Recognizing and testing drug use in adolescents

Do you suspect drug use in your son or daughter? You can find out by taking a drug test. But don’t impulsively express, judge or condemn your suspicions. Taking a drug test on your child unprepared and confronting them with your suspicions about drug use will only cause an argument that you will regret later. Make a step-by-step plan for yourself to gather more information about the suspicion before testing your child. Take the time to gather information and complete the various drug tests. There are special tests for each type of drug. There are also multi-tests that allow you to test for different types of substances at the same time. Drug use won’t be solved overnight, but don’t wait too long to take a test. By well-prepared to confront your child with the suspicion and the results of the test, you provide clarity with which you can better help yourself and your child.

Recognizing drug use

Drug use is not always easy to recognize. Especially if you don’t know anything about it. That is why a drug test is always a good practical tool. But before you take a drug test, first check whether you can recognize the symptoms below. In general, the symptoms apply to the most common substances such as: alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, amphetamine, heroin, gambling or gaming.

  • Mood swings
  • Deviant behavior that does not match the age
  • Spending a lot of money (whining for money)
  • Suddenly different (changing) friends
  • Often ‘mentally’ absent (silent)
  • More irritated than normal
  • Often absent from school, family visits, church service, catechism, club, sports, etc.
  • Call in sick
  • Decline in performance at school or work
  • Sleep often and for a long time
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Strange spots on the lips
  • Fidgety
  • To lie
  • Sunken/pale face
  • Dirty fingertips because people are constantly working with cannabis or basecoke


Recognizing drug use during adolescence

Not all strange behaviors or changes in young people indicate drug use. Some behavior is part of the development of puberty . The physical and mental changes of puberty can sometimes last until the age of eighteen. It is important to be able to make a distinction. One does not have to be directly dependent on a substance. In most cases, puberty involves experimentation, use or abuse of a substance. However, in that phase there are risks of developing serious health disorders due to use or abuse . Which in turn can lead to dependency, behavioral problems or psychological disorders .

Recognizing drug use shortly after drug use

  • Dry mouth
  • Extreme ‘energy boost’
  • Smacking sounds
  • Drink a lot of water
  • Hot (overheated)
  • Wide-open pupils (tightness)
  • Difficulty speaking or gibberish
  • Pale face
  • Fast heart rate or slow heart rate
  • Moving the jaws back and forth
  • Someone who normally doesn’t talk much suddenly talks your ears off
  • Aggressive or affectionate
  • Suspicion of heavy alcohol consumption but not being drunk
  • Many shaggies twist to disguise or control the ‘spastic’ hand movements
  • Laughter or binge eating (example from a mother: “I thought my son wasn’t using because he wasn’t losing weight. He often went fishing and then smoked weed all night long. That gave him a binge and he didn’t lose weight but actually gained weight.”


Considerations and signs of drug use: reinforced by the following symptoms

If the aspects below occur in combination with the symptoms from the previous two lists, then there is a strong suspicion of substance use.

  • Smoking
  • Blackouts
  • Risk group (male, problems at school, problem family, low education level, insecure, low self-esteem, ADHD, Autism)
  • Addiction in family
  • Red swollen face
  • Accidents/fractures
  • Regularly in contact with the police/justice
  • Fines, driving under the influence
  • Community service, related to substance use


Adolescents with ADHD or autism are more sensitive to drug use

Adolescents with ADHD or autism are extra sensitive to drug use. Young people with a low level of education are also susceptible to use, especially due to peer pressure .

Recognizing aids for drug use

The aids below are common when using cannabis and (base) cocaine in particular.

  • Broken pen
  • Silver foil
  • (Broken) lighter
  • Seal (square or rectangular white paper)
  • Transparent plastic ziplock bags
  • Cruncher or grinder. (Usually round device for grinding large pieces of weed)
  • Base pipe
  • Cans or bottles with holes and burn marks
  • Debit card
  • Rolled up banknote
  • Snuff tube
  • Joint storage tube
  • Large rolling papers


Suspicion and testing of drug use: step-by-step plan for administering a drug test

If you suspect drug use in your son or daughter, it is wise not to express your opinion or judgment immediately. First describe carefully to yourself what you observe. Use all your senses and look for information. Then take the steps below.

  • Observe: what do you notice?
  • Recognize: that behavior is not normal for a boy/girl at this age
  • Interpret: I think he or she has a problem. Could it have something to do with addictive substances? If yes which one? Immerse yourself in the most commonly used resources and their desired effect on the user. (the most commonly used substances are alcohol, cocaine, speed, ecstasy and cannabis)
  • Tests: do the other children, spouse/parents/colleagues/friends/family/teachers think the same?
  • A conversation: does what I see match what I (and others) think?
  • Analyze: what’s going on? Is there a problem? And for whom?
  • Step-by-step plan: (in consultation with those involved / parents / family) make a decision to tackle drug use or addiction.
  • What sources of information do I know, what drug tests are available, what support agencies do I know, how and where can I be referred?
  • Finally, you will discuss the suspicion with your son or daughter and make it clear that you want to rule out the suspicion by taking a drug test.


