Talking with Kids about Drugs

According to an American Academy of Pediatrics study, every day, in America, approximately 4,700 kids, under the age of 18, try marijuana for the first time. The study also showed that, by the time they finished the eighth grade, approximately 50% of adolescents have had at least one drink of alcohol. Drug and alcohol use by a teen increases the risk of addiction and can change the developing brain for life.

The most important influence in a teen's choice to use drugs is their parent(s). With that in mind, remember that it is never too early or too late to talk to your kids about drug and alcohol use. Thus, the following information has been assembled to help you begin a dialog with your children about drugs, whether or not you suspect them of using drugs or alcohol.

What are the Signs of Drug Use?

  • Negative changes in schoolwork; missing school or declining grades.
  • Increased secrecy about possessions or activities.
  • Use of incense, room deodorants or perfume to hide smoke or chemical odors.
  • Subtle changes in conversations with friends, e.g., more secretive, using "coded" language.
  • New group of friends.
  • Change in clothing choices - new fascination with clothes that highlight drug use.
  • Increase in borrowing money.
  • Evidence of drug paraphernalia, such as pipes, rolling papers.
  • Evidence of inhaling products and accessories, such as hairspray, nail polish, correction fluid, paper bags and rags, common household products.
  • Bottles of eye drops, which may be used to mask bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils.
  • New use of mouthwash or breath mints to cover up the smell of alcohol.
  • Missing prescription drugs - especially narcotics and mood stabilizers.

What Do I Do First?

The first step to talking with your kid(s) about drug and alcohol use is for you to learn as much as possible. Visit and for this information.

The next step is to sit down and talk to your kid(s). By staying involved, you can help them stop using drugs and make choices that will make a positive difference in their lives. Tell your kids what you have seen and how you feel about it. Be as specific as possible, about the things you have seen that cause you to have concern.

It is also important, from an early age, to set clear ground rules about drug and alcohol use and to let your kids know that you will enforce these rules.


Talking to your kid(s) about this issue is can be very difficult, but if you follow the information in this section, the talk can be made less strenuous.

Avoid the following pitfalls:

  • Get mad.
  • Tell your kid(s) they are stupid.
  • Do not have a one sided conversation.
  • Let your kid(s) walk away or change the subject.
  • Tell your kid(s) that they are an embarrassment to the whole family.

Try to get answers to the following information:

  1. What are they doing?
  2. How do they obtain the drug(s)?
  3. When was the last time they used drugs?
  4. How long have they used?

The child's reaction to this talk could be any of the following:

  • Get angry.
  • Walk or run away from the conversation.
  • Try to change the subject.
  • Ask you about your drug use. If this happens, be completely honest!
The most important thing to remember about the TALK is that it is not a one-time event.

Marijuana Information

Marijuana is a green, brown, or gray mixture of dried, shredded leaves, stems, seeds, and flowers of the hemp plant. You may hear marijuana called by street names such as pot, herb, weed, grass, boom, Mary Jane, gangster, or chronic. There are more than 200 slang terms for marijuana.

Sinsemilla (sin-seh-me-yah; it's a Spanish word), hashish ("hash" for short), and hash oil are stronger forms of marijuana.

All forms of marijuana are mind-altering. In other words, they change how the brain works. They all contain THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the main active chemical in marijuana. They also contain more than 400 other chemicals. Marijuana's effects on the user depend on its strength or potency, which is related to the amount of THC it contains. The THC content of marijuana has been increasing since the 1970s.

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Methamphetamine Facts

Get the Facts...

Methamphetamine affects your brain. In the short term, meth causes mind and mood changes such as anxiety, euphoria, and depression. Long-term effects can include chronic, paranoid or delusional thinking, and permanent psychological damage.

Methamphetamine affects your body. Over "amping" on any type of speed is pretty risky. Creating a false sense of energy, these drugs push the body faster and further than it's meant to go. It increases the heart rate, blood pressure, and risk of stroke.

Methamphetmaine affects your self-control. Meth may be as addictive as crack and more powerful.

Methamphetmaine can kill you. An overdose of meth can result in heart failure. Long-term physical effects such as liver, kidney, and lung damage may also kill you.

Know the Risks...

There are a lot of risks associated with using methamphetamine, including:

  • Meth can cause a severe "crash" after the effects wear off.
  • Meth use can cause irreversible damage to blood vessels in the brain.
  • Meth users who inject the drug and share needles are at risk for acquiring HIV/AIDS.

Know the Signs...

It is not always easy to tell if someone is using meth, but there are signs you can look for:

  1. Inability to sleep.
  2. Increased sensitivity to noise.
  3. Nervous physical activity, like scratching.
  4. Irritability, dizziness, or confusion.
  5. Extreme anorexia.
  6. Tremors or even convulsions.
  7. Increase heart rate, blood pressure, and risk of stroke.
  8. Presence of inhaling paraphernalia, such as razor blades, mirrors, and straws.
  9. Presence of injecting paraphernalia, such as syringes, heated spoons, or surgical tubing.

Q & A

What can I do to help someone who is using meth?

Encourage that person to stop or seek professional help. For information and referrals, call the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information at 1-800-729-6686.

