Skip To Content
Recognizing and understanding youth addiction can be tough
Recognizing and understanding youth addiction can be tough
Posted on 07/07/2017
By Christine Peets 
Summer is a great time for kids to relax, spend more time with their friends, and discover new surroundings and new activities. Sometimes those surroundings and activities are not always the healthiest for them, and can lead to trouble. That could be or lead to an addiction problem, and recognizing and understanding that can be tough for parents.  
“Before they go looking for that trouble, or jump to any conclusions, parents have to look at why kids might try drugs or alcohol in the first place,” said  Mike Beauchesne, Executive Director, of the Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre, which provides counselling and treatment services for youth ages 13-21 and their families. The centre is based in Ottawa, but works with youth from all over Ontario. There are residential facilities in Carp for young women, and in Carleton Place for young men.  
“It's important to encourage parents to look beyond normal adolescent development because some of the signs of a youth developing an addiction might be similar,” Beauchesne said. “It can't be looked at in isolation.” 
Some of the “red flags” to look for include, feelings of depression that go on for more than a couple of weeks, any signs of wanting to decrease pain, wanting something to help them relax or feel less anxious. Kids may be feeling bored or lonely, so they are looking for a peer group and a sense of wanting to belong. They may be feeling a little rebellious, or want to stand out. They may just be curious about the effects of drugs or alcohol, especially if they know others who have or who are trying these substances.  
Parents may have a little more time themselves in the summer, working shorter hours, or being able to take some holiday time, so they may be able to monitor their kids' time a little more, Beauschene said. 
Has there been a change in their peer group, or are they outside of a social circle and spending more time alone? Are they missing school—either sleeping in and arriving late, or skipping out early? Has there been a loss of interest in activities: sports, music, or other activities? Has there been a drop in their marks, either suddenly, or are you noticing a gradual dropping off in their marks?  
“Taken in isolation, none of these may be an issue, but if parents notice that these kinds of things are happening, then maybe it's time they talk to their young person,” he added.  
Other clues might be changes in eating and sleeping habits, sudden weight gain or weight loss, clothing smelling of smoke or alcohol, and if they have and ''drug paraphernalia'': lighters, papers, unknown baggies, etc.  
So, how do parents approach this issue? Reaching out in a context of love and support is important, as is proper timing. Parents also have to be prepared and know what treatment options are available in their area, starting with the family doctor and local mental health care providers. A family friend, a child's teacher or coach, or depending on the family's belief system, a clergy member, may be able to provide support and resources for help.  
“Parents find it hard to acknowledge that their child has a problem, and may not reach out for help for fear of being blamed or judged,” Beauchesne said. “They have to put that aside.” 
“They need to educate themselves as to what's available. The treatment sector is not always easy to 
access, so they have to be an advocate, and be prepared to be involved in treatment process themselves.” 
Leading and learning by example to have a healthier family lifestyle is important too, and not just focus on the use, abuse, or abstinence, of drugs and alcohol. Taking advantage of school and work breaks to play a new sport together, do some travelling—even just for day trips—and spending time together as a family may be all that's needed. Remember what Dorothy said at the end of “The Wizard of Oz”, that if she “couldn't find her heart's content in her own backyard, then perhaps it was never lost it in the first place.”  
Check out the Upper Canada District School Board, Parent Involvement Committee (UCDSB-PIC) Twitter feed, for links to articles and tips on ways of being involved as parents.  As the tag line says, “Wherever you are, BE ALL THERE” There are also interesting posts, photos, etc. on the Facebook page, 
By being present with your child(ren), you will have a better sense of what's going on, and you'll be better able to recognize and understand problems before they become worse.  
Christine Peets is the Writer in Residence for the Upper Canada District School Board Parent Involvement Committee. (UCDSB-PIC) 
Website by SchoolMessenger Presence. © 2021 Intrado Corporation. All rights reserved.