But it's only beer...all kids experiment, don't they?

Not all adolescents experiment with alcohol or drugs. Experimental use can be identified by the emotional impact of the use-how their feelings are affected and the adventure itself that the use involves. With experimenting, the frequency of using is occasional. However, in a 1994 National Household Survey, 11 million adolescents ages 12-17 drank alcohol regularly.

Teens are moody: how do I tell if the changes I'm seeing are normal teen behavior or something more?

In recognizing substance use, parents may observe changes in mood swings such as increase in anger and sadness. Parents may also identify changes in the adolescent's responsibility in the household, dropping activities in school or outside of school that was important to them. Poor school attendance or not going at all anymore, not following household rules are signs to determine a possible problem. A change in friendships can be a concern when the parent is unaware of the new friends and the adolescents' behaviors are changing. Parents need to know who their child's friends are and the activities associated with those friends.

When I was his/her age, I drank, too. I smoked pot, it didn't hurt me.

In the past, some teens were exposed to alcohol and drugs and others were not. Today alcohol and drugs are a part of the adolescent culture. Alcohol, marijuana, and nicotine are gateway drugs that often lead to the use of harder core drugs such as cocaine and opiods. Drugs are easily accessible to teens and inexpensive. Marijuana is considered a gateway drug that could lead to the use of other chemicals. Marijuana users are at a higher risk for use of chemicals due to the access to other chemicals from drug supplies. Studies have shown marijuana use linked to lung cancer and other diseases. One joint is equivalent to 10 cigarettes in terms of damage to cell linings in the lungs. Underage drinking is major concern on our society today. The 1995 student view survey of the Johnson Institute indicated that drinking alcohol is at a problem level, consuming 5 or more drinks at one sitting. Parents need to institute a "No Use" policy in the home.

How can I confront my child if I suspect or find evidence of drug use?

Open communication is important in any relationship. Confronting your child's chemical use is not easy; however, it is important that it is done to assess the degree of the problem. Be prepared to express how you feel about the behavior and allow your child to experience and struggle with the fullness of the consequence you enforce. Have a plan in place: examples: appointment scheduled in a local out-patient program for evaluation appointment with the School Counselor or your clergyman. Parents need to make it their business to learn of the local resources such as treatment providers, support groups, professional counselors, etc.

He/she told me they can stop anytime they want to, can they?

Most adolescents who use alcohol and other drugs struggle with stopping use on their own. They often will attempt short term periods of sobriety to convince themselves they are not drug dependent. This feeds into their denial about the disease of chemical dependency. Chemical dependence is a disease of feelings and denial is one of the strongest barriers to breakdown. Opening a dialogue with your child will help determine your child's problem and seeking assistance from a professional counselor.

Money has been missing from my wallet. I asked my son/daughter about and they denied taking it. I have my suspicions, but I have no reason/proof not to believe them, but it doesn't explain the missing money. How should I handle it?

Parents need to trust their instincts. Kids will lie and manipulate in order to protect their drug use. Kids begin by stealing small amounts of money and as the drug dependency becomes stronger and they become more desperate, they will steal jewelry and valuables from their parents. As the desperation increases, kids often shoplift, or break into cars and homes in order to find valuables to sell or pawn. It is predictable that as the drug dependency becomes more significant, kids will eventually incur legal charges.

But I don't want my child to have a legal record!

It is a normal response for parents to want to protect or rescue their child, but as the dependency on drugs become out of control, parents need utilize all the community supports available, including the legal system. Kids are often initially resistant to help. Using the legal system as leverage to get your child to comply with a treatment program can be one of the most helpful resources a parent can use. Most communities have set up drug court programs that help kids be accountable and comply with keep kids in treatment.

More Questions? Ask a Counselor: JHutchings@ked.org