Prison Me No Way - Jersey

Can a parent tell if their child is using drugs?

As a parent you will want to know if your youngster is using drugs.

What should you be looking out for? One indication could be to find drugs or drug paraphernalia.

Beware, the same drug can come in many different forms and many illegal drugs look like many tablets or powders, which you can find in any kitchen or bathroom. You could jump to the wrong conclusion and think your youngster is using drugs when they may not be.

There are also lists of signs and symptoms that have been put together to try to help parents know what changes in behavior or appearance to look out for in their youngsters. You could look through these lists, keep an eye on your youngsters and spot the telltale signs of drug use. Unfortunately, it is not always that easy as all of the following signs can occur in the absence of drug use - after all, teenagers are teenagers!
 

Signs and symptoms

Warning signs in individuals:

  • Decline in performance in schoolwork or youth club activities.
  • Changes in attendance and being unwilling to take part in school or youth club group activities.
  • Unusual outbreaks of temper, marked swings of moods, restlessness or irritability.
  • More time being spent away from home, possibly with new friends or with friends in older age groups.
  • Excessive spending or borrowing of money.
  • Stealing money or goods.
  • Excessive tiredness without obvious cause.
  • No interest in physical appearance.
  • Sores or rashes, especially on the mouth or nose.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Blood shot eyes.
  • Wearing sunglasses at inappropriate times (to hide dilated or constricted pupils).
  • Use of drug takers' slang.
  • Being the subject of rumors about drug taking.
  • Having friends who use drugs.

Many of the listed signs and symptoms are normal aspects of adolescent
behavior all of them could be because of things other than drug use. Most of the time, using a drug does not result in clear signs and symptoms unless you happen to be with the user while they are actually intoxicated. Think about alcohol for a moment. You cannot tell if someone uses alcohol just by looking at them. Perhaps you could smell alcohol on their breath if they had just had a drink. Maybe if they were a really heavy drinker they might have a red face. But most of the time you wouldn't be able to tell. It's just the same with other drugs. The lists of signs and symptoms usually apply to the very heavy and chaotic users. These are only a small minority - most young people use drugs occasionally and do not fall into this category.

Drug effects are complex. The same drug can produce different effects in different people. The same drug can even produce different effects in the same person at different times. So predicting drug use by trying to spot its effects is an unreliable business.

What if you get it wrong? Young people will resent being accused of things they have not done. The 'signs' may be nothing more than unconfirmed rumors and your worst imagination.

There are parallels here with the previous section on drug recognition, and in both cases there is no substitute for talking and listening to your youngsters. If you think they are behaving oddly and are worried about the possibility of drug use, say so. Tell them about your concerns. Listen carefully to what they have to say. The key is communication with your youngster. Parents and youngsters talking can break through the mystique of drug use. Lists of signs and symptoms have only a very limited value in helping that communication process.

 Source: A Parent's Guide to Drugs, Jersey Health Promotion Department
 

What to do if you really suspect your child may be using drugs

The first principle is to keep calm and check your facts.

Are you sure?

Have a look at 'Can a parent tell if their child is using drugs'. Remember it is important to communicate with your youngster, rather than just trying to spot the 'hidden signs and symptoms'. Likewise, if you have found a suspicious substance or object, look at the 'Different Drugs' section in this Guide, but take care not to jump to the wrong conclusion.

You will also need to inform yourself about drugs and their use. If you rush straight off to tell your youngster about the horrors of drug use you could find yourself in the uncomfortable situation of realizing that they know more about it than you do.

Try not to give in to the fear or anger Instead, give yourself time to think and to keep calm. Create some space and time for yourself. What is it that really demands an instant response? Of course, if there is a youngster flat out on the floor, then swift action is certainly needed (See A Survivor's Guide - Basic First Aid). Most other situations can wait a bit while you get your own thoughts sorted out.

 Source: A Parent's Guide to Drugs, Jersey Health Promotion Department

 
What to do if you find illegal drugs in the house

Discuss what you have found and decide together what to do, which should include your child immediately disposing of the drug which you are legally entitled to do.

Call a drug help and support agency for further advice and guidance

Source: A Parent's Guide to Drugs, Jersey Health Promotion Department
 

 What to do if your youngster comes home stoned, high or drunk

Keep calm is the first advice. If you do feel angry, try to manage the way you react. Anger is a natural response, but it can make things worse. Try to respond at a practical level. Are they flat out or just woozy? If they are having difficulty staying awake, don't let them 'sleep it off'. They may be in danger of a potentially fatal overdose or choking on their vomit - even on alcohol. If they are agitated or disorientated, try to calm them down.

