It’s that time of year when kids return home from college for their summer break. Living independently brings changes—adult children mature during this phase as they make their own decisions and often manage their own schedules and money—so, there is some fluctuation to be expected in how parents relate and interact with them. At the same time, college students can be more vulnerable to peer pressure and the influence of others. This can sometimes lead to experimenting with drugs and alcohol. As an addiction expert, I suggest being observant to catch potential signs of substance abuse in your children earlier rather than later.
Adolescents slip into addiction to deal with stress or to be “accepted” by a “cool group.” Therefore, it is important to talk to your kids to understand what is going on in their lives, to help them sort out their feelings and foster an environment where they turn to you first for help in solving a problem. I want to alert parents to five common changes brought on by substance abuse:
Behavioral/Mood Issues: Substance abuse in young adults can often result in changes in social interactions, mood changes, problems with school or work, and increase in risky behavior and mood swings. The changes in social interactions are very noticeable. If your extroverted child suddenly now keeps more to himself/herself and avoids eye contact it should be a concern. If he or she is now sullen, irritable or depressed, it could be a warning sign. Reckless driving, car accidents, or unexplained dents in the car could also point to a problem. Also, any deterioration of your child’s performance in school should be explored.
Unkempt Appearance: If you do a double take when you see your child, chances are something is going on. If your child has become careless about his or her clothing, has an unkempt appearance and has a perennially runny nose, you should think about having a conversation with your child. While it can be difficult to mentally accept the fact that your child is taking on the appearance of an addict, it is important to address changes in appearance, especially red or glassy eyes, unexplained marks on arms or legs (long sleeves in warm weather to hide marks), and continuous scratching or picking of face and arms.
Avoiding Old Friends: If an addiction is consuming your child’s life, they may avoid their high school friends when they come back home, as they no longer affirm your child’s new lifestyle. As children evolve into adults, find new hobbies, and spend most of their time in college, they will find new friends. However, it’s still a good sign if they connect with their high school friends when they are back home. Instead, if they are in search of new friends when back home, it may suggest a problem.
Lack of Interest in Hobbies: If you find that your child no longer enjoys his or her usual activities, it may be that he or she has become preoccupied with obtaining and using drugs or alcohol and it is taking over all aspects of their life. Hobbies they usually enjoyed, or having a hobby at all, seems unimportant now. Instead of receiving mental and emotional stimulation from positive activities, they could be turning to drugs and alcohol to fill the void.
Change in Eating Habits: As the hand that feeds, parents tend to notice this effect of substance abuse quickly. Depending on the substance, your child can experience an array of new food habits, including binge eating, also known as the "munchies," or a decrease in appetite. This swing in eating habits can suggest a problem and calls for a conversation.