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How can we reach troubled teenage son?

My son has reached those difficult teenage years.

My son has reached those difficult teenage years. I had been dreading this stage of our lives because I knew it would be challenging, but the reality is far worse than I imagined. He has fallen in with the wrong crowd and I fear he may be using drugs, or at least smoking dope. I’m worried this could precipitate some form of mental illness. How can you tell the difference between typical teenage behaviour and real problems that need to be addressed? What should I look out for and how can I help him through this? I miss our beautiful boy.

ANSWER: 

The teenage years can be very difficult, for both parents and teenagers. It is a time when the adolescent communicates less with their parents and more with their peers, and mental health issues can first appear.

Keep communication channels open, even though teenagers often do not like talking about matters bothering them. They tend to think they are the only one with difficulties.

Symptoms to look out for that might suggest drug use are the presence of red eyes, sniffing and needle marks.

Illegal drugs can also produce psychiatric symptoms. Marijuana, for example, can cause panic attacks, anxiety and depression. In the long term it may cause a schizophrenic-like disorder.

Symptoms suggestive of psychiatric problems include mood swings, problems with sleep, changes in appearance, changes in past relationships, difficulties at work or loss of work, even avoiding work, stealing, and change in eating patterns.

These symptoms can also occur in people using drugs; however, they need to be seen in context with normal adolescent changes.

It is important to talk to your son. Try to remain calm, to listen and not to judge. He may not open up straight away, but let him know he can come to you any time.

Sometimes men take more time to open up about what is worrying them. Whether he is suffering from a mental disorder or using drugs, it is important to listen. Try to obtain as much information as possible and seek help and support.

Some of the places you can find help are Family Drug Support Australia (www.fds.org.au the Support Line 1300 368 186 is available 24 hours, 7 days a week), Headspace (www.headspace.org.au phone 1800 650 890) and Addiction Counselling Services (www.addictioncounsellingservices.com phone 8383 7113).

Your local GP can help both you and your son through what can be an overwhelming time by providing advice and information about where additional assistance may be sought. For example, seeing a psychologist who has an interest in adolescent behaviour can ease the situation.

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