Is My Daughter Addicted?
According to a 2017 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 21.5 million Americans aged 12 and older have a substance use disorder, which is the clinical term for addiction. Of those 21.5 million, 1.3 million are under the age of 18, indicating that teenagers may also struggle with a diagnosable addiction.1
Unfortunately, teens may use a variety of substances. According to a report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 38 percent of high school seniors had used an illegal drug within the past year as of 2019. Furthermore, nearly 36 percent had used marijuana in the past year; 3.6 percent had used LSD, and 2.2 percent had used cocaine.2
Given the high rates of substance abuse among teenagers, you may be worried that your daughter will become addicted. If you suspect drug use and worry that your daughter may be addicted, there are signs you can look for that will help you determine if your suspicions are true.
Behavioral indicators, such as changes in temperament or sudden impulsive behaviors, can be signs that your daughter is addicted. Specific behavior changes to look for include the following:
Changes in Friends
If your daughter has lost old friends and begun to spend time with a new friend group, this can be a sign of addiction. Old friends may not approve of drug use, so your daughter may gravitate toward a new group of friends who also use drugs if she has become addicted.
Lack of Motivation
Another sign that your daughter may be struggling with addiction to drugs is a lack of motivation. She may seem uninterested in completing necessary activities. This is because when a person becomes addicted to drugs, most of his or her energy goes toward finding and using the drug(s) of choice. The motivation for other activities can fall by the wayside.
Poor Job or School Performance
Work and school are other areas of life that may suffer if your daughter is addicted to drugs. Your daughter may begin skipping classes or failing to show up for shifts at work if she is using drugs during the day or recovering from being out all night seeking drugs. School and work performance may also decline if she shows up under the influence of drugs.
Loss of Interest in Hobbies
If your daughter is addicted, she may also give up former hobbies in favor of drug use. If most of her time is spent seeking drugs, using them, and recovering from their effects, she will have little time for or interest in other hobbies.
The effects of drugs can also lead your daughter to have difficulty paying attention if she becomes addicted. Some drugs may cause more inattention than others do. For example, a study in Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that young adults with more severe amphetamine addictions had worse attention and concentration abilities.3 Dealing with the side effects of drug use or withdrawal can make it difficult to focus.
Mood changes are another indicator that your daughter may be struggling with an addiction. According to a 2011 report in Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, research data show that unstable moods, crying spells, and mood swings are signs of teenage drug abuse.4 The side effects of drugs themselves can cause mood changes. Your daughter’s moods may also change suddenly if she is addicted and withdrawing or coming down from the effects of drugs.
Addiction may also lead your daughter to begin lying to hide her drug use. For instance, she may lie about whom she is spending time with or where she has been. She may also begin engaging in sneaky behavior, such as stealing money to support her addiction and then lying about it.
Beyond changes in behavior, there are physical side effects of drug use that may suggest your daughter is addicted. Watch for some or all of these physical indicators of drug addiction:
Changes in Sleep Patterns
You may notice that your daughter’s sleep habits have changed if she is using drugs. For example, if she is using a stimulant drug like cocaine, she may be staying up throughout the night due to the effects of the drug. On the other hand, some drugs like heroin or marijuana may make her appear sleepy. If she has stayed awake for an extended period using drugs, she may then sleep for long periods during the day as she is recovering from the effects of the drugs. Research supports that drug use is associated with a change in sleep patterns. For instance, studies have shown that during the first several days after stopping cocaine use, a person is likely to experience fatigue, disturbed sleep, and excessive time spent sleeping.5
In addition to disrupted sleep patterns, you may notice changes in eating habits and even disordered eating if your daughter becomes addicted to drugs. Some drugs may reduce appetite and lead to disordered eating. In addition, your daughter may forget to eat or neglect nutrition if she is seeking drugs or spending most of her time under the influence.
Personal Hygiene Changes
Addiction can also be associated with a decline in personal hygiene. As drugs become more important, your daughter may begin to care less about grooming and making herself presentable. For instance, you may notice that she is wearing the same clothes for several days, going an extended period without bathing, or neglecting basic grooming tasks like brushing her hair or teeth.
