Help Your Grandkids Stay Drug-Free
Warning Signs & Guidelines

By Sylvie de Toledo and Deborah Edler Brown

Jessica Hulsey, 15, is a crusader against drugs. The daughter of addicted parents, the California teenager knows firsthand what drugs do to a family and to a child, and has spoken out against them in compositions, school assemblies, and newspaper articles. "I missed a lot," she told the Orange County Resister. "I grew up so fast, and I had to worry about my sister and family. I will never forgive drugs for taking [normal life] away from me."
Although they may not be as vocal as Jessica, many children of addicted parents harbor intense negative feelings about drugs and alcohol. They have seen what it does, and they swear they want no part of it. It's the kind of statement that fills a grandparent's heart with relief. Unfortunately, however sweet they are, declarations and promises are not guarantees. The sad fact is that children of alcohol and drug abusers run a high risk of using drugs and alcohol themselves, almost 10 times the risk that children of nonaddicted parents face.
The combination of peer pressure and curiosity about drugs and alcohol can be overwhelming to teenagers and children. Your challenge, then, becomes how to prevent an at-risk grandchild from becoming an at-risk teenager.

Accept the possibility. "Not my child." Those are the three words that can get a parent or grandparent into the most trouble when it comes to drugs and alcohol. They keep you from watching for changed or strange behavior, they keep you from asking questions and finding help, and they offer you false hope. The truth is that any child may bend to peer pressure and curiosity. The only way to stop the cycle of drugs and alcohol abuse is to understand that it is a cycle and that your grandchild may be at risk for addictive behavior.

Teach your grandchildren to say no to drugs. If your grandchildren are old enough to understand, talk to them about drugs. It is not enough to teach them to refuse drugs; they have to know why, and your best examples may be close to home. Provide them with clear, factual information. Look at your own use of alcohol and tobacco; what messages are you sending? Nurture your grandchildren's self-esteem, and discuss different ways of handling peer pressure. A child who is prepared to say no may have an easier time actually saying it.

Supervise your grandchildren. The best way to know what is happening in your grandchildren's lives is to be actively involved in them. Know their friends and their interests. Be aware of where they go and whom they're with. Don't allow your involvement in their lives to deteriorate into an inquisition, but maintain it as a normal part of your relationship. Not only will you be aware of changes in their lives, but you may build a closer, more trusting relationship with them.

Learn to recognize drug use. Unlike childhood diseases like mumps and measles, drug abuse does not have overt physical symptoms. However, there are warning signs a grandparent can watch for, if you know enough to look. They are the same signs many grandparents innocently tossed off as "growing pains," "teenage changes," and "the flu" when they were raising their own children. The accompanying chart lists the symptoms of teen drug use. Familiarize yourself with them and stay active in your grandchild's life; if the changes are there, you will then be in the best position to spot them.
Don't be paranoid, however. It can be difficult to know the difference between erratic but normal behavior in kids and behavior caused by drugs. Every change is not an alarm. The changes to be concerned about are those that seem severe or that last more than a few days. Even if they are not linked to drug use, changes could signal medical problems, depression, or trouble at home or at school. If you do suspect anything, seek professional help.

Seek outside help. Drug information alone may not be enough to keep a child off drugs. Self-esteem, positive role models, and peer support are also important. Many schools and youth groups sponsor antidrug programs. There are also a number of national organizations that can help you help your grandchild stay drug free: The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) runs a hotline that provides information, referrals, and emergency counseling. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) has programs to help children develop positive self-esteem and refusal skills; the Boy Scouts of America sponsors antidrug campaigns and publishes a booklet for children; and Al-Anon runs support groups for the children of alcoholics called Alateen and Alatot. Check your yellow pages under drug abuse and alcohol for groups in your area.

The Warning Signs
Could Your Grandchild Be Using Drugs or Alcohol?

Has your grandchild:

Is your grandchild:

Does your grandchild seem:

Many of these symptoms could be warning signs of excessive use of drugs or alcohol, as are dilated pupils, needle marks, and the presence of drug paraphernalia like needles, water pipes, pills, and roach clips.
Many of these symptoms are not limited to drug use; they can also indicate depression, an eating disorder, or some other psychological or medical problem. Whatever their cause, they warrant investigation.

From Grandparents as Parents, by Sylvie de Toledo and Deborah Edler Brown. 1995 by Sylvie de Toledo and Deborah Edler Brown. Excerpted by arrangement with The Guilford Press. $16.95. Available in local bookstores, or call 800-365-7006, or click here.