Would You Know if Your Teens Were Abusing Drugs?

In an earlier blog post – Drug-Proofing Your Home and Family – I shared some ways to drug-proof your home, but if your teen was abusing drugs, would you know where to look? Most likely he/she would hide it in a bedroom, backpack or car – somewhere a certain level of privacy is expected (and typically received without question) – somewhere they feel “safe.”

This is the place where you, the parent, have to walk the fine line between respecting your teen’s privacy and keeping him or her safe.

Many parents who otherwise drug-proof their home often simply draw the line here, which makes it the perfect place for teens to experiment without supervision and find themselves heading in the wrong direction while their parents are in oblivion.

At the very least, you need to be on the lookout for signs of abuse – unexpected empty medicine packages in the trash or lying around the room, on the floorboard of their car or sticking out of their backpack. Cough syrups, cold and allergy medicines can be purchased over-the-counter and are often abused.

You might also consider a no-locked-door policy. This is not the same as not respecting someone’s privacy – it’s a knock-and-announce policy. If you hear a scurry of activities, odd sounds or smell strange odors – it may call for a more thorough investigation.

Another tactic is to become more active in helping them clean these areas, especially their bedroom. I’m not suggesting do so without their expectation – in fact, let it be known this could occur at any moment.  If you’ve woven in drug abuse facts and your opinions into previous discussions with them, they already know you don’t tolerate drug abuse. They should not expect to be able to hide evidence of abuse in your home and go undetected.

So, how do you clean their room – or do what I like to call a “search and rescue” (searching for evidence of things your child needs rescuing from)?  First, I would not announce when you will be cleaning or allow your child to be present. To do so would be to negate the purpose – if your child has something to hide it is likely to disappear pretty quickly – leaving you with a false sense of security.

When cleaning, be extra diligent around the bed – it’s a favorite hiding place for just about anything. Check inside pillowcases, between mattresses and even around the bedframe. Also, if you notice any holes in the underside of box springs – check them out.

When opening their closet, think like a kid and check places they would never expect anyone to find – pockets of old ski jacket, inside old shoes, or even tucked into a cap. Also, backpacks, suitcases, gym bags – there are all kinds of hidden compartments built into them that are hardly ever noticed. Check the ones your child uses all the time and the ones thrown in the closet and hardly ever touched. When opening drawers, do more than look in them – feel the balled-up socks, pull the drawer out, check out the underside for taped items.

Check behind and around items on bookshelves and on top and underneath furniture. Look at the air vents – are screws missing? Check it out. The unused battery compartment of an old boom box lying around (yes, there are still some around) is another place to hide drugs. There are endless ways to hide things in plain sight – such as hollowed-out books, empty ink pins and markers and “fake” deodorant cans. These are things you can typically easily pick up and tell something’s “off” – either by weight or by shaking them.

Drug-proofing your home, physically, and drug-proofing your family are two separate things that go hand in hand. If you think that your teen is abusing medicines but don’t know what to do next, take a breath and then get the professional support you need. There is a lot of support out there and resources available, including Time to Act! and Intervene, a community of experts, parents, and caring adults who have come together to share insights, guidance, and help.

Susanne Ballard, RPh, is a veteran pharmacist and mother to four daughters. When one of her daughter’s was 2-years-old she ingested medicine in the time it took to fold a load of laundry. Her daughter was unharmed, but the incident ignited her passion for helping families drug-proof their homes. Today Susanne is known as the PharMomAssist for her work to empower parents, grandparents and other adults to keep young children and teens safe from the dangers lurking in medicine cabinets and beyond. Learn more at www.PharMomAssist.com.