November 1998

It is difficult to differentiate between normal adolescent behavior and drug induced behavior. Parents should consider the following behaviors as possible warning signs of drug or alcohol use, especially if several of these factors are present.

Behavioral Clues:

1. Does the child seem to be changing?
Is the child becoming more irritable, less affectionate, secretive, unpredictable, hostile, depressed, uncooperative, apathetic, withdrawn, sullen, easily provoked, oversensitive?

2. Is the child becoming less responsible?
Is the child not doing chores, late coming home, tardy at school, forgetful of family occasions, not doing chores, allowing room to be untidy, not completing homework?

3. Is the child changing friends, dress code or interests?
Has the child developed a new group of friends; taken on the language of new friends; the hairstyle of new friends; switched clothes styles; become reluctant to talk about new friends; become very interested in rock music and concerts; become less interested in school, sports and academic hobbies; refused to talk about parents of new friends; started insisting on more privacy; demanding permission to stay out later than usual?

4. Is the child more difficult to communicate with?
Does the child refuse to talk about the details of friendship or group activities; refuse to discuss "drug issues;" become defensive when negative effects of drug use are discussed; strongly defend occasional use or experimental use of drugs by peers; insist that adults hassle their children; begin to defend "rights" of youths; prefer to talk about bad habits of adults?

5. Is the child beginning to show physical and/mental deterioration?
Does the child show disordered thinking or ideas and thought patterns that seem out of order; heightened sensitivity to touch, smell and taste; increased appetite from marijuana smoking (known as the "munchies"); loss of ability to blush; decreased ability in rapid thought processes; amotivational syndrome; weight loss?

6. Is the child’s behavior more intolerable to parent?
Does the child demand his right to drink alcohol, refuse to spend additional time on studies even though grades are down; insist that teachers are unfair; become extremely irritable; refuse to do chores; use bad language; come home late with alcohol on breath; claim people are telling lies on him; not want to eat with or spend time with the family; act very secretive on the telephone?

The Physical Evidence:

7. Is the child becoming careless in his drug use?
Does the child forget to replace the liquor stolen from parents’ cabinet; put the bottle between the mattresses; leave the "roach" in the flowerpot, in the bathroom or the car ashtray; forget who vomited in the family car; insist that marijuana found in car or room belongs to someone else?

8. Is the child becoming drug dependent?
Does the child take money from parents, brothers or sisters; steal objects from home that are easily converted to cash; lie chronically; drop out of school?

Is the child caught shoplifting, charged with burglary, charged with prostitution, arrested for drug use or delinquent act?

Has the child attempted suicide?

By Thomas J. Gleaton, Ed.D.


Intervention may be the nudge people need to get help

It is extremely painful to stand by and watch someone's life be destroyed. Yet that's the position family members find themselves in when a chemically dependent loved one denies having a problem with alcohol or other drugs. Until that person admits the need for help, there is usually little that can be done.

Professionals who conduct formal interventions into the disease process believe they can help families and friends hold up a mirror to their loved ones, convincing them to confront their problem before they hit bottom -- before losing job, health and family.

The power of an intervention comes from having the participants express concern and compassion for the alcoholic's welfare, said Mary McMahon, an intervention specialist for Intervention Services, Inc., in Edina, Minn. McMahon has family members and friends write letters to the alcoholic and then read them aloud at the intervention. The letters allow family members to express their feelings without threatening or blaming the chemically dependent person.

"A family member might say, 'I love you and I care about you, but I'm concerned. These are the things I see happening to you,'" McMahon said. "Then I have each person tie their own feelings to the statements. They might give examples of times they were hurt by the alcoholic. For instance, a child may write, 'You went to my basketball game and everybody knew you had been drinking; I was so embarrassed.'"

Interventions should stress love and concern, McMahon added. They should not take a negative, confrontive approach. "I hear so much of the latter -- of people being beat up in the intervention," she said. "If the person had any other illness, there's no way we would do that."

McMahon offers a few guidelines for people considering intervention:

Participants need to be educated about the disease of chemical dependency prior to the intervention. Their letters should be concise, well rehearsed, and should accentuate the positive.

Interventions should take place on neutral territory.

People invited to the intervention should include family members, close friends, and, when appropriate, employers or fellow employees.

Limit the intervention to about 60 to 90 minutes. At longer sessions, anger may flare up and compassion tends to decline.

Schedule a chemical dependency evaluation to follow the meeting.

Most intervention subjects will agree to the evaluation, McMahon said. But of course that's not always the case. "That doesn't mean the intervention has failed," she said. "Interventions never fail, because family members and friends get help, and the sooner they get help, the sooner their loved one will. The process plants a seed for recovery in the addicted person's mind. It teaches family members about the disease of chemical dependency, how they may be enabling the addicted loved one, and how support groups such Al-Anon can help them care for themselves."

Intervention: How to Help Someone Who Doesn't Want Help, (Johnson Institute Books, $8.95) by Vernon Johnson, a pioneer in the intervention field, is a good guide for people considering intervention, said McMahon.

While recognizing the value of formal interventions in individual cases, some treatment professionals caution families to think carefully about whether the process is right for them. Rosemary Hartman, supervisor of Hazelden's Family Program, encourages families to shop around for an interventionist and get references.

Interventions are most successful when the alcoholic is already close to recognizing that a problem exists, Hartman added. "If somebody is right on the edge, an intervention can nudge them into getting the help they need," she said. "But if they are worlds away from that, it may just push them further away from treatment and further from the people who are trying to help them."

The subject of the intervention is usually grateful, said McMahon. "I often have people sit there and cry and say, 'I didn't know what was happening. I'm sorry I've hurt you all. Thank God you did something for me because I didn't know what to do myself.'"



Alive & Free is a chemical health column created by Hazelden, a nonprofit agency that provides a wide range of information and services relating to alcohol and drug dependence. Address questions to Alive & Free Editor, P.O. Box 11, BC 10, Center City, MN 55012-0011. For more resources on substance abuse, visit the Hazelden website at or call Hazelden at (800) 257-7810.