Updated 05 April 2013

Could your child be taking drugs?

Is your teenager’s behaviour just the normal scourges of adolescence, or is there something more serious lurking in the woodwork?


Is your teenager’s behaviour just the normal scourges of adolescence, or is there something more serious lurking in the woodwork? How does a parent tell and when is it right to intervene? Parents’ reluctance to identify the signs, and their eagerness to give pocket money rather than attention, may cost their child’s life.

Your sweet charming 13-year-old has recently changed into a sullen, withdrawn and socially isolated 14-year-old lump of misery. His bedroom door is more or less permanently closed and loud thumping music emanates from the dark den. Any attempts on your part to communicate are answered with monosyllabic grunts.

Are these just the normal scourges of adolescence, or is there something more serious lurking in the woodwork? How does a parent tell and when is it right to intervene?

Some parents give pocket money, not attention

“This terrifying question is avoided by many parents,” says Captain Niekie Coetser of the Narcotics Bureau of the South African Police Services. “Parents feel that if it was true that their child was on drugs, it would be a serious indictment on their parenting skills, so they end up missing the signs. Some parents give their children enormous amounts of pocket money – sometimes as much as R2000 a month – to make up for their lack of involvement with their children. No questions get asked about how the money is spent.”

“Even when there is real evidence that a teenager is taking drugs, or hanging out with the wrong friends, some parents choose to ignore the issue, out of fear of what other people would say, or what it would do to their social standing.”

Almost half of schoolboys will try drugs

“By the time a boy has reached Grade 11, between one third and half will have tried illegal substances”, says Grant Jardine, director of the Cape Town Drug Counselling Centre.

“All parents need to talk about drugs to their children. It is not an issue that can be ignored and is certainly also not a lower-income phenomenon, as some parents think.”

Some drugs are difficult to detect. Denial and a certain degree of underhandedness are classic symptoms of drug abuse. These two factors make it quite difficult for parents to find out with any certainty whether drugs have become an unwanted visitor to their households. It is important, though, that parents must not jump to conclusions based on a single sign, which could have been caused by something completely different, says Jardine.

It is important not to jump to conclusions - a 15-year-old who is suddenly moody and exhausted could just have had a fight with her best friend or not got chosen for the school play. Don’t alienate your child unnecessarily by making wild accusations.

Parents should be mindful of the fact that we are a drug-taking society, according to Jardine. “The media creates the image that solutions to stress can come from popping a pill or taking a swig from a bottle. Adolescents are going through a very stressful time and it is not unusual for them to act on the very strong messages given by the media.”

What are the signs that your child could possibly be on drugs?

  • A sudden change in his/her circle of friends.
  • Constant secrecy about where they go and when they will be back.
  • A sudden unwillingness to bring friends home and to introduce them to you.
  • A sudden drop in school performance.
  • A lack of interest in activities that were formerly enjoyed, such as sports.
  • Fast disappearance of pocket money with very little to show for it.
  • Sudden change in sleeping patterns – either too much or too little or at odd hours.
  • Money disappears from your purse, or small items disappear from the house – often things that would not be noticed immediately such as tools from the garage.
  • Your child looks unhealthy and exhausted and seems to have lost their enthusiasm for life.
  • Your child’s eating habits have suddenly changed, resulting in either weight loss or weight gain.
  • Your child’s moods fluctuate wildly.
  • There is a certain secrecy that has crept into your child’s life. You get the feeling that he/she often says things just to keep you happy and that you are often lied to.
  • Your child no longer wants you to clean his/her room.

Jardine’s advice: Talk to your children. Make your views clear, but also keep the lines of communication open. Be on the lookout, but don’t become paranoid. You could just succeed in alienating your child.

More info:

Parents: look out for these drugs

(Susan Erasmus, updated 2010)




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