Paying Attention to Sights and Smells
In addition to specific physical and behavioral changes within your daughter, you may notice specific sights and smells that point to drug use. In fact, according to researchers, specific symptoms are some of the leading indicators that your child is using drugs. These symptoms include bloodshot eyes, pinpoint pupils, and enlarged pupils. More specifically, if your daughter is using marijuana, she is likely to have bloodshot eyes, whereas if she is using cocaine or methamphetamine, her pupils will likely be enlarged. On the other hand, tiny pinpoint pupils can point to heroin use.4
The takeaway message is that it is important to look your daughter in the eye, as this can provide you with evidence of drug use.
It is also important to pay attention to smells. For instance, you may notice a skunk-like odor if your daughter is using marijuana. You may also smell alcohol or smoke on her breath during conversations. New or unusual odors on her hair, body, or clothing can be a sign of addiction.
When Should You Begin to Search for Drugs?
If your daughter is displaying physical and behavioral signs of addiction and you notice strange smells, such as an odor on her hair or clothing, it is likely time to search for drugs for her safety and your own. Your daughter will likely feel that her privacy has been violated if you search her belongings, so you must be prepared to explain to her that you searched for drugs out of concern for her safety and wellbeing. Acknowledge that you recognize you violated her privacy, but you needed to be able to help her.
Once you are prepared to have this tough conversation, you can begin searching for drugs. Places to look include in her room, her car, and in the pockets of jackets and clothing. You may also find drugs hidden in drawers or makeup bags in the bathroom, or her purse or bedside drawers. In addition to drugs themselves, you may find paraphernalia, such as straws, burned spoons, pipes, pop cans, tin foil, and needles among your daughter’s belongings.
Confronting Your Daughter
Once you have found drugs or paraphernalia among your daughter’s belongings, you can be fairly certain that your suspicions of drug abuse are valid. At this point, it is time to have a tough conversation with your daughter. Before having this conversation, it is helpful to know that it is normal for your daughter to be angry when confronted. She may be in denial and will likely attempt to turn the conversation away from the topic of her drug use.
Stay on Task
You must be prepared to stay on task and not become distracted by her attempts to change the subject. It may be helpful for you to create a list of talking points that you want to address during the conversation, and to direct her back to these points should she attempt to change to a different topic of conversation.
Prepare Your Concrete Evidence
It is also beneficial for you to prepare a list of the concrete evidence you have that she is using drugs so that she cannot attempt to deny the seriousness of the situation. For instance, you may discuss the fact that you have smelled smoke on her clothing, found pipes in her room, and noticed that she is taking money from your purse.
While staying on track is critical, it is also important that you allow your daughter to talk and express her feelings without judgment. You may be angry yourself, but it is helpful if you stay calm and refrain from being critical of your daughter. She is struggling herself, and any judgment, shame, or resentment from you may make her reluctant to talk and accept your help. You can be honest about your concerns while remaining loving, supportive, and nonjudgmental.
Moving Forward from the Addiction
After having a difficult conversation with your daughter, you must make a plan for moving forward so that she can live a life that is free from the grips of drug addiction. Recovering from drug abuse is a process that takes time, so your daughter may feel overwhelmed. To combat this, it is important to set small goals to work toward the ultimate objective of your daughter achieving sobriety and returning to her normal life. For example, you may set an initial goal of your daughter beginning therapy by a certain date and then set a goal down the road for staying drug-free for thirty days. Moving forward, she may work toward six months of sobriety and getting her grades back up, so she is maintaining a 3.0 GPA, for instance.
The Importance of Beginning Treatment
Regardless of the specific goals you and your daughter set for her, she needs to begin treatment. Drug addiction is a clinical condition that requires professional intervention, so reaching out for help is the first step toward healing and recovery.
Treatment is Effective
Fortunately, the research shows that treatment is effective. A 2013 report in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment reviewed the results of multiple studies and found that most forms of treatment were effective for reducing drug use among teenagers. Among all the types of treatment, family therapy was found to be most effective.6
Given this information, you must be prepared to be supportive of your daughter and participate in her recovery journey. If your daughter is addicted, reach out to a treatment provider for help today.