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A wake up call

March 08, 2002|BY KATE COLEMAN

Parents of the 21st century are living in a world very different from the one in which their ancestors raised children.

Were your great-grandparents even aware of marijuana or wine coolers? Could they even imagine there would be something called designer drugs?

The problem of drug and alcohol abuse among kids is real. Can parents do anything about it?

"Parents really can make a difference," says Elaine Parry, Acting Deputy Director of the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, headquartered in Rockville, Md. The agency, created by Congress in 1992, is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,

Parents need to get educated, experts say. For example, some have a view of marijuana that's distorted by what they knew from the 1960s, says Tom Menter, Washington County Health Department adolescent and young adult addictions counselor.

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Today's joints may contain as much as 14 times the amount of active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol, as weed from the old days, he says.

Parents need to know that there is something called "Ecstasy." The drug is among those used by a higher percentage of Washington County high school sophomores and seniors than their peers across the state, according to the 2001 Maryland Adolescent Survey.

Ecstasy often is used in combination with other substances, Menter says. "There's a lot of unpredictability," he adds. A kid might not experience bad side effects each time he or she uses, but the danger is there.

Parents need to talk to their kids. "Ask the hard questions," Menter says.

And parents have to keep talking, he adds. Many parents have been lulled into a sense of complacency because their kids have been through a drug education program at school.

Communication is more than just sitting down and saying, "I want to talk to you about drugs," Parry says. Use situations you see on television, hear on the radio, read in the newspaper as opportunities to reinforce your message.

Teaching your child about the consequences of choices and how to make good choices needs to start early and happen often.

John Shaw's children are just 9 and 7 years old. But Shaw, an emergency flight nurse, and his wife, an intensive care nurse, sometimes bring the trauma of their work home with them.

Many of the injuries he sees in his Medivac work and at Washington Hospital Center, a Level I trauma center, are the result of poor decisions, bad choices, Shaw says.

He brings his experiences down to his kids' level, but he wants them to know about choices and their consequences - life choices - choices of friends, college, drugs and alcohol.

"It's a daunting task," he says.

He got involved as a member of the Washington County Public Schools Alcohol and Drug Task Force because he is a parent and because of his professional expertise.

The group is a community effort.

"It's a community problem," Menter says.

Signs and symptoms of teenage substance abuse

As a parent you probably have seen lists like this a hundred times, and you've brushed them off.

You are thinking your child never would use drugs or get drunk. You think your kid is too smart to smoke cigarettes. Not your kid.

Think again.

"There is an element of denial," says Alan Twigg, Clinical Supervisor, Behavioral Health Services of Washington County Hospital.

Recognizing symptoms of drug or alcohol abuse is a tough call for parents, says Tom Menter, adolescent and young adult addictions counselor with the Washington County Health Department. Some of the signs mimic normal teenage behavior.

But parents need to trust themselves.

"If you think there's something going on, there probably is," Menter says.

Behavioral signs:

Mood swings - sudden emotional highs and lows

A dramatic difference in work or school performance

Lack of interest in activities, general apathy

Avoidance behavior - keeping to themselves

Having friends that don't come into the home and have contact with you, the parent

A change in personal appearance - becoming sloppy, not attending to hygiene

Physical clues:

White or brown powder in small quantities on surfaces

Heavy use of perfume or burning incense

Constant tooth-brushing

Using eye drops to reduce redness in bloodshot eyes

Paraphernalia: Small pieces of foil, small glassine envelopes, razor blades, scales, pipes, bongs - water pipes for smoking marijuana. Mirrors are used, for example, for chopping rocks of methamphetamine, so all of the drug can be seen and not lost as it might be if it were cut on a wooden table. Powdery substances, including milk sugar and baby laxatives, are used to dilute or stretch the amount of the drugs.

Watch your medicine cabinet to make sure prescription medications aren't missing. Keep track of cleaning solutions, which can be used as inhalants.

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