Take a drug test

After you have discussed the suspicion with your child, indicate that you will take a drug test one or more times. Don’t ask if he or she wants that, but clearly indicate that you want that based on your suspicions. This works best for (minor) children or young adults living at home. You also agree on a period in which you want to do this. Agree on a minimum period of three months in which you will take a test four times, for example. Example: If, for example, Cannabis comes out of the test, it will take approximately six to eight weeks before it is no longer visible in the urine. You can agree that the test should not result in anything after two months. Other substances such as speed, cocaine and ecstasy are so-called volatile substances. These are visible in the urine for a maximum of 48 hours. Drug use does not remain visible in a blood test for longer than in a urine test.

Testing for GHB

There is not yet a drug test available to consumers to test for the use of GHB. It is only visually visible shortly after use, but not after one or more days. For example, the longest use of GHB can be tested in the hair, but that is an expensive test and only occurs during police investigations.

Perform drug test

During the drug test, you stand behind your son or daughter. Make sure he or she urinates in a plastic cup. With a plastic cup you can feel whether the urine is warm. That is a good confirmation that it is your own urine. Then take the drug test according to the supplied instructions. Good and relatively cheap drug tests can be ordered on the internet where the results are immediately visible.

After the drug test: Ask professional addiction care for advice in time if you are using drugs

If the person still lives at home, you can exert more ‘pressure’ than if he or she lives alone. As parents, as long as your child lives at home, even if they are already twenty, you can demand that they take a test and that you do not accept drug use, and the associated behavior, in your home or family. If someone does not want to cooperate or the use continues anyway, consideration will have to be given to whether he or she can continue to live at home. These are not easy processes, but also consider the well-being of yourself and the rest of the family. Make good, clear agreements and set boundaries in time. Don’t let yourself be drawn into the vortex of addiction or the trap of the Drama Triangle . However, make a distinction between drug use and the person. You love the person but not their use or addiction. You accept him or her completely, but not the behavior resulting from drug use. Also be aware that when you get into an argument about the addiction, the person always feels personally addressed. This cannot be prevented, but clearly state the distinction between person and behavior.
Function of drug use
It is important to be aware that drug use can have a function for your child. Taking away the use often means taking away a ‘comforting agent’. This ‘comforting agent’ often has an important function for someone who uses drugs. Be aware that this function may have been ingrained for years if it is an older person who has been using it for years. It is advisable to call in a professional for this.

Road to recovery from drug use

From the moment you accept powerlessness, you enter the Path of Recovery just like the addict . This path of recovery can best be completed using the Twelve Step program from Al-Anon, AA or NA . Be consistent and do not deviate from your goal. Addiction is a persistent disease where a soft approach is not an option.

Addicted to the addict

The negative behavior can quickly spread to the family and other relationships. Be aware of this and seek help or advice in time. Not taking the problem seriously or adopting a naive attitude can have destructive consequences. Avoid becoming ‘addicted to the addict’. This only reinforces the negative behavior. It takes a lot from parents, caregivers or family members, but dare to look in the mirror. Ask yourself questions like “what can I do, how can I do that”. Don’t be ashamed or judge yourself. You may have made mistakes or not noticed things, but draw the line and look ahead. Dare to change yourself if necessary because that will also lead to behavioral change in your child. Don’t expect it to be solved overnight, but be aware that it will take years. But don’t let that paralyze you and just stick to the day. Plan fun things for yourself and write yourself an action list with items you need to do in the near future.

Breeding ground in the adolescent brain for drug use

Each individual is unique and not everyone will become addicted to drugs. If one eventually becomes addicted later in life, there is a good chance that it is a narcotic. The reason for this is the fact that young people in particular consume excessive stimulants during puberty. This includes energy drinks, incentives from social media and games. These aspects influence the adolescent brain. The adolescent brain, which is still developing, is exposed to too much tension. That tension must find a way out in a natural way. Which, however, is not the case.

Relaxation, effect of drug use

When a young person comes into contact with alcohol or cannabis, he or she develops an unnatural relaxation. This creates the risk of developing an addiction and experimenting with different types of drugs. Young people consciously, unconsciously or under peer pressure end up in a circle of addiction. If this development is given the opportunity to ‘program’ the adolescent brain, as it were, it will be more difficult to tackle the use later in life.
Tackling or treating drug use
The sooner the breeding ground is tackled, the greater the chance that an addiction can be prevented. We can therefore say that early signals and experimental drug use during puberty can best be tackled from the outside and a ‘developed’ addiction later in life must be treated long-term from within.
Intervention for drug use
Regular testing and a normal approach may not have the desired result. Then an intervention can offer a solution. This is a drastic way of confronting the person in question with his or her behavior. An intervention always has the effect that the message to seek help gets through. This is sometimes necessary to make the other person aware of the destructive behavior. Not only does the quality of life of the user deteriorate, but the life of the environment is also under high tension.

Powerlessness in drug use

Despite interventions or other forms of assistance, drug use may continue and the addiction may become more persistent. As parents and bystanders you enter a phase of accepting powerlessness. This can be a long and difficult process. Seek help from, for example, a self-help group such as Al Anon , Courageous Mothers or the Coke van Jou Foundation . There are various options for becoming more resilient as a loved one of someone with an addiction. This can be a difficult step because people often think that the other person with the addiction needs to change. But don’t underestimate what you as a loved one can contribute to motivate the other person to tackle drug use or addiction.

read more

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  • Addiction is a complex, misunderstood disease
  • Resilience can prevent addiction among young people
  • Differences between Crystal Meth Ecstasy and Amphetamine
  • Dopamine, endorphins and medication for addiction
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