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Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other SelfhelpMagazine.com staff.


My 16-year-old sister is drinking and smoking pot a lot lately. I don't want to get her in trouble, but I am afraid she is getting hooked. What should I do?
--14 year old female


This is a problem that many teens face and there are no easy answers. There are several things you should think about to decide what, if anything, you want to do. First, you could try talking to her about your concern. There is a good possibility she will just blow it off as having a good time. Here are some warning signs that alcohol or drug use may be more than just experimental or recreational use.


Mood Swings
Declining Grades
Legal Problems
Change in Friends
Losing Interest in Hobbies, Old Friends and Family
Inability to Sleep or Sleeping too Much
Excessive Forgetfulness, Memory Loss
Changes in Eating Habits
Easily Angered
Stealing or Borrowing Money or Other Things
Sniffing or Rubbing Nose Frequently

Depending on the number of these signs she exhibits, you may choose to tell her that if she doesn't get help on her own, you will tell someone because you care about her and want to help. You may want to recommend a school counselor or support group if you are not sure about talking to your parents.

You may feel the need to talk to your parents about this problem. If you have any concern about her physical or emotional safety, don't take any chances. Sometimes alcohol and drug use is a sign that something more serious is wrong. If your sister is using to numb her feelings about something that is bothering her, the real problem is not going to get any better and she may develop an addiction or put herself in danger while trying to make it go away.

The main thing to consider is what is best for her in the long run. If she needs help, she may get mad at you initially, but she will appreciate your concern when she is thinking and feeling better. Also, think about what may realistically happen if you do nothing. If you are convinced that she is out of control and you have cause to believe that there is a realistic possibility that she may get worse without intervention or may get hurt, you probably don't want to take any chances.

On the other hand, if she just started this when she met a new guy and he is now out of the picture, you may want to see if she goes back to her old self. If she does, great . . . if not, make a decision based on the information you have and your instincts. Alcohol and other drug use is on the rise among teens and young adults. It may be growing pains and end as quickly as it began, but there are no assurances of that. Use discretion and get outside assistance from others who know her if you are unsure of what to do. Good luck!


LuAnn Pierce, MSW, CMSW
Author of Growing up Sane (in uncertain times)
Seminar Leader Growing Well Adjusted Kids
Editor-in-Cheif Person to Person: Strengthening Youth & Families
Telephone Counselor Affinity Counseling Center
Affinity Books & Resource Center: Your Source for Emotional Wellness


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