Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

Every time I accidentally get exposed to the news – local or national  – I hear about the drug epidemic. Opioids are killing people in record numbers. Kids and adults alike are addicted to prescription pain killers, and heroin, which might just be the nastiest drug of them all, has made a roaring comeback. It would have been easy to ignore, had it not been for a close family member who nearly died dealing with a harrowing drug addiction that made me realize anyone can be a victim – even a middle class, well-educated, privileged young person with everything ahead of her. I am grateful that she was able to escape the grip of the drug, but what I am learning is that you are never truly free of the vice. It’s a constant, daily fight to remain sober. Often, the addiction wins, and the person goes back to the drug. Or overdoses and dies from it.

There are ways to make a difference. Advocate policy change, for one. Make rehab more accessible and affordable. Provide supports for the transition back into society. Stop punishing people for having this horrible disease.

As parents, we have the toughest job. We must remain vigilant, even when we’re exhausted. We must set the right example by not over-indulging ourselves. And we must recognize addiction and drug use as soon as it happens. We must not be embarrassed about the fact that our child is addicted or try to keep it a secret but instead enlist the help of the whole world to help.

How Do I Know if My Teen Is an Addict?

There are signs that parents might deny or ignore, but these 5 telltale signs should be cause for alarm:


1. Drug Paraphernalia

Teen behavior is hardly definitive proof of addiction, since their hormones and development cause unpredictable behavior without chemical intervention. But you should never ignore evidence of paraphernalia such as hypodermic needles, “kits,” or boxes containing belts, spoons, and other heroin materials, or even bottles or bongs. And never buy the excuse “I was just holding it for a friend.”

2. Reclusive Behavior

All teens become a bit reclusive in an effort to develop independence. But if your teen secludes themselves for days at a time or stays at a friend’s house for more than 48 hours without cause, it may be a sign that they are trying to hide abuse of some kind.

3. Unusual Behavior at School

Falling and rising grades are a staple of troublesome teen years. However, a sharp drop in school performance or reports of unusual behavior from teachers or counselors can be important signs of addiction.

4. Pawning Valuables – Yours or Theirs

Addicts, including teens, will do anything to get the next fix, including selling their own valuables or someone else’s. If items continuously go missing or your teen sells their prized possessions without cause, consider questioning your teen on who these items are being sold to and why.

5. Physical Symptoms of Addiction

Weight loss, skin changes, and skin infections can all be signs of addiction. Yes, they can also be signs of being a teenager, but accompanied by other evidence, don’t wait. Don’t waste time. And don’t worry about pissing off your kid. Get them tested, get them in treatment, and save their lives.

If your child is an addict, there are resources available. Don’t try to deal with it alone. Enlist family,  friends, therapists, addiction counselors, and your physician to help. Addiction can be overcome,  but it’s a lifelong journey.