If they literally pass out and you cannot rouse them, you must put them into the recovery position and call an ambulance. Tel: 999. While waiting for it to arrive, monitor their breathing. Use mouth-to-mouth resuscitation if uncertain, but whatever you do, keep an air supply going.

Leave discussion about the rights and wrongs of the situation until the following day. You will be calmer and they will be sober. You will just be wasting your time trying to have a rational discussion with someone who is stoned or drunk.

The day after is the time to discuss rules for living together. You have the right not to have your home regularly disrupted by drunken or stoned behavior. Fortunately, it is only a small minority of young people who will use frequently in this way.

Source: A Parent's Guide to Drugs, Jersey Health Promotion Department
 

What to do if your youngster is using drugs and does not see any harm in it

This can be very difficult to cope with. Despite your best efforts your youngster starts to use drugs. They enjoy it and if you tell them not to they ignore you. They think you know next to nothing about drugs and they may be right. It is hard work being a parent. It can be really stressful just having a young person growing up beside you in your home. They see the world through their eyes not yours, whatever you do or say. Sometimes even when they are completely wrong they have to learn for themselves and make their own mistakes. There is no way they are going to do something - or not do something - just on your say so.

If they literally pass out and you cannot rouse them, you must put them into the recovery position and call an ambulance. Tel: 999. While waiting for it to arrive, monitor their breathing. Use mouth-to-mouth resuscitation if uncertain, but whatever you do, keep an air supply going.

Leave discussion about the rights and wrongs of the situation until the following day. You will be calmer and they will be sober. You will just be wasting your time trying to have a rational discussion with someone who is stoned or drunk.

The day after is the time to discuss rules for living together. You have the right not to have your home regularly disrupted by drunken or stoned behavior. Fortunately, it is only a small minority of young people who will use frequently in this way.

It can be terribly frustrating to have to sit on the sidelines whilst someone you love is putting himself or herself at risk - deliberately, it seems. Yet, if we are honest, weren't we just like that when we were younger? Most of us have engaged in life threatening or at least health compromising behaviors at some point in our lives.

Youngsters are in such a hurry to consume the world and all its pleasures that they have no time to take care of themselves the way we want them to.

Ask them to describe to what it is they are getting out of their drug use. Make it clear to them that you want to try to understand it from their point of view.

You will need to set clear rules if the drugs are being used in your home. For example, you could be liable under the Misuse of Drugs (Jersey) Law if you
permit or tolerate the smoking of cannabis in your home.

Depending on the drugs your youngster is using and their methods of use, you might want to check out if they are using in the least harmful way possible. A harm reduction approach is the one most often used by drug agencies. They will work with a client to identify the most serious risks and make sure that the client knows how to reduce them.

It should also be stressed that in most cases the use of drugs will be recreational. By far the largest numbers of drug users today are those using drugs like alcohol, cannabis, LSD, amphetamines and ecstasy on nights out, at parties, in clubs and so on. Most of these users will take good care of each other and themselves and come to no immediate harm. This is not to say that long-term damage may not result but this tends to occur with repeated and heavy use.

Finally, don't close the door on further discussion with your youngster even if you cannot see eye to eye with them. Leave them with the understanding that you will always be ready to talk to them again. One of the big problems with drug use is that it can undermine communication between young people and their parents. Points of view are often different, but that doesn't mean that you cannot keep talking. 

Source: A Parent's Guide to Drugs, Jersey Health Promotion Department
 

Get some support

You don't have to tackle these problems on your own. Is there another family member or close friend with whom you can talk these things through? Be careful to pick out the most levelheaded person you know. The last thing you need is being wound up by someone even more scared of the situation than you are.

There are a wide range of agencies offering free, confidential advice and support. These can be found on the Drug Helplines page: http://www.pmnwjersey.com/documents/Drugs_Helplines

For more detailed information, A Directory to Drug Help and Support' is available free from the Jersey Health Promotion Department, Tel: 716010

'My advice to parents if they suspect but aren't sure is don't jump in
with both feet. Think about it first. Talk it through with someone else first. 
Think carefully about exactly what you are going to say and carefully
choose when to do it. Don't let it get out of hand.'- Counselor

Source: A Parent's Guide to Drugs, Jersey Health Promotion Department