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Drugs and alcohol: Top tips every parent of a teen should know

Dawn Brazell | News Center | May 13, 2013

Dr. Viktoriya MagidDr. Viktoriya Magid who works with teens at MUSC's Center for Drug and Alcohol Programs wants parents to be proactive in dealing with troubling new drug and alcohol trends.

Parents often mean well, but do the wrong thing when it comes to teenage abuse of alcohol and drugs.

Viktoriya Magid, Ph.D., assistant professor in MUSC’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, works with the Center for Drug and Alcohol Programs’ Adolescent Substance Use Skills Education Training groups known as ASSET in the Institute of Psychiatry. Derick Hammond, 17, who is recovering from addiction issues that started when he was 13, hopes to volunteer with the program to help other teens. (See his story here.)

Magid said his mother, Amy Bailey, did everything right. “Amy is a wonderful example of how to handle having a child with addiction problems. She’s not enabling her son. She’s doing everything possible to put him into treatment.”

What she often sees, though, are parents who err on one extreme or the other. They either protect their children too much, even to the point of saving them from the law, or they threaten to withdraw all support from them, making them even more vulnerable to addiction problems. Most parents also tend to deny their child has a problem until the problems have advanced.

“Parents want to believe so desperately that there’s not a problem that they overlook the signs. And the signs can be difficult to pinpoint,” she said. They also don’t start looking early enough, assuming drug and alcohol experimentation happens in the late teen years. “Eighty percent of people start using around 13 or 14.”


MUSC offers two levels of ASSET. There is a four-week prevention track program for teenagers age 13 – 17 struggling with substance abuse, and an eight-week treatment track, which is more intensive for adolescents with addiction issues. The prevention program’s goal is to equip teens with the coping skills needed to stop using drugs and alcohol before before the substances can cause the physiological changes in the brain that make addiction so hard to break for many people.

Magid said signs to watch for with teenage use of alcohol and drugs include:

  • Sudden drop in grades and/or unexplained school absences
  • Loss of interest in extracurricular activities
  • A change in friends and/or having friends known to use drugs and alcohol, one of the number one predictors of use.
  • Changes in mood, with teen showing signs of anxiety, irritability and/or aggression
  • Disappearance of prescription pills and buying of over-the-counter medications that aren’t needed

Often parents aren’t aware of the new trends in teen drug use. Here are four that  she’d like parents to have on their radar.
  • Synthetic marijuana also known as K2 or Spice: It is easy to obtain and can be much more addictive than marijuana. Some people have strong reactions to it the first time they try it, and it can lead to experiencing nausea, hallucinations, radical mood swings, a rapid heartbeat and an unhealthy increase in blood pressure. Some teens mistakenly think it’s safe because it uses a botanical blend as its base and is often marketed as being “natural.” The botanicals have been sprayed with an active compound derived from research labs that synthesized a version of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, to study its effects. The synthesized version, though, can bond with the brain’s cannabis receptor five times greater than what THC can, leading to a greater chance for serious, long-lasting neurological problems, she said. Unfortunately, the psychological effects can be much more severe, with users becoming agitated, irritable, aggressive and subject to heavy mood swings. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, synthetic marijuana has become the second most popular illegal drug among teenagers, landing more than 11,000 teens in the emergency room in 2010 with symptoms that included vomiting, racing heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, seizures or hallucinations.
  • Skittling: This is a practice where teens take random drugs in their homes, whether prescription or over the counter, and toss them into a bowl at a party. Partygoers pop a pill having no idea what they are taking or what the drug interactions might be.
  • Cough medicine abuse: DXM is a cough suppressor found in more than 120 over-the-counter medications, either alone or in combination with other drugs that some people use in high doses. Some of the many psychoactive effects with high dose DXM include confusion, agitation, paranoia and hallucinations. One of the most dangerous is Triple C (Coricidin HBP Cough & Cold), which some teens abuse in heavy doses.
  • Energy drinks mixed with alcohol: Some teens use the boost from energy drinks, which often have caffeine, to mix with alcohol use so they don’t feel the sedating effects. What happens is they set themselves up for possible alcohol poisoning, she said.

If parents suspect their teen may be using, then they can bring them in for an assessment. It also allows therapists to see if there are underlying issues. “Kids don’t get high to get high always. Sometimes they’re trying to alleviate social anxiety or depression.”

Talking to teens about substance abuse can be a difficult conversation to have. It’s critical parents educate them about the trends and dangers and if teens already are using, give them the tools to stop. Education is crucial given the amount of misinformation and drug marketing materials online. ““Don’t assume they aren’t doing it. Assume they are. They are teenagers,” she said. “They pretend they don’t hear you, but parents play a bigger role than they think.”

Magid always encourages parents to err on the conservative side. “I give credit to parents who are proactive. The sooner we can intervene, the better. Addiction results in physiological brain changes. It’s hard to go back to the pre-addicted brain.”

For more information about ASSET, call 843-792-5200. For infographics to use as a discussion starter with your teenager, visit the National Institute on Drug Abuse's infographic site. It features the Monitoring the Future 2012 Survey Results.



  Related Video

Dr. Magid
Why can it be so hard to stop using synthetic marijuana?

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What are some warning signs that your child may be using synthetic marijuana?


Related Stories >>

A new global drug problem (The New York Times)

Synthetic marijuana spurs state bans (The New York Times)

Resources >>

NIDA for teens: The science behind drug abuse

Facts on Drugs: NIDA


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