Concerned That Your Child May Be Using Drugs? We Can Help.


Although it varies from child to child and community to community, the peer pressure to use drugs can be very intense and hard to refuse. At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we get it. Also, we want you to know that we’re on your side and will do everything we can to help your child avoid these substances and instead, make smart, healthy choices, now and throughout their lives.

Drug abuse prevention starts with you, and us

Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP

As a parent, you have a major impact on your child’s decision not to use drugs. In fact, parents are the strongest influence a child can have. There is no guarantee that your child won’t use drugs, but drug use is much less likely to happen if you talk with him/her about the dangers of drugs and how—and why—not to use them.

Listening to your child is also vitally important. Your child has a lot to say and probably knows more about drugs than you think. Above all, open, honest and frequent dialogue is key to helping your child avoid drugs, especially in his/her adolescent, teen and young adult years.

At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we also play a part in helping your child avoid, or stop, using drugs. Because we believe so strongly that a trusting patient-physician relationship is crucial for healthy behavior, we will take as much time as is necessary to work through all the drug-related issues facing your child, and together with you, find solutions.

Substance abuse support and referrals are just one of the many ways we help parents raise healthy, happy kids. To learn about all the services we offer, click here.

What you need to know about alcohol

Adolescents who drink usually start with beer, wine or flavored malt alcohol (a sweet-tasting blend of alcohol and carbonated fruit juice). Because every child’s height, weight, metabolism and physical build is different, it’s hard to say how much alcohol it takes for your child to get drunk. Nevertheless, the legal definition of drunkenness is a person’s blood alcohol concentration, or BAC. All 50 states except Utah define a BAC of 0.08 percent as the legal limit for driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while impaired (DWI).

Signs of alcohol use

  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired judgment and motor skills
  • Poor coordination
  • Confusion
  • Tremors, shaking
  • Drowsiness
  • Agitation, combative behavior
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Depression
  • Weight gain
  • False i.d. card
  • Smell of alcohol on breath

Possible long-term effects

  • Blackouts and memory loss
  • Vitamin deficiencies, malnutrition
  • Suppression of the immune system, which leaves a person open to infectious diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis
  • Hormonal deficiencies, sexual dysfunction, infertility
  • Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Alcoholic cirrhosis
  • Cardiovascular disease and stroke
  • Alcohol-withdrawal delirium, or delirium tremens
  • Car accidents
  • STDs
  • Unwanted pregnancy

What you need to know about marijuana

Similar to alcohol, kids who smoke marijuana can easily lose control and become addicted. Teens who are addicted to marijuana likely smoke several times a week or more. They often perform poorly in school or sports, lose interest in hobbies, and develop relationship problems with family and friends.

If they continue to use marijuana into adulthood, marijuana users tend to have poor job performance and less stable families. And as with alcohol, the younger a person starts smoking marijuana, the more likely they will become addicted.

Signs of marijuana use

  • Spends less time with family and friends and more time alone or away from home
  • Often seems moody or irritable
  • Skips classes, often shows up late for school, has a drop in grades
  • Likes t-shirts with pro-marijuana messages or symbols
  • Loses interest in hobbies
  • Comes home high (talkative, giggly, red- or glassy-eyed) and goes straight to their room
  • Smells of marijuana
  • Possesses drugs or drug paraphernalia

What parents can do

  • Set high expectations and clear limits
  • Instill strong values. Let your child know that you expect him/her not to use drugs.
  • Talk with your child, starting at an early age, about the dangers of drug use, including marijuana
  • Do not lecture or do all the talking.
  • Use teachable moments, like car accidents and other tragedies that are caused by drug use
  • Help your child handle peer pressure
  • Help your child find positive interests that build self-esteem
  • Help your child deal with emotions, especially during the teen years
  • Set a good example. Avoid using tobacco and illicit drugs. Minimize alcohol use, and always avoid drinking and driving.
  • Get a professional evaluation. If you think your child is using drugs, alert your child’s pediatrician, who can help.

