Sometimes it seems like every kid in American has either tried drugs, is using them now, or knows someone who is using them. At Westchester Health, we get it. We’re parents too, and we want you to know that we’re on your side and will do everything we can to help your child avoid these substances and instead, make smart, healthy choices, now and throughout their lives. The first step? Read this very insightful blog by Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician with our Westchester Health Pediatrics group (excerpted below). There is also helpful information and advice specifically for teens on the WHP website which you can access here.
As a parent, you have a major impact on your child’s decision not to use drugs.
In fact, parents are the strongest influence a child can have. There is no guarantee that your child won’t use drugs, but drug use is much less likely to happen if you talk with him/her about the dangers of drugs and how—and why—not to use them.
Listening to your child is also vitally important. Your child has a lot to say and probably knows more about drugs than you think. Above all, open, honest and frequent dialogue is key to helping your child avoid drugs, especially in his/her adolescent, teen and young adult years.
At Westchester Health, we also play a part in helping your child avoid, or stop, using drugs. Because we believe so strongly that a trusting patient-physician relationship is crucial for healthy behavior, we will take as much time as is necessary to work through all the drug-related issues facing your child, and together with you, find solutions.
Facts about teen alcohol use
Adolescents who drink usually start with beer, wine or flavored malt alcohol (a sweet-tasting blend of alcohol and carbonated fruit juice). Because every child’s height, weight, metabolism and physical build is different, it’s hard to say how much alcohol it takes for your child to get drunk. Nevertheless, the legal definition of drunkenness is a person’s blood alcohol concentration, or BAC. All 50 states except Utah define a BAC of 0.08 percent as the legal limit for driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while impaired (DWI).
Signs of alcohol use
- Slurred speech
- Impaired judgment and motor skills
- Poor coordination
- Tremors, shaking
- Agitation, combative behavior
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight gain
- False i.d. card
- Smell of alcohol on breath
Possible long-term effects
- Blackouts and memory loss
- Vitamin deficiencies, malnutrition
- Suppression of the immune system, which leaves a person open to infectious diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis
- Hormonal deficiencies, sexual dysfunction, infertility
- Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
- Alcoholic hepatitis
- Alcoholic cirrhosis
- Cardiovascular disease and stroke
- Alcohol-withdrawal delirium, or delirium tremens
- Car accidents
- Unwanted pregnancy
Facts about teen marijuana use
Similar to alcohol, kids who smoke marijuana can easily lose control and become addicted. They often perform poorly in school or sports, lose interest in hobbies, and develop relationship problems with family and friends. As with alcohol, the younger a person starts smoking marijuana, the more likely they will become addicted.
Signs of marijuana use
- Spends less time with family and friends and more time alone or away from home
- Often seems moody or irritable
- Skips classes, often shows up late for school, has a drop in grades
- Likes t-shirts with pro-marijuana messages or symbols
- Loses interest in hobbies
- Comes home high (talkative, giggly, red- or glassy-eyed) and goes straight to their room
- Smells of marijuana
- Possesses drugs or drug paraphernalia
What you can do
- Set high expectations and clear limits
- Instill strong values. Let your child know that you expect him/her not to use drugs.
- Talk with your child, starting at an early age, about the dangers of drug use, including marijuana
- Do not lecture or do all the talking.
- Use teachable moments, like car accidents and other tragedies that are caused by drug use
- Help your child handle peer pressure
- Help your child find positive interests that build self-esteem
- Help your child deal with emotions, especially during the teen years
- Set a good example. Avoid using tobacco and illicit drugs. Minimize alcohol use, and always avoid drinking and driving.
- Get a professional evaluation. If you think your child is using drugs, alert your child’s pediatrician, who can help.
Facts about teen vaping use
Many people, especially teens, think that vaping (smoking e-cigarettes) is a safe alternative to smoking but THIS IS NOT TRUE. Vaping is just another way of inputting nicotine—a highly addictive drug—into the body. To alert parents about the dangers of e-cigarettes and vaping, here are two 2 blogs on our WHP website that we strongly urge you to read:
Facts about teen tobacco use
90% of daily tobacco users begin by age 18. Alarmingly, trying tobacco just one time puts young people at risk for addiction to nicotine. Factors that can encourage teen tobacco use:
- Use of tobacco products by friends or family members
- Lack of parental support or involvement
- Accessibility and availability of tobacco products
- Low academic achievement
- Low self-esteem
- Exposure to tobacco advertising (movies, TV, video games)
To learn more about teens and the dangers of smoking, please read this WHP blog: Smoking And Teenagers: A Very Harmful Combination
Facts about teen opioid use
Opioids are highly addictive narcotic drugs, including prescription pain medicine and illegal substances like heroin. Large doses can slow the body’s heart and breathing rate to the point of stopping them completely. The effects of opioids on teens
- Parents who become addicted to opioids often neglect to properly care for their children.
- Long-term damage from prenatal exposure. Since 2000, there has been a fivefold increase in the number of children born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) after opioid exposure during their mother’s pregnancy. Babies with NAS are more likely to have low birth weight, respiratory complications, feeding difficulties and seizures, as well as developmental problems that affect learning and behavior.
- Poisoning and overdose. Children and teens hospitalized for opioid poisoning tripled between 1997 and 2012. While most of the overdose patients were teens, the largest overall increase in poisonings was among toddlers and preschoolers.
What you can do
- Talk to your kids. Tell your children how dangerous, even deadly, opioid drugs can be. Children who learn about the risks of drugs at home are less likely to use drugs than those who don’t. Surveys show two-thirds of teens who misuse prescription painkillers got them from friends, family members and acquaintances.
- Safe storage. Keep opioids and other prescription medications in a secure place. Ask your friends, family members, and babysitters to do the same.
- Destroy leftover or unused prescription medication. We recommend flushing them down the toilet instead of throwing them in the trash where they can be retrieved and used.
- Ask for help. If you think you or your child may be using opioids and/or developing an addiction, don’t hesitate to seek help.
- Know what to do in an overdose emergency. Ask your pediatrician about Naloxone nasal spray (brand name Narcan®) which can prevent opioid overdose deaths. And don’t hesitate to call 911 if you believe your child is experiencing an overdose.
Important articles you should read:
- Mental Health and Teens: Watch for Danger Signs
- Is Your Child Vulnerable to Substance Abuse?
- Helping Teens Resist Pressure to Try Drugs
- Alcohol: The Most Popular Choice
- Drug Abuse Prevention Starts with Parents
- Vaping: Dangerous, Available & Addictive
- The Opioid Epidemic: How to Protect Your Family
- Talking to Teens About Drugs and Alcohol
- Teens and Tobacco Use
- Marijuana: What Parents Need to Know
Above all, our goal is to help your child grow up healthy and happy, without drugs
If you’re worried that your child might be using drugs, please come in and see one of our Westchester Health pediatricians. We will examine your child, listen to your concerns, answer your questions, and together with you and your child, determine the best way forward to achieve a healthy, drug-free life. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.
To read Dr. Adler’s blog in full, click here.