AUDU a 16-year-old secondary school leaver, had always been a high-flying student but his academic performance had declined drastically in the last year. He had always been a model child, exceptionally polite, hardworking and brilliant.
Until that fateful day, when his mother, an accomplished accountant with a big corporation, suddenly returned home early from a business trip. The father was also away for the week at a conference in Abuja. Audu was alone at home for the week…or so he thought.
His mother was shocked to her marrow at the sight that greeted her eyes when she entered the house. Audu was disoriented and high, talking very rapidly and dancing by himself, even though there was no music playing.
She saw a shisha pipe in his room, along with a half-empty bottle of dry gin. She dumped her bag on the floor, slumped into a chair and started weeping bitterly. How could this be? Is this how my enemies want to destroy his destiny?
God, what have we done wrong to deserve this? She wondered aloud, as she started a fresh round of weeping. Audu had sobered slightly on seeing his mother, and also joined her in weeping, as she hugged him tightly.
Drug abuse is a common problem that often starts in adolescence, as young people often experiment with it – sometimes under peer pressure and at other times, just for fun and adventure. It may also be used to cope with stress or problems, feelings of unhappiness, low self-esteem or to perform better with school work.
Most parents are usually the last people to ever find out about their drug-taking habits. How can we find out earlier? In Audu’s case, what should the mother do?
Physical and behavioural signs to watch out for, include a change in appearance and dressing – such as a sudden love for dark sunshades, becoming withdrawn and reclusive – staying in the room all the time, sneaky and suspicious behaviour, evasiveness and lying, a decline in academic performance, reduced motivation and interest, needing more money than usual or things going missing around the house, failing to fulfil usual responsibilities and duties, hanging out with suspicious looking friends, etc.
What should we do in this situation?
- If you have suspicions, trust your instincts and have a discussion. It helps a lot if you had already built a relationship of trust over the years. Explain your concerns clearly and ask for honesty about the situation.
Two things may happen here: They come clean and you have to remain calm and talk about how to help them deal with the problem. Or it is denied and you have to still reiterate your concern and then be on the lookout for tell-tale signs.
- If you already have the evidence of use, such as in Audu’s case, or your child confesses, the usual tendency is to use emotional blackmail and make the child feel bad or heap on the guilt: ‘After all, we have done for you, do you want to kill me?
Do you want to make me the laughing stock for my enemies? Your father will be destroyed, is that what you want?’ etc. But the young person is likely to be already sad about the situation but feels helpless. If you compound the feelings of shame and worthlessness, it may add depression and suicidal thoughts to the mix.
- If you are really upset by the news or discovery, do not confront while you are angry and upset. You may say really hurtful things in that state that will shatter the already fragile ego/pride of your teenager.
Do not forget that some youngsters turn to drugs because of their feelings of low self-esteem and inadequacy. And as the parent, even when they pretend not to care about your words, it can really hurt them. They crave to make you proud and to find validation and approval. So do not ‘destroy’ them in a fit of anger.
- Think things through, and have a clear plan, before having the discussion. Go into it with an open mind, and be prepared that you may be wrong. Do not be accusatory, but come across as showing concern and love. Some of the signs mentioned earlier may also be present in depression – so it may not be drug abuse.
- Consult a mental health professional. There is the misconception that seeing a psychiatrist is only for severe mental illnesses or when the person has gone ‘mad’. That is not correct.
The job of mental health professionals’ spans promotion, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. You are unlikely to have all the skills to deal with the situation. Speaking with a professional and having a review is helpful.
- Lastly, have hope. It is a fleeting phase for the majority, and they can be helped to stop it.