural beliefs, your values, what your community is doing, the peers that your child is hanging out with and what the school is doing within their programming. You'll see all of those pieces should fit together to give you a signal, as well as the behavior of your child and the individuality of your child will dictate that. You'll see, if your child is kind of savvy, you may want to discuss substance abuse earlier than later. If your child is kind of not up to speed necessarily on the "cool" things, you might want to wait and see regarding the discussion on substance abuse. It all depends on a case by case basis.
What are signs that my child is experimenting with substances?
Signs that your child may be experiencing substances will come in the format of changes in patterns that you've noticed: sleeping may be changed, eating may be changed, school functioning may be changed. But the definite key that you want to look for signs of experiences with substances is the peer group change. You may see that the kids that they used to hang out with, that are sporting and hanging out and watching movies has shifted and now they're with other kids that do different things. You may not know what they're doing so that's the time to really kind of get in there and see what's going on.
What do I do if I suspect my child is experimenting with substances?
If you suspect that your child is abusing substances, the best thing to do is to start with an open and honest and safe discussion with your child. Allow them to be able to tell you how they feel. Yes, they're doing it. No, they're doing it. Whether you believe them or not, allow them that space. The worst thing you can do is to not believe them, under mind them and have them get angrier and more distrustful of you. The other thing that you really don't want to do is to go snooping around if you don't have to, digging through their room, digging through their book bag or their car. Allow them to be part of that process so that they feel that you respect them as an adult or a human being and that you want to know because you love them and care about them and want them to be part of that process rather than "I don't trust you and I am going to do it when you are not looking."