What Parents Need to Know About Teenage Drug Use

Teenagers are plagued by mood swings and often exhibit erratic behavior. It’s difficult to know if the mood swings might be due to teenage drug use.

Studies confirm that teens who have discussed drugs with their parents are 50% less likely to abuse them than kids whose parents skip the subject. Heroin, cocaine, speed (methamphetamine) and marijuana remain staples, but there are new kids in Drug City.

Weekends may be kick-started by the drug Molly, part of the fastest-emerging drug problem in the U.S. — synthetic drugs. If you are the parent of a teenager, you probably completed high school or college in the 90s. If you partied, it was alcohol, pot and maybe the occasional hit of Ecstasy (MDMA) — a euphoria-producing marriage of a stimulant with a hallucinogen.

Ecstasy is the precursor of today’s synthetic drugs. Molly is alleged to be a “pure” version of Ecstasy, or MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine) — which, in your day, was cut with various chemicals. In fact, Molly is almost never “pure” and often contains no MDMA. Chemical components come from laboratories in China and are sold online. Middlemen in the U.S. process the final product — usually a capsule or powder, embellished by a cartoon character’s image. This is because the target market is kids, age 12 – 17.

Molly makes interacting with people easy. Wired highs followed by severe depression signals Molly use.

Synthetic drugs 101: especially insidious as most adults are unaware of their existence.

The rush to create synthetic substances which mirror drugs kids favor is led by Molly.

  • 2C-E or Europa — a hallucinogen said to create a high that copies a mixture of LSD and psilocybin (mushrooms).
  • K2 or Spice — synthetic marijuana. A combination of herbs laced with synthetic cannabinoids, Spice is much more powerful than pot and remains in the body longer.
  • Bath salts — a powder containing MDPV, an unregulated stimulant. Sold in foil packets.

All of these concoctions are now banned in the U.S. (although as quickly as the FDA bans one, its replacement surfaces), but readily available via the internet, at head shops and from street dealers.

Colleen’s daughter Lauren was also close to Howard, who lived up the street. Howard was an outstanding athlete. He wanted to play football for the high school team, but was just too small. He tried wrestling, where weight classes rendered size irrelevant, and took to it immediately. He just needed to get a little stronger. At the local gym where he lifted weights, he met Joey, a competitive body-builder. Joey was huge. Sensing Howard’s awe, Joey shared his dirty little secret: anabolic steroids.

Synthetic variants of testosterone, steroids have legitimate medical uses. They also increase muscle mass, and improve athletic performance — exactly what Howard was after. As he grew bigger and stronger (and won match after match), his temperament changed. Once a sweetie, he became moody, aggressive and angry. Afraid of losing his edge, he wouldn’t stop using. Steroids live in the world of legal drugs kids abuse.

Legal but lethal: these drugs may be in your medicine cabinet or under the sink.

  • Pharmaceuticals — primarily the pain killers OxyCotin, Vicodin and Percoset. These medications are Opioids — extremely addicting. Most kids discover their potentially euphoric effect by trying a pill found in your medicine cabinet. Their abuse among American teenagers is epidemic.
  • Cough syrup — (Purple Drank, Sizzurp, Lean). Large quantities of prescription-strength cough syrup mixed with soda produce euphoria. The antihistamine included in the formula acts as a relaxing sedative.
  • Over-the-counter cold medicines and cough syrup — the menace here is dextromethorphan (DXM).

Taken in excess, DXM produces a high. Because it’s cheap, easy to get, legal and present in almost half of the OTC drugs sold in the U.S., it’s more popular among teens than cocaine, Molly, LSD and meth.  (Because DXM is an ingredient in home-cooked methamphetamine, many drug stores have opted to keep certain DXM-containing medications behind their counters — not much of a deterrent.)

  • Inhalants — these volatile substances found in most households produce a short-lived but very addicting high when sniffed or “huffed”. Included in this category are oven cleaners, spray paint and other aerosols, gasoline, glue, shoe polish and lighter fluid. Extremely toxic, even a single sniffing can cause sudden death.

OK, what if? The signs of teen drug abuse are remarkably similar, regardless of the drug of choice:

  • Grades — drug abuse can put a straight-A student on the verge of flunking out. Fortunately, scholastic signs are usually less dramatic: late assignments, not participating in class or skipping class altogether.
  • Friends — Abandoning long-term friends is a bad sign, as is cultivating new, perhaps unsavory ones.
  • Mood — mood swings are cause for concern, along with reduction of “family time”.
  • Appearance — you may notice less concern for hygiene or even a radical style change — maybe switching from preppy to goth.
  • Eating — don’t ignore any changes in weight.
  • Sleep — take note of any change in your teen’s normal sleep pattern.
  • Secretiveness — has your teen become uncomfortable with queries about his whereabouts or shown clear concern when you are near his belongings? Maybe he’s declared his bedroom “off limits”.
  • Sickness — particularly frequent requests for cough or cold medications, but also frequent head or stomache aches and complaints of “exhaustion”. (Always rule out true ailments first.)
  • Hidden trash — check the waste baskets. Look for empty foil packets from bath salts, old tubes of glue or cold medicine packaging.

OK, and if? Even one sign indicates it’s time to talk:

  • Simple and gentle are your tools. Disregard the methodology filmed for the TV show, “Intervention”. Keep it simple and be gentle.
  • Choose the right moment: make sure you are neither angry nor panicky and your teen is not high.
  • Reassure your child: you love him and are only concerned for his well being.
  • Explain any signs or changes that have concerned you.
  • Listen carefully and without interruption.
  • Enlist support if necessary: another family member, a guidance counselor, his physician.
    Know the slang — the internet is your best source. Your teen will likely use drug slang on the phone, thinking you won’t “get it”. Compare notes with other parents.
  • Learn all you can about signs and symptoms. Never give up. Should a drug problem escalate, there is an endless stream of help out there. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America is a wonderful resource.