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Signs and symptoms of drug use

The Alternative List
Whilst it is important for parents and teachers to be aware of the physical symptoms of drug use it is also important to recognise some other signs that might perhaps be less obvious – particularly as some of these may well occur some time before the physical symptoms are noticed. When young people first begin to use drugs they are usually very careful not to do so at home or at school and not to return home whilst they are still ‘high’ so that parents are not always aware of their use. Our experience with drug users and their families over the past fifteen years has resulted in the following list of ‘alternative’ signs of drug use. If you notice two or more of the following we suggest you choose a moment to speak with your child. Each family will have to find their own way to open this conversation – something like the following – (“Rachel/John – we are all worried about you – you are often home late, you never have any money, you lie to us and your behaviour makes us think you might be doing drugs – do you want to talk about it ?”)
If they are indeed using drugs do not expect them to give you an honest answer since they are unlikely to admit it readily – unless their use is already causing them some kind of problems in which case they may be relieved that you have stepped in to help. The advantage to be gained from speaking directly to the child is that you have given your child a warning – that you are not unaware of the situation; this in itself may be sufficient to prevent the casual use from developing to regular use. In our experience young people have usually been using drugs for about 6 – 12 months before parents really find out.
Watch out for the following:
– Never having any money, despite having an allowance. Often ‘borrows’ money but cannot pay it back.
– Money disappears from purses left around or money left to pay tradesmen
– Expensive personal possessions like camera, watch, rings, CD players etc. disappear – if challenged they say they have ‘lent it to someone’.

– Friendship group changes – often mixes with older group now. Membership of sports/youth/uniformed groups lapses.
– Sits near phone clearly waiting for a call – when it comes they reply in few words and then leave the house immediately – returning soon afterwards.
– Use of air fresheners in bedroom. Bedroom windows often wide open – even in chilly weather.

– Parental supply of alcohol in home diminishes
– Eyes often red rimmed – sunglasses worn a lot of the time, uses eye drops more.
– Is very defensive of media items suggesting legalisation of drugs
– Pro-drugs posters appear in bedroom, clothing with pro-drug slogans is worn.

– Mood swings very noticeable – high to low or low to high – often aggressive, quick tempered
– Extreme thirst at times and/or eats lots of sweets/chocolate
– Stays out much later than requested, stays up late and cannot sleep – may wander around the house, is late home from school – is ‘going to library/to town/to friend after school’.
– Stays out all night – may have ‘alibi’ – staying with friend. Wants to go to lots of parties, to nightclubs, discos or raves.
– Oversleeps constantly in mornings
– Becomes secretive – refuses to say where they are going – resents questioning.
– Often tells parents ‘don’t hassle me’ – it’s my life etc. –behaves unreasonably.
– Youngsters you don’t know come to house but won’t come in.
– School work grades drop noticeably – sometimes skips school –homework neglected
– Talk of leaving school/college early
– Oversize Rizla cigarette papers found (in bedroom, pockets of clothes)
– Weight loss
– Becomes more selfish, tells lies, blames others.
– Choice of music changes from mainstream to club style.
– Becomes defensive or ‘switches off’ from any talk about drugs (in school or home)
– Spends more and more time away from the home or in own bedroom
– Demands ‘privacy’ in bedroom, becomes angry if room is tidied.
– Relationships with family members deteriorates (siblings will often know of use)
– Personal hygiene neglected
– Appears hyperactive, talks continuously
(Favourite hiding places for drugs: pockets of clothes in wardrobe or drawers, in the battery compartment of CD’s and radios, taped to back of pictures or underside of drawers – if stash found will say it belongs to a friend).
(Some physical problems which may occur from drug use: conjunctivitis, bronchitis, coughs, weight loss/malnutrition, sleep problems, paranoia, hallucinations, liver/kidney ailments, acute indigestion, nose bleeds, high blood pressure, loss of appetite, extreme thirst, pupils enlarged or pinpricks, cheeks flushed, skin grey pallor, nose running)