Unfortunately, many parents deny symptoms of drug or alcohol abuse or simply look the other way. Some common signs of such abuse include school difficulties (a sudden drop in grades or attendance), loss of appetite, weight loss, periods of hyperactivity, bloodshot eyes, lethargy and fatigue,(1) and puzzling behavior.

Our interview with a former drug user helped yield the following list:

  • Does your child often take an extra change of clothes when he goes out with friends? This is an old trick to hide the smell of alcohol or smoke. The child changes into the fresh set shortly before arriving back home.
  • Does your child use breath fresheners or mints excessively, possibly to hide cigarette or alcohol odors?
  • Have you seen a can or bottle of a product called Ozium? This is a chemical used in mortuaries to cover smells. Drug users may use this in their cars or on clothing to conceal smells of alcohol, tobacco smoke, or marijuana.

If you have some suspicions and think you need to know what drug paraphernalia is called or looks like, take a tour on the Internet. All that’s needed is a search on key words like marijuana, reefer, or joint to find the information needed.

If you are suspicious about what may be happening with your child late at night or when you are away from home for an extended period of time, do not hesitate to go to neighbors and tell them to alert you if anything out of the ordinary happens.

A couple once came to a FamilyLife Marriage Conference, and while they were gone, their teenage daughter had her friends in their home for a drug fest. The parents might never have known, but the neighbors told them what had happened.

Never be shy about doing room inspections or engaging in late-night reconnaissance. Waiting up at night to welcome home a child and interact with him is advisable.

If your child is high on alcohol or drugs, when both of you are ready to talk (he’s sober, and you have emotions under control), sit down and find out what’s going on, then administer appropriate consequences.

If the drinking or other drug use persists, consider drawing up a contract clarifying the behavior you expect from him and what boundaries will apply.

If all else fails, consider calling on others to help with an intervention, perhaps asking another adult such as your youth pastor to help you confront your child’s substance abuse.

Above all, never stop praying and trusting God for direction and strength. Two of our friends, Bill and Ann Parkinson, went through a difficult experience with a son who for a while drank and pulled away from them and their values. Talking about this experience, Ann made these comments on a “FamilyLife Today” radio broadcast:

I can’t say God gave me a peace. What God did give me was an inner conviction that He was in this ball game with me, that I was never going to be alone, and that He loved our son even more than I did. Let me tell you how that came about….

As a mom, I was feeling defeated, and it was just so painful that this child that I loved and would sacrifice my body for would cause me this much pain. I remember standing out on my front porch…I was angry at God. I was angry at my son for putting me in this pain, and I can remember standing out there saying to myself, “You know what? I just need to let this guy go—he is pushing against me—I just need to let him go.

I can remember there was this voice in my head that said, “Who wants you to give up?” And the thought that came to my mind was Satan! And I’m not going to let him win!

That’s when mentally I decided I was not going to give up on my son. If a mom gives up, who has he got in his corner? That’s when I chose to pray for him—not to pull myself emotionally away, but to love him unconditionally, even when he didn’t deserve it.

What a great insight this is for all of us. And in time, Bill and Ann’s persistence paid off; God did bring their son back.

1) Gabriel and Wool, Anticipating Adolescence, p. 62.

Adapted from Parenting Today’s Adolescent: Helping Your Child Avoid the Traps of the Preteen and Teen Years. Copyright 1998 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.