How do I know if my child is addicted?


Today's newsletter is about addiction and children or adults. How do I know if my teenage son is addicted and what should I do?

Table of contents

Addiction is a well-identified disease, but it is not always what it seems at first glance. We cannot, and should not, label our son as an addict because he has used alcohol or drugs. It's true that ideally they shouldn't, but sometimes it's almost impossible.

The best way to prevent our son from becoming addicted is to take care of his emotional care. Try to talk to your child often. Show interest in his problems and don't just say, for example, "drugs are bad" or "I'll be angry if you smoke pot". Obviously, our child's age will determine how best to approach this situation.

When it comes to addiction and teens, in recent years, we are witnessing a shift in the addiction model. Just as the use of alcohol or marijuana has historically caused the most common addictions among young people, technological addictions are growing by leaps and bounds.

For example, sports betting addiction, video game addiction, or cell phone addiction, now represent the largest source of addictive behavior among young adolescents.

Addiction in the family

Accepting an addiction within the family is not easy. Even less so if the addict is our son.

At first, we will probably deny it, or feel guilty. Generally speaking, we tend to think that addictions are always present in other families. We feel sorry that we failed to raise them, or that it's the fault of friends or the couple.

As an emotional self-defense mechanism, we resist the idea that our child is addicted. 

On the other hand, it is very common to understand addiction as a lack of willpower, as a vice or as something temporary. We are not sure how to act, and we usually get stuck. So what should we do about our son's alleged addiction?

Being addicted is a pathological condition of considerable importance. We cannot generalize. In the most practical aspect possible, the first thing to do is not to be alarmed.

Second, it's best to try to talk to our son about what's bothering him. If your child is an addict, he will probably be in denial at first. Don't push, it may not be the right time. Wait for the right time to talk about it. If you recognize the problem, it's best to go see an addiction specialist to assess the severity of the problem.

Signs to detect if my son is addicted

A sudden change in behavior is often the first warning sign that suggests our child is addicted. Parents realize that something is going on, but we often resist believing that alcohol or drugs are the cause of the change.

Unless the evidence is undeniable (marijuana smoked in the home, alcohol in the bedroom, wrappers with drug traces on clothing, etc.), it is best to rule out other causes first.

Usually people try to find a patronizing explanation for the change: "he'll have problems with his studies, with his friends, or it's just mood swings". When there is an addiction to new technologies (mobile, internet, video games), it will be much easier to detect.

The truth is that there are signs that indicate a high probability that our child is an addict. Or, at least, that he or she has a problematic use if it involves alcohol or drugs.

In any case, these are some of the most characteristic signs that indicate that our child is addicted:

  • Sudden changes in your behavior.
  • Poor academic or work performance.
  • Sudden change in your friendships.
  • Non-existent or interrupted family communication.
  • Request money frequently and for unjustifiable purposes.
  • Altered sleep cycle (sleep late, get up late).
  • Abandonment of healthy leisure activities (sports, reading, hobbies).
  • Legal problems such as complaints, traffic tickets, fights, or even drug dealing.

Complying with one or more of these points is not equivalent to suffering from addiction. To find out if your child is addicted and to what extent, you should go to a qualified professional to find out.

A psychologist specializing in addictions can tell you the steps to follow to carry out the most appropriate treatment to resolve an addiction.

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Know if my teenage son is addicted

Addiction in adolescents is a tricky area. The diagnosis of addiction in a minor requires great caution.

Adolescence itself is a complicated stage, and determining chronic pathology in a minor involves extreme professional rigor. If an adolescent begins experimenting with alcohol or drugs, it is likely to influence her behavior.

The boundaries between harmful, problematic and pathological use should only be drawn by a psychiatrist or health psychologist who is an expert in addictions. We cannot label our son as an addict because he misuses drugs or alcohol.

There are various scientifically validated tools that can detect and assess the risk of substance use in adolescents. One of these tools is the CRAFFT test, which is valid for youth aged 12 to 21.

What to do if my (adult) child is addicted?

When our son with the supposed addiction problem is an adult, the most advisable thing is to try to accompany him in his decision regarding the problem. This can be complicated on many occasions.

Addiction is the disease of denial. As an older person, our son owns his own life and his responsibility involves doing something about it, or not doing something about it. 

The best position as a parent of an addicted child is to offer support and try to get him to make the decision to solve the problem. We won't get anywhere with a belligerent attitude, nor from a condescending position. Perhaps the most difficult thing is to get him to understand that he needs to put himself in the hands of professionals to determine whether he has an addiction. And if he does, follow the directions (treatment) that will allow him to solve the problem.

Addiction is the disease of denial. Finding a specialized addiction center is the best way to help an addicted child.

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Disclaimer: This article is purely informative, I have no authority to make a diagnosis or recommend treatment. I invite you to visit a psychologist to treat your particular case.