As parents’ nightmares go, it’s one of the worst: a child’s addiction to
Which means that right now, in neighborhoods throughout Duneland, there are
fathers and mothers at their wits’ end in houses turned upside down:
plunging grades, erratic or secretive behavior, dodgy new friends, even
run-ins with the law.
In some cases the crisis may yet be incipient, the signs are troubling but
not definitive, and moms and dads may have only a disquieting suspicion of
the intruder in their home. Perhaps they suspect but—terrified of knowing
for sure—have turned a blind eye in the hope that they’re wrong, that their
child’s behavior will improve, that things will just get better.
Parents whose children still live under their roofs, however—whose kids go
to school here or, because of the sputtering economy, never moved out or
have moved back in—have this advantage over empty-nesters: the chance to
intervene meaningfully, to communicate regularly with their child, to
establish and enforce rules, to get professional help.
Know the Signs
Identifying the problem, making the diagnosis, is only the first step. Allen
Grecula, director of group education for Frontline Foundations Inc.—a
faith-based substance-abuse treatment program for young adults in
Chesterton—tells parents not only to recognize these warning signs of drug
abuse but to be prepared to document them in detail, with time, place, and
•Physical signs: bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils; shifts in appetite or
sleep; changes in appearance or dress; unusual odors on the breath, body, or
clothing; impaired coordination.
•Behavioral signs: drops in attendance or performance at school or work;
unexplained financial need; secretiveness or isolation; a sudden change in
friends or cliques; a sudden disinterest in favorite activities; missing
money or valuables at home.
•Psychological signs: changes in attitude; mood swings, angry outbursts, or
irritability; periods of unusual hyperactivity, agitation, or giddiness;
lack of motivation, lethargy, a “spaced-out” demeanor; fearfulness, anxiety,
For Det. Comm. Jeff Biggs of the Porter County Sheriff’s Police—formerly
operations coordinator of the Drug Task Force—any break in a child’s routine
or habits is a cause for concern. “The behavior to watch for is anything not
normal for their child,” he said. “There are so many drugs out there. Some
will make you excited and others will make you sleepy. The big problem is
that a lot of people mix the drugs to get a high and a low, which causes
overdoses and deaths.”
“Parents should be suspicious of any change in behavior,” Biggs added. “That
includes a drastic change in eating habits. Not all heroin or crack-cocaine
addicts are skinny.”
Parents should also pay particular attention to the litter in their child’s
room or oddities found in the trash or car. “Paraphernalia comes in all
shapes and sizes, from store-bought to homemade,” Biggs said. “I have seen
paper, dollars, cards rolled up tightly, and straws to snort powder cocaine,
heroin, and meth. These drugs are often packaged in small ziplock baggies,
cellophane, or very small folded-up foil or paper squares. When powder drugs
are heated into a liquid to inject, addicts sometimes use a very small
cotton ball or piece of cigarette filter to filter the drug as they draw it
up into the syringe.”
“Addicts tend to keep spoons around,” Biggs noted. “Or they use a pop can or
Altoid tin. Anything with burn marks should be suspect as paraphernalia.”
Biggs did have this caution for parents: “Be careful searching you kid’s
room because needles are usually hidden. You could be stuck by a needle used
by your child or your child’s friend.”
The Next Step
Making the diagnosis is only the first step in the healing process.
Unfortunately, it’s also the easiest. And parents need to use great care and
tact in initiating the next step, because they’re treading in a minefield
and what they do and say next, far from helping matters, could conceivably
sabotage their child’s recovery before it even starts.
Indeed, parents shouldn’t even think of talking to their child, Grecula
advised, until they’ve thoroughly prepared themselves. Part of that
preparation is acquainting oneself with the ways and means of drug abuse and
the drug subculture. Part, developing options for counseling and rehab.
“First, educate yourself about the issue. Know your local resources and get
At least as important, though, is a self-interrogation, Grecula said.
Parents need to understand what biases, ambivalences, or grudges they make
be taking into a conversation with their child:
•What is my attitude toward people struggling with addiction?
•What are my motives?
•Am I more likely to preach, punish, and criticize than I am to understand
•Am I even the right person to talk to my child?
“We may do more harm than good in some cases,” Grecula said. “Many times
people we are close to will not listen to us but may be more inclined to
listen to professionals. Many times we do things we intend to be good in our
loved ones’ lives but end up causing more damage than good.”