What you need to know about vaping

Many people, especially teens, think that vaping (smoking e-cigarettes) is a safe alternative to smoking but THIS IS NOT TRUE. E-cigarettes are just another way of inputting nicotine—a highly addictive drug—into the body. Just because e-cigarettes don’t burn tobacco, anyone using them is still putting an unhealthy dose of nicotine and other chemicals into their lungs.

To alert parents about the dangers of e-cigarettes and vaping, we’ve written 2 blogs that we strongly urge you to read:

1.      How Dangerous Are E-Cigarettes/Vaping?
2.      Does Your Child JUUL (“jewel”) or PHIX (“fix”)? Here’s Why You Should Worry.

What you need to know about tobacco

Most teenagers know that tobacco use is a leading cause of death. However, this doesn’t stop them from trying tobacco products, especially cigarettes, at a young age. In fact, 90% of daily tobacco users begin by age 18. Alarmingly, trying tobacco just one time puts them at risk for addiction to nicotine.

Factors that can encourage teen tobacco use

  • Use of tobacco products by friends or family members
  • Lack of parental support or involvement
  • Accessibility and availability of tobacco products
  • Low academic achievement
  • Low self-esteem
  • Exposure to tobacco advertising (movies, TV, video games)

To learn more about teens and the dangers of smoking, please read our blog: Smoking And Teenagers: A Very Harmful Combination

What you need to know about opioids

We often get asked by our parents, “What exactly are opioids?” Essentially, opioids are highly addictive narcotic drugs, including prescription pain medicine and illegal substances like heroin. Large doses can slow the body’s heart and breathing rate to the point of stopping them completely. Nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid, which can be found in millions of households across the country. In fact, the U.S. consumes the majority of the world’s prescription opioid supply.

Commonly misused prescription opioid drugs

  • Oxycodone
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone
  • Codeine
  • Morphine

The effects of opioids on teens

  • Parents who become addicted to opioids often neglect to properly care for their children.
  • Long-term damage from prenatal exposure. Since 2000, there has been a fivefold increase in the number of children born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) after opioid exposure during their mother’s pregnancy. Babies with NAS are more likely to have low birth weight, respiratory complications, feeding difficulties and seizures, as well as developmental problems that affect learning and behavior.
  • Poisoning and overdose. Children and teens hospitalized for opioid poisoning tripled between 1997 and 2012. While most of the overdose patients were teens, the largest overall increase in poisonings was among toddlers and preschoolers.

What you can do

  • Talk to your kids. Tell your children how dangerous, even deadly, opioid drugs can be. Children who learn about the risks of drugs at home are less likely to use drugs than those who don’t. Surveys show two-thirds of teens who misuse prescription painkillers got them from friends, family members and acquaintances.
  • Safe storage. Keep opioids and other prescription medications in a secure place. Ask your friends, family members, and babysitters to do the same.
  • Destroy leftover or unused prescription medication. We recommend flushing them down the toilet instead of throwing them in the trash where they can be retrieved and used.
  • Ask for help. If you think you or your child may be using opioids and/or developing an addiction, don’t hesitate to seek help.
  • Know what to do in an overdose emergency. Ask your pediatrician about Naloxone nasal spray (brand name Narcan®) which can prevent opioid overdose deaths. And don’t hesitate to call 911 if you believe your child is experiencing an overdose.

Important articles you might want to read:

Above all, our goal is to help your child grow up healthy and happy, without drugs

If you’re worried that your child might be using drugs, please come in and see one of our Westchester Health Pediatrics pediatricians. We will examine your child, listen to your concerns, answer your questions, and together with you and your child, determine the best way forward to achieve a healthy, drug-free life. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

Make an appt

By Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, Lead Pediatric Physician with Westchester Health Pediatrics, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners

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About the Author: ML Ball