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I Think My Son Is Using Heroin

If you’re worried that your son may be using heroin or other opiates, you have good reason to take the concern seriously. Research has documented that misuse of prescription opioids among youths can lead to the use of alcohol and other illicit drugs, suicidal ideation, violence, delinquency, not using condoms, increased risk for acquisition of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, and overdose. Studies have also indicated that youth who abuse opioids are at far greater risk of becoming addicted to heroin or other opioids, especially via injection. 

As a parent, you may find yourself overwhelmed with worst-case possibilities and the staggering statistics. How do I get him real help? How can I make a difference in this critical moment of my son’s life? Who should I talk to about this?

Know the Warning Signs

You’re probably aware of the classic tell-tale sign of heroin use: track marks left by needles, especially on the arms. However, most heroin users, especially young ones, don’t start by injecting heroin. Injecting a drug is a more intense route that often scares or intimidates younger users; they’ll only begin to use needles when their desire to use is too strong to let the rational fear dissuade it any longer. Whenever possible, you want to stop the habit in its tracks before it goes that far.

So then what should you look for? You know your son. Try to see if he’s acting more secretive, more closed-off, or less communicative with you than usual. Pay special attention to overt hostility and a hard-to-explain sudden drop in motivation. This may be difficult if he’s an adolescent–after all, teenagers and young adults don’t need to be using narcotics to be dealing with rapid mood swings or sudden changes in how they relate to their parents. Keep this information in mind all the same. Users have something to hide. Also, look for changing weight that doesn’t seem directly connected to a change in diet or exercise; changes in physical appearance, especially being more sullen or withdrawn; and bloodshot eyes with ‘pinpoint’ pupils. 

Youth and adolescents using heroin or other opiates also tend to withdraw from things about which they were once enthusiastic. Dropping out of extracurricular activities, falling out or away from former friends in favor of newer, stranger ones, or preferring isolation, are other warning signs that something may not be right, even beyond the regular pains of growing up. Finally, be sure to notice any financial goings-on that don’t quite add up. Heroin costs money and a significant amount of young users may not be able to afford their habit on their turn to borrowing, begging, or even stealing money from the people around them.

Starting the Dialogue

What should you do if you think your son is using heroin or another opiate? Trust your instincts as a parent. If you have reason to believe that something is seriously wrong, you may be tempted to downplay the issue in your mind or to make up other explanations for his behavior. Don’t sacrifice the well-being of your son because you’re afraid to consider the truth. You must reject the idea that using an opiate makes your son a bad person or that you’ve failed as a parent. Now is your moment to act. Whether he knows it or not, he needs your help, and acting swiftly can make all the difference in how this plays out.

The first step is to open a conversation with your son about your concerns that he is using. Be frank. Don’t sugarcoat your words or worry that he’ll hate you. Now is not the time to worry about momentary emotions. Put the issue out in the open and make it clear that you’re taking this seriously. Your son may react with hostility, try to laugh it off, or make it seem like one big misunderstanding. Push ahead and insist that you want him to live the best possible life he can live and that you know that using opiates is no part of that life. Set boundaries if you can on any behaviors you think may be a part of the problem and watch carefully for what they do next. If things do not seem to noticeably change, you may have to take matters one step further.

Holding an Intervention

If the initial conversation didn’t make things any better, and you’re still concerned about your son’s behavior, it’s time to confer with the other people in his life who may share your feelings. Talk to the rest of their family, the friends of his who you don’t think are using opiates, or his closest teacher or school guidance counselor. If you’re not alone in your concerns that he’s using opiates, the time has come for you to stage an intervention.

Gather together the people who want to be there and sit them down for a serious look at their life. Fight the feeling you may get that you’re conspiring against your son. It comes from your love for him. You don’t want to hurt him. Without your intervention, though, he is at risk of being hurt far, far worse. Your goal is not to change their behavior on the spot, but to get through to him and have him realize and externalize the fact that he’s headed down a dangerous path. Once he does that, he can begin to accept the help that he needs.

If your intervention makes headway and your son can admit that he’s struggling with heroin or opiate use, the next step is to get him help as quickly and effectively as possible. Getting professional help allows the trained staff of a treatment center to help your son towards recovery from all medical, psychological, and social angles so that they can come back to the life that they are meant to live without the dangers of falling back into using opiates or other drugs. Cornerstone Healing Center is a men-only treatment facility in Scottsdale, Arizona that offers evidence-based, holistic approaches that treat the whole person and we provide direct support for the challenging first year of recovery. Whether it’s time for your son to start his recovery process, or you just want some trusted guidance on your concerns that your son might be abusing narcotics, it’s never too early to talk to a licensed treatment professional. Call 800-643-2108 to learn more.

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