Identifying Your Child’s Drug Use & Taking Action

February 26, 2016 3:14 pm Published by 1 Comment

When my oldest son was well into his recovery from his heroin addiction we were able to have some frank discussions as to what his mother and I might have missed. We also discussed what parents should do and not do when they suspect drug use by their child. The following list was put together as part of a program my son and I created called “To Help A Child”.


 Physical Signs

  • Drastic weight changes – up or down
  • Changes in eating habits – amounts, items, times
  • Inconsistent sleeping habits
  • Stomach issues – vomiting, nausea, general pain
    • Common with opioids as they are known to erode the stomach lining
    • Common sign of withdrawal from use
  • Balance and coordination issues
  • Smells – it is more obvious with marijuana and alcohol and less obvious with pills, cocaine and heroin
  • Lack of attention to personal hygiene
  • Clenching jaws or chewing – common with stimulants (cocaine, Adderal) or ecstacy
  • Lethargy – common with downers (Rx painkillers – Oxycontin or Norco, anti-anxiety medications (benzodiazepines – Xanax, Klonopin)
  • Change in speech patterns – words used, rapid or slurred speech
  • Forgetfulness and memory deficits – short term or long term
  • Mood swings
  • Physical pains and aches – for opioid use it is common to develop back and joint pain
  • Needle marks/track marks on arms, hands legs and neck (or any area of the body where a vein can be accessed)
  • Pupils – enlarged pupils are a sign of ecstacy or MDMA use; tiny/pin prick pupils are a sign of opioid use

Situational and Behavioral Signs

  • Top of the list: spending money has increased – growth can be consistent or drastic 
  • Valuable items and money missing from home of friends/family
  • New types of drugs or items show up
  • Changes in grades, cutting classes, truancy, missing tests and homework assignments, missing school activities
  • Changes in friends
    • Hanging out with new people/group
    • Distancing him/herself from old or long-term friends
    • Unwillingness to have you meet and get to know new friends
  • Lying
  • Loss of job or dismissal from other activities (being kicked off a sports team or club)
  • Car accidents
  • Minor arrests
  • Having friends who are in substance abuse treatment programs
  • Complaints of bullying
  • Feeling like he/she does not fit in
  • Doctor prescribed medications taken for mental health issues are no longer working


  • Don’t panic
  • Don’t over-question
  • Do not yell at them! Express concern and love from a place of compassion not aggression!
  • Keep an open dialogue with your child
  • Don’t continually search their room. It is a waste of time! You won’t find what they don’t want you to find.
  • Don’t violate their privacy by hacking onto their personal online pages – this will result in distrust and disrupt any change of an open dialogue
  • Never question their friends or your friends


  • Punishment does not work – they may need professional help and they definitely need your support
  • Inform school counselors of your concerns and ask their advice
  • Reach out to a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who is experienced in adolescent mental health and addiction counseling
  • Offer unconditional help including counseling or treatment 
  • Keep home drug tests available
  • Never give them cash. If they need food or clothes, buy it for them.
  • If it turns out your child is not using drugs, don’t be afraid to admit you were wrong
  • Get help for yourself and other family members by attending a local support group 
  • Do not care about what other people might think – it is your issue to deal with

I am grateful that my son and I have been able to talk so openly so that hopefully we can help another family. If you have any questions or need support, I am always here to provide it. 

Stuart Kessler, father of a person in recovery
Buffalo Grove, IL
Email: [email protected]


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1 Comment

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