It was a Monday afternoon, and I received an alarming call from the Vice Principal at Mason High School. Aaron was in his sophomore year. The school official told me that Aaron had gone to the school basketball game that past Friday, and that he and his acquaintances were high and drunk, but left the game before police were able to catch him. Because this was a violation of school policy, Aaron was suspended, an action that would have consequences in his upcoming baseball season.
I did not believe the Vice Principal. My wife and I went to his office and argued on Aaron’s behalf, to no avail. I took offense to what this man was accusing my son of, and thought he was out to get him! Looking back, the “signs” of drug use were present, but I was ignorant. I could not see the signs and I refused to believe my gifted athlete would use drugs.
Many parents are in the same situation with their kids today. As I have already stated in this three part blog, people are asking about the signs of drug use/addiction. Thus far, we have considered two indicators of drug use: paraphernalia and physical signs. Now let us conclude with the third and most painful sign.
The use of drugs will result in a change in your loved one’s personality and lifestyle. That is a fact. You begin to notice that he or she is changing, and not for the better. The change in personality usually starts out slow, but often increases dramatically and, all of a sudden, you have a situation that is out of control.
When a person becomes involved in the drug culture, new friends and acquaintances will surface in their life. These new people will pick your kid up at your house, or come and hang out in your kid’s room. You have never seen them before. This was one of the earliest things that began to happen in our life. I wish I would have had the foresight of calling the school to get a scouting report on these “new kids on the block,” for little did I know they were active users and in frequent trouble at school.
As these new friends enter the life of your kid, old friends, class mates, and teammates will gradually disappear from his/her life. These “old friends” may know what you do not yet know-that your child is using, and they don’t want to be around it. As drugs take hold on your child’s life, you will begin to see a lost interest in activities, hobbies, and pastimes that he or she once enjoyed. Almost inevitably, there will be a decline in academic performance as homework, projects, and studies are put on the back-burner. Note: this is not always the case. Some users, somehow, are able to continue functioning in school, graduate, and escape consequences, but I think this to be the exception rather than the rule.
You may observe your child in periods of excessive sleep, deep sleep perhaps, and it is difficult to awaken them. On the other hand, you may observe your child to be unusually hyper and excessively over-active. Depending on the drug in question, your son or daughter may be unable to sleep, staying up all night without getting tired. It all depends on what drug is being abused. Allow me to elaborate.
Marijuana will produce a lack of ambition and motivation. When on “weed,” a person will giggle and laugh a lot, act silly, become humorous, or present themselves as one without a care in the world. Weed mellows people out. Some people today view weed as harmless, but I firmly believe it can be a gateway drug, not only destroying brain cells, but ultimately leading it’s users on to stronger, deadlier drugs.
A lot of weed users are turning to potent, prescription pills in increasing numbers. One such painkiller, oxycontin, induces a deep sleep. The user ends up in a deep sleep and is very difficult to awaken. We saw this in our teenage son, who would come home, fall asleep on the couch in the early evening and sleep through the night. Oxycontin is very expensive, which is why it often leads to heroin, which is cheaper and produces an even more profound effect; it also poses an even greater danger. Unusual, long periods of sleep is a sign of opiate use. Note, however, that mania, euphoria, and hyperactivity will be present before the sleeping stage. In the early stage of their fix, the heroin addict will be outgoing, extra-talkative or chatty, silly, bold, or even overly affectionate before they crash. When Aaron would come home and continually hug us, it was like he was announcing that he had just shot up. My wife and I would look at each other as if to say, “Here we go again.”
On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are drugs that produce the opposite effect. Certain A.D.D. medications such as Adderall, when ingested, will produce extra energy and intense focus and concentration. College students turn to this form of drug use to enhance their performance in school. Cocaine is a drug known for “energizing” its users, enabling them to operate with tireless energy for lengthy periods of time (thus athletes are sometimes drawn to coke). A cocaine user comes across as hyper, jumpy, overly talkative and energetic to the extreme. For a brief time my son used this drug also, but it was not what he was looking for. From coke Aaron quickly moved on to crack, an all-consuming substance which comes in the form of little balls (“rocks”). The crack rocks, when lit and smoked, give the user an intense, euphoric feeling. But its effects are damning! Crack turned Aaron into a caged tiger. He was increasingly agitated and on edge in his waking hours, giving his total attention to getting out and scoring his next fix. On crack, Aaron became a totally different person, just as he did when on heroin.
Drugs will also cause isolation on the part of the user and withdrawal from family members and family events. Time spent alone in their room, or absence from the house is a personality sign that should cause concern. Before drugs, Aaron loved being with family, and he enjoyed family gatherings immensely. Drugs greatly altered his personality and for seven years, he wasn’t the same person. He was often a no-show at holiday gatherings, and when he did come, he was uncomfortable, fidgety, and always wanting to leave. It was apparent to extended family that something was wrong-Aaron was not the same kid.
Drugs always affect the personality of the user. We saw these signs, through the years, in our son. It is my hope that this information is helpful to you if you suspect your loved one to be using. I am so grateful to God that our son, the real Aaron Emerson, is back. Eleven months clean, Aaron is his old self again…no, he is really a new and improved person. God is good.
What are the signs of drug use? In summary, I suggest you look for three indicators: paraphernalia, physical signs, and personality signs. The sooner you recognize them and take action, the better your chances to helping your loved one down the road to sobriety.
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