Lumbering into a destructive confrontation with their child is one mistake
which parents can make. Turning a blind eye is another.
Grecula calls it “enabling” and it may take any number of forms: “Making
excuses for the individual, such as calling off work for them or referring
to the person’s usage as a ‘phase.’ Continually bailing them out of jail.
Paying their bills. Reasoning their irrational behaviors. Overall ignoring
of the problem. Believing their lies. Not discussing their usage.”
“These are all things that we can see as helping but end up hurting the
individual and enabling that person’s behaviors,” Grecula said. “I would
recommend that they seek help themselves if they see themselves doing these
things, so they may begin the healing process.”
The Road to
When parents are finally ready to talk with their child, they still need to
use great care, Grecula advised.
•Chose a good time and place to have the conversation. “Do not try to
broach this topic of discussion while the person is under the influence.”
•Use “I” messages, not “you” ones. “This makes the situation feel less like
an attack and children are more likely to listen.”
•Parents should prepare themselves to hear things they don’t like. “Listen
to their feedback and where they are coming from.”
Confronting a child isn’t the end, though. It’s really only the beginning.
Parents have their own role to play in their child’s recovery and it’s a
difficult, hands-on one. “If you know you are dealing with someone with a
drug or alcohol problem, you need to lay down rules and consequences,”
Grecula said. “Keep a close eye on their activities. Encourage them to
engage in positive social outlets.”
Biggs said much the same thing. “If parents suspect drug use, they should
limit/control their child’s money and transportation and monitor their every
activity and their friends. Sounds like a lot and I have seen parents get
strict and then back off on some things, only to have their kids go right
back to drugs.”
“Cell phones tell a lot,” Biggs added. “By monitoring your child’s cell
phone text messages, you will be able to see who they are chatting to and
what they are chatting about. There are no secrets to discovering the drug
talk that goes back and forth with dealers and users. Text messages can tell
you what drug your child prefers.”
Finally, Grecula said, parents should secure professional help for their
child. At http://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/ 18 treatment facilities within 20
miles of Chesterton are listed, with detailed information about each,
including Grecula’s Frontline Foundations and also Porter-Starke Services.
Both Grecula and Biggs agree that parents who perceive themselves to be in
immediate danger should contact law enforcement immediately.
Biggs, on the other hand, believes that parents are best served when they
involve the police from the beginning. “I have spoken to parents who are
very torn,” he said. “They want their kids to stop using but they do not
want to tell the police enough information to get their kid arrested.”
In the case, for instance, of parents’ finding an item of paraphernalia in
their home, Biggs recommends a call to the local PD. “Whether their child is
of adult age or not, the child needs to be confronted by parents and police.
Arrests are not always made when paraphernalia is found. Sometimes the case
is held over the child’s head to make sure they get on the right track and
only if they don’t is the case forwarded for charges.”
But parents should know this: technically, under Indiana Code, a person who
does nothing to stop drug use or dealing on property over which he has
authority and responsibility is guilty of a felony: maintaining a common
nuisance, punishable by a term of six months to three years.
Would the Porter County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office actually charge a
parent under the statute?
“We might,” Prosecuting Attorney Brian Gensel said, depending on the
circumstances. “Certainly parents are on the hook if they know their child
is dealing on the premises. And if we could prove that parents knew their
child was shooting up in the house, we could conceivably charge them.”
“Now it’s different if you’re talking about an elderly mother whose
ne’er-do-well 45-year-old son comes home to live with her,” Gensel added.
In any case, Gensel noted, “the reality is that these parents are likely in
crisis themselves and at their wits’ end over their child’s problem.
Prosecuting would be like piling on.”
A somewhat different scenario of parental liability is one in which a child
is found to be dealing drugs out of his parents’ vehicle. If the car’s title
is in his own name, of course, then law enforcement will seize it. If it’s
in his parents’ name, they do have a defense, Gensel said: “‘I didn’t know
he was doing that.’”
But that defense only works once. “I remember one case where a kid was
selling out of his mom’s car,” Gensel said. “He was arrested. Then six
months later he was arrested again for selling out of his mom’s car. That
time the vehicle was seized. It’s a know-or-should-have-known standard.”