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Kids & Alcohol - Part II

December 01, 2012

How do we know whether our youngsters have become involved in the abuse of substances? Here are some signs to look for:

  • an unexpected drop in academic grades or school attendance
  • a change in friendships, especially new friends they're reluctant for you to meet
  • isolating themselves in their rooms
  • a loss of interest in previous activities
  • uncharacteristic outbursts of temper or mood changes
  • memory lapses or poor concentration
  • stealing cash or possessions
  • uncharacteristic secretiveness or deception

These signs don't only point to substance use; some of them are symptoms of depression or other conditions. How can parents determine "what's going on?" It starts with conversation. Say: "I've noticed changes in your behavior lately that concern me. I want to understand what's going on." Hang in patiently, without anger, if your son or daughter begins with little or nothing to say. Prompt with gentle questions and comments. "I know a lot of young people experiment with alcohol and drugs. Some of your friends might be doing some drinking. What have you noticed?" Or, "If you're like a lot of kids, you're probably curious about drinking or drug use. Maybe you've even tried something already. Let's talk about your experiences up to now." Or, "I remember what it was like when I started thinking about drinking or drug use. It was complicated for me, and I'd like to tell you about it. Can we talk?"

If you hit a solid wall and your son or daughter shuts you out, offer a rain check and then collect on the rain check in a day or two. In the meantime, do your best to show a patient and relaxed approach to the topic. The more your child identifies that you're angry or upset, the less likely he or she will be to disclose what's going on — to participate in honest conversation. is a helpful resource with many concrete suggestions for ways to engage children — at all ages — in conversations about alcohol and drug use.

When signs of substance use persist for more than a week or two, consider consulting with a counselor experienced in this area. You'll be glad you addressed the situation sooner rather than later.