Here are 3 ways to differentiate between normal teenage drug/alcohol experimentation and the beginning stages of an addiction:
1. Normal parenting interventions are not working (at least not for long). Addicted teens will continue to use drugs/alcohol even after you have done all the normal parent things like taking their car or their phone away, giving them restrictions, taking their xbox, banning them from their friends, etc… The kid may stop temporarily when you implement consequences but they go back over and over.
It will feel like no matter what you do, they just keep going back to using/drinking. Eventually they will turn the problem onto the parents. They will become progressively more defensive. Many will start turning the problem onto their parents (as if the parents are absolutely crazy for not allowing them to smoke weed, etc). Kids these days seem to have an attitude of entitlement about using drugs.
Sure, kids have used drugs and drank FOREVER! But, in the past most kids at least understood that they were “being bad” or that they were in the wrong. Nowadays kids think that they should be allowed to drink and smoke marijuana. Unfortunately, many parents allow kids to do these things, and that makes it really hard on parents who do not allow these behaviors.
2. They have changed friends (usually a couple of times). The first change will be that your child will start spending progressively less time with childhood friends/family who don’t engage in drinking/drugs. They will spend more time with the “cool kids who party.” If the problem progresses, they will shift from the “cool kids who party” to hanging out with kids whose main purpose is getting high. These kids get high on the way to school (referred to as wake-n-bake), they sneak alcohol into school in soda bottles or water bottles, and many of them have stopped going to school altogether.
Think of it in stages: Non-using kid becomes “cool kid”, and then “cool kid” becomes “pot head.”
There is a difference between kids who don’t use at all, kids who party some on weekends or do some sneaking around, and kids whose daily mission it is to get high.
Many kids say to me “everyone does it.” My response is “yes, but do they do it as much as you do?”
3. You and your spouse are having difficulty agreeing on the severity of the problem. A major symptom of teenage drug problems is how the parents are responding. When a kid is developing an addiction, the parents get scared.
Typically, one of the parents starts becoming very reactive/defensive to the situation while the other parent starts trying to mediate the tension by buffering or shielding for the kid. This will progress into a serious problem in the relationship of the parents.