Short of discovering physical evidence of drugs/paraphernalia and alcohol or finding your kid* under the influence, it’s often hard to know for certain if your kid is using – or to know the extent of the situation. Perhaps this is the first time. You may consider it’s just experimentation or partying. Or you may be concerned that it’s out-right addiction. It’s not always easy to tell.
Regardless of what you’re feeling, remember that you are feeling something that’s concerning. That’s ALWAYS something to pay attention to. Why? Because we know that substance use will damage their developing brains, which don’t reach full maturation until age 22 for young women and age 25 for young men.
The fact that you’ve discovered substance use is reason to investigate further.
Keep in mind that “investigate further” does not mean jumping to conclusions or overreacting. It starts with observations, gathering facts, noting concerns, paying attention and keeping track of things – at least for a while.
This is an ideal time to reach out to other adults in your kid’s life to ask if they’ve observed anything of concern.
Ask teachers, coaches, activity leaders. Talk to friends and neighbors. Express concern and then just listen. But, still listen your gut.
It’s also a good time to talk to your kid. No accusations. No judgements. Just open the conversation. Listen instead of lecture. Share your perspective on substance use. Don’t expect the truth and don’t be naïve.
Again, listen to your gut.
If there is even a tiny inkling that there is substance use, now is the time to consider a professional evaluation.
There’s no one right or wrong way to go about this. The important thing is to do something. An evaluation now provides a baseline for the future.
I’m no expert, but there are three primary categories of evaluation. All of these proved valuable for our family in the early days of our son’s substance use. At the end of the blog, and on our website, find resources for the following:
- Drug Testing. From the drugstore variety to clinical lab tests, these may be helpful in finding out if your kid is using and what they may be using. A word to the wise, however, don’t rely on these. For example, marijuana (THC) stays in the system for up to 30 days; but other drugs including stimulants and opioids may only stay in the system for hours. Random drug testing may express the strength of your concerns and the extent to which you believe drug-free is best for your kid.
- Chemical Health Assessment. This entails having your kid meet with a licensed professional to complete a comprehensive interview. These pros know that your kid may not be telling the complete truth and this factors into their assessment. The outcome is usually a set of recommendations – everything from “keep an eye on things” to a recommendation for outpatient or in-patient treatment. Usually, this conversation begins to set up a correlation between use and consequences as well as stage of readiness for change. There may be a fee for this assessment or it may be covered by insurance. Many counties offer free or sliding fee options.
- Mental Health Evaluation (Psych Eval, for short). This entails having your kid meet with a mental health professional. It can rule out psychosis and get a sense of whether there is anxiety, depression, self-harm, eating disorders, and other common co-occurring disorders that are prevalent among young adults and substance users. Again, there may be free assessments or insurance-covered options. For our family, this was one of the most telling assessments and ultimately it led to #SoberSon going into drug treatment.
Things to keep in mind:
- An evaluation is just a starting point.
- An evaluation is often a baseline and there may be need for future evaluations as your kid’s use continues.
- An evaluation is not a diagnosis per se, rather offers a set of recommendations for developing a treatment plan which will likely include additional evaluations.
- If your kid is under the age of 18, you can set up the appointment and insist that they participate.
- Once your kid is 18 or older, your kid must agree to participate and the “results” are not available to you unless your kids authorizes a release of the findings. This can be a true challenge for concerned parents.
Resources for more information:
Our Young Addicts – links to resources:
An overview of screening tools (SAMSHA)
Another overview of tools (NIDA)
Drug Testing Info: Burlington Labs
In Minnesota, two evaluations sources were particularly good for us. Google your community to find local sources.
Rule 25 – Chemical Assessment
*Our kids will always be kids no matter their age. However, in these blog posts when I use the word kid, I’m referring to young people ages 12 to 22.
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