It is not unusual for adolescents, as a “rite of passage”, to try a cigarette or even an illicit drug.
In the world of today’s Nigerian adolescents, the question is not if the child will be exposed to drugs but when. Not every child who is exposed to a drug uses it. Many children hate the idea of smoking, drinking or using an illegal drug. Most of those who experiment with drugs stop after a few times or use them only occasionally. Others continue to use drugs regularly and increase their chances of becoming addicted to or dependent on the drug.
If a child is using drugs, the signs are always there though, depending on the type of drug involved, they can be easily missed. The following are some of the “tell-tale” signs that he or she is drinking or using any other substance. Any single sign is not conclusive evidence but a warning that drugs may be involved.
Warning Signs for Parents and Guardians
You can suspect drug use if your child:
• Displays unexpected changes in mood and behaviour, e.g., an outgoing and friendly child becomes withdrawn and hostile.
• Becomes more secretive about his or her whereabouts and possessions.
• Begins to get into trouble with the police and authority figures.
• Become less responsible in doing chores at home.
• Is less interested in personal hygiene and grooming.
• Shows a sudden decline in performance at school.
• Associates with a new group of friends, especially friends who use drugs.
• Ignore rules and resist discipline at home.
• Steals from home and sells some of his/her possessions.
• Smalls of drugs on body or in breath.
• Shows extremes of behaviour, e.g., sleeps too much or little; eats too much or too little.
• Comes home with red eyes, dilated or constricted pupils.
• Has signs of burns and black spots on lips.
• Has injection marks on arm.
After the child has become a regular drug user, it is difficult to hide the habit for much longer. There will now be clear physical evidence of drug use. The child will no longer be effective in hiding drugs or drug paraphernalia in his or her room.
Parents who are attentive may find an unusual collection of materials with inhalable substances, a sign that the child is sniffing glue. A pipe, regular supply of matches or wrapping paper may signal Indian hemp use. The child’s room or possessions may smell of drug and he or she may try to hide the smell by burning incense, or using eye drop to hide the red eye caused by smoking marijuana.
Sustained use of a drug for a long time will almost surely lead to illegal ways of making money, e.g., stealing. You may also notice symptoms of mental illness, and child may drop out of school.
Warning Signs for Teachers and School Counsellors
When children are in school they spend more time with teachers than with their parents. Most youths who experiment with drugs do so during the secondary school days. Sometimes drug use begins as early as junior secondary school, and most users are introduced to drugs by their friends. Schools are, therefore, an important avenue for the prevention of drug use. If teachers and school counsellors are aware of the early stages of drug involvement and save a child from harm.
Many things can lead to changes in a child’s behaviour in school. But the problems in the following areas may be an indication that a child has started to use drugs.
School attendance and academic achievement
• Frequent absenteeism
• Carelessness with school assignment
• Lower grades and substantial drop in overall achievement
• Regular tiredness and sleeping in class
• Change in sitting position to back of class
A school or classroom where drug use by students is a problem will invariably experience a breakdown in discipline. Among other behaviours, a student who has become involved with drugs will tend to:
• Defy class or school rules
• Fight, cheat and act in other negative ways in school
• Become dramatic, irresponsible and overly defensive
Depending on the stage of involvement with drugs, other problems will emerge that should come to the attention of the teachers and school officials. For example, a student on drugs may need more health care attention than other students or may behave in ways that may signal the beginning of mental disorder. He or she may be withdrawn, become very defensive, decrease his or her participation in extra-curricular activities, be absent from classes and, if drug use continues, drops out of school.