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What to Do When Your Child Is Using Marijuana

A parent who is facing a child’s drug abuse may feel a host of conflicting emotions, such as disappointment and guilt over any perceived parenting missteps.

But dealing with a child’s drug use, whether it is experimental or more developed, is a reality for many parents. Marijuana is often one of the main drugs of choice among teens and adolescents. Research shows that the majority of adolescents who enter drug rehab do so for marijuana abuse.

Marijuana Use Among Youth

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), sponsored by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, provides reliable and comprehensive information on drug use patterns in America. The 2013 NSDUH results includes helpful information about adolescent and teen drug use. Highlights from 2013 survey for the 12-17 age group include the following facts:

  • An estimated 7.1 percent of young people in this age group were current users of marijuana.

  • The number of teenagers who used marijuana varied according to age group: 1 percent of 12-13 year olds used marijuana, while in the 14-15 age group, marijuana use rose to 5.8 percent. It again rose to 14.2 percent in the 16-17 age group.

  • Among underage drinkers, marijuana was the most commonly used illicit drug in combination with alcohol.

  • Compared to 2007, fewer youths aged 12-17 perceived a great risk in smoking marijuana. In 2013, 39.5 percent had this perception compared to 54.6 percent in 2007.

The ongoing use of marijuana among those 12-17 years old, as well as the lowered perception of using marijuana as a great risk, suggests that current drug policy is not effective enough.

Also importantly, the potency of marijuana (i.e., THC levels) has been on the rise over the last few decades. The increased potency presents greater risks, which may account in part for the high incidence of emergency room visits due to marijuana. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, in 2011, there were 455,000 emergency department visits due to marijuana use, and 13 percent of these cases involved youth aged 12-17.

When Children Use Marijuana

If you find your child is actively using marijuana, you have won half the battle because you know what’s going on. This is a great benefit as many parents are in the dark. But what are the next steps to immediately take? The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids advises that the following actions can help:

  • Be clear that drug use will not be tolerated, and set the terms of any ramifications to follow, such as grounding or earlier curfew. It is critical to then implement any such repercussions, in order to underline the severity of the situation.

  • Provide opportunities to re-establish the bond of trust, such as supervising homework and chores but also recognizing a job well done.

  • Be responsive to the child’s efforts to correct the behavior, as a punishing attitude alone can jeopardize or damage the emotional bond between parent and child.

  • If a friend is involved, consider contacting the parents. First, it will send a message that drug use will not be tolerated. Second, it can help the other parents to take measures to prevent their children’s drug abuse. Third, it creates a dialogue around drug use between concerned parents.

Not all parents will catch their children using marijuana. The discovery process will therefore require some effort to uncover the truth.

The following are some ways parents can determine if their child is using marijuana:

  • Understand and watch out for the physical and psychological signs of marijuana use, which includes side effects of use, severe reactions/side effects of marijuana toxicity, and withdrawal symptoms.

  • Learn about the behavioral signs associated with substance abuse.

  • Consider searching for potential hiding places for marijuana and related paraphernalia.

The physical and psychological signs of marijuana use are the same as the side effects the user will experience. Most often, these effects are temporary and may only last up to a few hours. For this reason, parents may not have an opportunity to notice the physical side effects of marijuana use when children use marijuana away from home.

Some children may use marijuana at home or return home before the effects have fully worn away. It is important to know the physical side effects, which range in severity, but can include:

  • Red eyes

  • Increased blood pressure

  • Forgetfulness

  • Dizziness and headaches

  • Laughter without a reason

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Panic or anxiety

  • Hallucinations

The behavioral signs of marijuana abuse can be the greatest tip-off to the existence of the problem. When individuals become psychologically addicted to marijuana, they will make the drug a main priority in their day-to-day lives, possibly to the exclusion of important work, family, school, and/or personal obligations. The following are some additional behavioral side effects of marijuana abuse:

  • Taking uncharacteristic risks such as driving while under the influence, having unprotected sex, or mixing marijuana with opioids, alcohol or other drugs

  • Continuing to use marijuana despite problems it is causing in relationships, with finances, or with the ability to fulfill important obligations

  • Ensuring that one has a more than adequate supply of marijuana due to a generalized fear of not having access to it (for any number of reasons)

  • Increasingly foregoing social interactions or activities that do not involve marijuana use

Marijuana users, in order to protect their supply, may stash different quantities of the drug at home. Some parents will want to have evidence of marijuana abuse before approaching their child about their suspicions. For this reason, some parents may opt to search their children’s room, as well as the entire house, for marijuana and/or marijuana paraphernalia. There are numerous potential hiding places for marijuana, such as:

  • In a drop ceiling

  • In unopened soda cans or water bottles that are designed to hide drugs

  • Inside of CD/DVD cases

  • In consumer packages for over-the-counter drugs

  • Between mattresses

  • In a hollowed-out space above a door

  • In an electrical outlet

  • Rolled up in a towel

When parents reach a point where they are sure their child is using marijuana, the next concern will be how to approach the child. This necessary step can be fraught with unsettling emotions. It is important to gather motivation and momentum from the unfortunate reality that even occasional recreational drug abuse can escalate to addiction. Also, a host of negative consequences, such as an arrest, can arise from marijuana abuse.

Approaching Your Child

When individuals experiencing marijuana abuse are in denial or resistant to getting help, concerned individuals often need guidance on how to get the person into treatment.

Oftentimes, marijuana abuse occurs as part of poly-drug abuse, which can make the need for treatment even more urgent. The best practice is to know about feasible treatment options before approaching the person who is abusing marijuana or other drugs. A next step is to have an informal or formal intervention.

An informal intervention can involve simply approaching the person to have a talk about the suspected or known drug use. According to Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, the following are some helpful points to keep in mind when discussing drug-related concerns:

  • Wait until the child is sober to have the talk.

  • Understand that hostility won’t work. Instead, explain concerns in a nonthreatening way that communicates the motivation for the talk comes from a good place.

  • Have evidence or at least a firm understanding of the root of the concern because this will help to remove or chip away at the child’s denial tactics.

  • Offer potential solutions, such as information on a rehab program that can provide professional help.

In some cases, one or more concerned persons may decide that it is best to work with a professional interventionist. This individual is trained and experienced in ensuring safety in the intervention process. Also, a professional interventionist can help make arrangements with a rehab program. Drug abuse is often a volatile and exceptionally emotional issue in a family, and an interventionist can help to keep everyone on track with the goal of treatment.

Getting Treatment

There is are host of factors involved in identifying the best treatment for marijuana abuse. A parent who decides that a structured rehab program is the best course of action will need to decide whether or not to pick a specialized adolescent/teen program. The next step may be to determine whether an inpatient or outpatient program is most suitable. A rehab admissions counselor can help a parent to understand which program type and services are most advisable.

From a treatment perspective, medical services are related to the specific drugs of abuse, which may be isolated to marijuana or include other use of other illicit drugs.

After medical detox, if needed, the recovering child will receive individual and group therapy. Although group therapy can be mixed age, the recovery center may offer a teen-only group to address substance abuse alongside issues that are particularly relevant to adolescents or teens.

The importance of the family in recovery cannot be over-stressed. A rehab center that offers comprehensive programming may invite family members into therapy, especially in view of the minor age of adolescent or teen clients. Forms of family participation include family therapy (as a group that includes the recovering person), educational programs (about drug abuse and the recovery process), and/or family social gatherings on site.

Addiction professionals understand that family plays an integral role not only in leading individuals to recovery, but also in helping to keep them in the program, as well as in assisting with the aftercare process.


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