When you help your son pack his things and send him off to college and life on his own, it can seem pretty straightforward at first. He’s a man now. Your job as a parent is over. The responsibility for his future rests in his hands.
But when you start seeing signs that your college-aged son may be getting involved with drugs, the situation becomes murky.
Should you intervene, or let him sort things out on his own?
How responsible should you feel for your adult child’s actions?
Where’s the line between letting him be independent and stepping in as a parent?
The Line Between Freedom and Safety
Parents can be hesitant to get involved when they see their college-aged children using substances, because they’re unclear about what their role should be at this point in their child’s life.
While it’s good to foster a healthy sense of independence and give young people a chance to work out their own problems, a parent always has a right – and a responsibility – to intervene when their child’s safety is at risk, regardless of the child’s age. Substance use is most definitely a safety concern, and age shouldn’t be a deterrent from sending a child to rehab, if necessary.
When you see obvious signs that your son is using drugs, getting involved in the drug culture, or partying too much, there’s no time like the present to offer help and get him on the path to recovery. Early intervention prevents the problem from getting especially dire.
Do NOT wait for your son to “hit rock bottom” to provide the motivation for him to change his circumstances. Rehab for college students is a viable option available to your family, so don’t hesitate to go that route if your son if struggling.
Signs That Your College-Aged Son May Have a Drug Problem
Sometimes it’s not obvious that there’s really a problem. Parents may be unsure if the behaviors they’re seeing are just normal growing pains as their son adjusts to adult life, or the sign of a substance abuse problem.
Here are some telltale signs to watch out for:
- Changes in behavior and attitude that are not consistent with your son’s personality
- Mood swings, irritability and erratic behavior
- Periods of extreme hyperactivity, staying up all night without losing energy, etc.
- Periods of lethargy and lack of motivation
- Hanging out with other people who are abusing substances
- Changes in work, sleep and eating habits
- Inconsistent attendance at school
- Medication or valuables missing from home, or an unusually frequent need for money
- Acting secretive
- Physical symptoms such as bloodshot eyes, nosebleeds, tremors, slurred speech, poor coordination, unusual bodily smells, etc.
- Weight loss or gain, changes in physical appearance and personal grooming
Trends in College Substance Abuse and Addiction
Prescription drug use is rising on college campuses. Here’s a quick overview of what you need to know about these dangerous substances.
College campuses are certainly not immune to the opioid abuse crisis sweeping the nation. These powerful painkillers may be used legitimately for extreme short-term pain, such as after a surgery, but they can become addictive after even just a week or two of use. They are also abused by people looking for a high to help them escape from the troubles of everyday life.
A 2015 survey found that 16 percent of college students had taken pain pills not prescribed to them. That number was higher – 22.5 percent – for students involved in intercollegiate sports, most likely because opioid painkillers are often prescribed after sports injuries and surgeries.
Also called benzos for short, benzodiazepines are the class of anti-anxiety drugs known by brand names such as Valium and Xanax. Known by earlier generations as “momma’s little helper,” they should really only be prescribed for extreme cases of anxiety, but are often overprescribed to many people who are dealing with stress-related anxiety.
Students with a heavy load of schoolwork, and often part-time jobs as well, have been turning to substances for years to help them get everything done, especially caffeine and energy drinks.
However, abuse of Adderall on college campuses, along with other ADHD medications such as Ritalin, has risen as these substances become more readily available in medicine cabinets across the nation. College students also sometimes turn to illegal drugs like speed (an amphetamine) and cocaine to stay up longer and get more done.
Alcohol Is Always a Concern
Binge drinking is practically synonymous with college life, but that doesn’t mean it should be taken lightly. Despite being legal (for those 21 and older, of course), alcohol is one of the most physically harmful addictive substances, and those who abuse alcohol tend to vehemently deny they have a problem because alcohol consumption is so common and socially acceptable.
If you suspect your son has binge drinking problems, or is turning to alcohol regularly to cope with college life, get help for him as soon as possible.
A Parent’s Role Changes, But Never Ends
The college years are when young adults are shaping their futures, and they are open to new ideas and ways of doing things. Some of those things are positive, and others may be negative. If you feel that your son is going down a negative path, a little redirection now will help avoid major problems down the road.
Here are some steps you can take as a parent to help your college-aged son avoid drug abuse:
- Prevent your child’s access to prescription medication by disposing of any unused drugs in your medicine cabinet.
- Check in regularly to get a sense of your son’s workload and stress levels, and help him figure out healthy ways to lighten his load.
- Tell your son you are always there for emotional support no matter what – and follow through on that promise if he does come to you for help.
Explore Rehab for College Students
It’s good to give your child room to be independent and explore new things, but if you suspect drug use is happening, it’s important to intervene sooner rather than later. No matter how old your child gets, your right to be concerned for his health and safety never ends.