Isn't methamphetamine less harmful than crack, cocaine, or heroin?

Some users get hooked the first time they snort, smoke, or inject meth. Because it can be made from lethal ingredients like battery acid, drain cleaner, lantern fuel, and antifreeze, there is a greater chance of suffering a heart attack, stroke, or serious brain damage with this drug than with other drugs.

Isn't using methamphetamine like using diet pills?

No. Though it is easily attainable, methamphetamine is dangerous and addictive. Between 1993 and 1995, deaths due to meth rose 125 percent. Between 1996 and 1997, meth-related emergency room visits doubled. Use by 12- to 17-year-olds has increased dramatically in the past few years.

Columbus Street Gangs

Since the inception of the Columbus Police Department's Gang Task Force, in the spring of 1990, we have identified over thirty gangs in Columbus. Most of the gangs, in the Columbus area, are aligned with the Crips, the Bloods, or the Black Gangster Disciples (BGD) also known as Folks or Raiders.

Reasons Kids Join Gangs

  • Money
  • Sense of Belonging
  • Recognition
  • Intimidation
  • A Bridge from Childhood to Maturity
  • A Way to Kill Time (Bored)
  • Role Model to Follow (Big Brother Syndrome)
  • Direction and Code of Conduct
  • Second Generation (Born into a Gang)
  • Job Market

Gang Indicators

  1. Is a child wearing the same style or color of clothing every day?
  2. Has the child changed his/her circle of friends?
  3. Is the child "flashing" gang signs?
  4. Does the child have a new nickname?
  5. Is there graffiti on their book covers or notebooks?
  6. Does the child have a new tattoo, new jewelry, or a repetitive color scheme? (red shoes, scarves, bandanna, etc.)
  7. Does the child have an extreme style -- particularly one that's identical to someone else?

Top Four Ways to Raise a Gage Member

  1. Ignore your children - They will seek attention elsewhere.
  2. Do not participate in their school activities - They will seek the education of the streets.
  3. Don't get to know their friends - They will hang around those who impress them the most (usually those with negative lifestyles).
  4. Set a bad example - If you drink, use drugs, cheat and disrespect the law, so will your child.

Typical Pre-Gang Behavior

Pre-gang behavior usually begins at the elementary school age. Children join gangs for a variety of reasons. The following list mentions some indictors that a youth is headed towards gang membership:

  • Draws gang insignias
  • Poor progress or achievement in school
  • Truancy from school
  • Lack of hobbies or something to do with leisure time
  • Problems at home
  • Puts tattoos on him or herself
  • Residence in a neighborhood where gangs exist
  • Friends are gang members or "Dressing Down" in gang attire
  • Wants to dress in traditional gang clothes (i.e. baggy pants, oversized t-shirts, bandanas)

While the above items are characteristic of gang involvement, keep in mind two pieces of information. First, not everyone who dresses like a gang member is a gang member. Second, some gang members do not dress or act-out like other gang members. Parents must be aware of the behavior and activities of their children. The best means for parents to prevent gang membership is to interact with their children.

Warning Signs of Possible Gang Involvement

  • Buying (or wants you to buy) an excessive amount of Blues, Reds, Blacks, or Browns for their wardrobe.
  • Wearing their pants sagging down "too low" on their hips.
  • Wearing a lot of gold & silver jewelry. (How and where did they get it?)
  • Willing to get, have or wear only certain types and colors of shoes, or shoelaces.
  • Using "Gang Slang" in their conversations with you or (mostly) with others.
  • Withdrawing from family members and not wanting to be around the family.
  • Having troubles at school: Lowered grades (and/or failing), fighting, suspensions, skipping, carrying weapons to school, getting home late (why?), etc.
  • Associating with "undesirables", especially those wearing too much of the same colors.
  • Not willing to tell you where, with who, or what they will be doing when out.
  • Not willing for you meet their friends, or give you information about them.
  • Staying out later than usual; and/or breaking curfew frequently.
  • Desiring too much privacy. (Very secretive, almost hiding out from family.
  • Developing a major attitude problem with you, teachers or others in authority. (physically and/or verbally aggressive, threatening, etc.)
  • Starting use drug, alcohol, tobacco, and/or having drug related items.
  • Using hand signs to friends and others.
  • Receiving and/or having money and or other items without your permission or awareness. (Stuff they cannot legitimately account for having.)
  • Carrying or talking about weapons (guns), beepers, portable phones, drugs, etc.
  • Getting tattoos on hands, arms etc. (gang names, slogans, insignias)
  • Writing gang type graffiti on clothes, books, and other things.
  • Saying that he or she has been initiated, blessed into, or is in a gang, wants to be or hangs out with other youth who they are in a gang.
  • Getting caught (maybe charged) with other youth in gang related activities.
  • When you are being told that your kid is gang involved by other people.

Actions to be Taken by Parents/Teachers/Professionals

If you suspect that your child is in a gang or may join a gang, you may consider taking the following steps:

  1. Collect all hats, shirts, and knowledge that are gang related.
  2. Contact a professional counselor to work with the kid in question.
  3. Protect your child by restricting gang related activities and encouraging other activities.
  4. Notify the following entities of the situation: local police, child's school, and the parent (if applicable).