How Do I Know If My Child Is an Addict?

Any parent who has a child that has experimented with drugs or alcohol has faced the inevitable and scary question, “Is my child an addict?”. There are a lot of ways to answer this question – and even more ways to rationalize why it’s not the case – but when faced with a teen or young adult who is using drugs, it is important to remember that addiction is about a lot more than just drugs and alcohol. The type of drugs used, the frequency of their abuse and how long they have been using are not necessarily as important as the role that the drugs play in their life. Confused yet? Don’t worry, I’ll explain.

While drug use isn’t healthy in any form, not every single person who tries a drug or takes a drink underage is an addict. There is a marked difference though in the how and the why when it comes to fluke experimentation, and blossoming addiction. People who are abusing drugs or alcohol often exhibit physical, behavioral and psychological changes. As a parent, one of the best places to start when looking at these questions is learning what these changes look like.

Is Your Child Suffering From Addiction?

Addiction can develop quickly. Many parents wonder if their child is merely experimenting with drugs or alcohol or if they are suffering from a more serious issue. It is important that parents are able to identify substance abuse patterns and signs of physical dependence and addiction. Here are 4 important questions parents must ask themselves when trying to determine whether or not their child is suffering from addiction:

  1. Is your child unable to control their drinking or using? Does drinking persist even when consequences start happening. Does their lifestyle revolve around checking out. Even if you are unclear on the details of their using, do you notice them frequently trying to escape? When they do drink or use do bad things tend to happen?
  2. Is your child physically and emotionally dependent upon drugs or alcohol? What happens when they aren’t able to drink or use? Do family vacations or holidays cause them to become agitated? Do they frequently look for excuses to get away for “private time”. If their drug and alcohol use is not a secret, have you noticed behavioral or physical changes when they don’t use? Irritability, anxiety and depression can all be indicative of withdrawal.
  3. Are their physical and emotional consequences due to their drinking or using? Legal consequences, weight loss or gain, change in friends and rapid personality shifts are all warning signs that their relationship with drugs or alcohol has passed any form of experimentation.
  4. Do you see obsessive behaviors in other areas of their life? This one is a little more tricky but can be one of the biggest indicator. Addiction is less about the substances used than it is about the need to fix on something outside of the self. If there are obsessive behaviors surrounding relationships, video games, social media or any other number of things that go along with their use, there may be cause for concern.

As a parent, if you answered yes to any of these questions – there may be something going on beyond experimentation.

What is Addiction?

Addiction is a disease. Addiction occurs when an individual compulsively uses a drug, is unable to stop using a drug despite negative consequences and suffers from cravings. The drug and alcohol cravings an addict experiences often makes leading a normal life challenging. Destructive behavior is often a symptom of addiction. Addiction is a disease that manifests as both a physical and psychological need for the drug of choice. Someone suffering from addiction often experiences physical dependence, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, and feel psychologically unable to cope without the chosen drug. Addicts are often unable to function normally in daily life without the effects produced by the drug they are addicted to.

While this all sounds dramatic, addiction is not limited to the heroin addict sleeping on a street corner. Even if an individual is just smoking marijuana, many or all of these signs may be present. Is there a preoccupation with smoking weed that pushes other interests and passions to the side? Has someone constructed an identity focused around being a “stoner”? Maybe that “study” drug that they take “just for exams” has become something that they rely on. Addiction has many faces – jail, physical withdrawal and hard drugs don’t necessarily have to have entered the picture for it to be present.

Signs of Addiction

So when asking yourself, how do I know if my child is an addict, it is important to watch for physical, behavioral, and psychological signs of addiction. Here are some of the most common:

Loss of control: when someone continues to drink or use drugs despite their intentions.
Risky behaviors: those who are suffering from addiction or more likely to put themselves in dangerous situations in order to obtain their desired drug.
Dishonest and secrecy: addicts will often go to great lengths to hide or disguise their drinking or using.
Loss of interest: addicts will often spend less time with family and on activities they previously enjoyed. Poor academic and work performance often occurs.
Change in appearance: addiction is extremely destructive; an addict’s outward appearance may reflect unhealthy choices.
Change in attitude or behavior: addicts often exhibit severe changes in overall attitude and behavior. Their mood often fluctuates.
Tolerance and withdrawal: over time addicts often require higher doses of a drug or increased number of alcoholic beverages in order to receive the effect they desire. Addicts will often experience withdrawal symptoms when the effects of drugs or alcohol begin to wear off.
Continued use despite negative consequences: addicts will often continue to use drugs and alcohol despite negative consequences such as legal issues, loss of employment, loss of family support and decrease in overall health.

Ask the Tough Questions

While it can be a lot easier much of the time to look the other way, a parent knows their child better than anyone else. If you suspect that any of these things are going on, reach out to an addiction specialist today. Addiction, like any other chronic disease, is treatable. But it isn’t going to go away on it’s own.

Last Updated on February 21, 2024


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