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Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

Studies find teen drug use on rise; what to do if you suspect a problem

Posted October 18, 2012 8:47 p.m. EDT
Updated October 18, 2012 8:50 p.m. EDT

A 17-year-old Apex High School student died about a week after collapsing at a party with friends behind a movie theater earlier this month.

According to a WRAL news story, a caller told an emergency dispatcher that the teen had taken two hits of LSD that night. An Apex high school senior has since been charged with two counts of selling a controlled substance for allegedly selling the drugs that killed his friend.

Read the full story here.

I can only imagine the grief for the boy's family and friends.

Unfortunately, teen drug use is growing. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, illegal drug use among teenagers is on the rise, largely because of the increasing popularity of marijuana. The National Center on Addiction and Drug Abuse at Columbia University found that teen drug use is at "epidemic" levels, in a report last year.

One interesting finding from the center: Teens who spend time on social networking sites in a typical day are five times likelier to use tobacco, three times likelier to use alcohol and twice as likely to use marijuana compared to teens who spend no time on social networking sites.

I checked in with Dr. Susan Orenstein of Orenstein Solutions, psychologists providing testing and counseling to children and teens, psychotherapy for adults, and couples counseling. I thought it would be a good opportunity to get some advice for parents who worry their teen might be using or selling drugs.

"At times like this, parents can become very frightened, concerned about their own teens' well-being," said Orenstein, who extended her sympathy to the teen's family, friends and Apex High community. "Unfortunately, we know that parents can never fully protect their children, especially if they want to nurture confident, competent young adults. At the same time, we know many parents are asking themselves questions about teen drug use, so we are glad to provide some basic information."

Dr. Julia Messer, who works with teens with substance abuse issues at Orenstein Solutions, offered some advice. Her first recommendation for parents: Start the conversation.

Here's what Messer says parents need to do if they suspect there's a problem:

  • Ask your teen or child if she or he is using, experimenting, or hanging around teens who are using drugs. Open a dialogue in a non-confrontational, honest context. Let them know it's OK to talk about their concerns, fears, or desires. However, also openly discuss the consequences of substance use - legal, family, personal, and health.
  • Pay attention to the signs if you're concerned about possible drug use. They include a drop in grades, change of friends, increase in isolation and/or withdrawal from family (not necessarily friends), odors coming from their room, sneaking out, and obvious signs of intoxication or withdrawal (blood shot eyes, slurred speech, poor balance).
  • If you're concerned that your teen is selling drugs, take note of the same signs of possible drug abuse, along with an increase in cash and/or material objects (electronics, CDs, DVDs), frequent trips out to cars without lengthier time socializing or having friends come inside, and chaotic or conflictual peer relationships.