How can you tell if your child is using substances?

There are no set symptoms associated with substance use, especially in its early stages. However, given that a parent has a strong emotional relationship with their child, they will be in a position to recognize certain signs which, though not directly related to substance use and abuse, can be indicative of a troubled adolescence. Examples include:

- Passivity and a lack of independence
- Low self-esteem
- An unwillingness to make up after disagreements
- A lack of self-control
- An inability to get over problems and disappointments
- Difficulties forging and maintaining friendships
It can sometimes be hard to distinguish normal adolescent behaviour from the sort of behaviour that can stem from substance abuse, but extreme and lasting changes could point to the latter.

You should ask yourself the following:
- Does your child seem distant, melancholy, tired or less interested in how they look?
- Has your child become more hostile, aggressive or uncooperative?
- Does their mood swing suddenly from happy and lively to sullen, silent and ill-humoured?
- Has your child’s relations with the rest of the family deteriorated?
- Have they grown apart from or dropped their old friends?
- Has your child’s performance at school worsened? Are they absent more often?
- Has your child lost interest in their favourite activities?
- Have your child’s eating and sleeping habits changed (sleepiness or sleeplessness, loss of appetite)?
- Have they started lying a lot or keeping secrets?
- Have sums of money or objects started to mysteriously disappear from the home?
- Are there any unusual smells, stains or marks on their body or clothes or in their bedroom?
- Have you found powders, pills, pieces of tin foil, plastic straws, cigarette papers, needles or syringes in their room?
If you have answered yes to most of the above questions, it may indicate that your child is using substances. However, children facing problems other than substance abuse can manifest certain of these signs, too. If in doubt, seek help.