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Prescription Pills: The New Drug of Choice for Teens

Preventive Parenting continued...

Finally, parents should watch for behavior change. "Signs could be alterations in your son's or daughter's sleep/wake cycle or mood patterns — or you might observe a new level of secretiveness and sneaking around," says Dr. Weiss. The specific indications can be as seemingly minor as your child copying song lyrics about drugs in her notebooks. "Granted, all of these things can occur normally during adolescence, and every kid is different," Dr. Weiss adds, "but parents tend to know their kids well — and when they are really changing."

Like Torgersen, whose grades barely dipped, many kids become functioning addicts, and even observant parents may miss or misinterpret what symptoms there are. When Francine Haight looks back on the last months of Ryan's life, she realizes that there were small clues: He was more quiet than usual, slept more, and started hanging out with friends she didn't like. At the time she rationalized that he was reacting to her divorce from his father, the death of their dog, school pressures, or his sister's leaving for college — anything but drugs. "I just didn't pick up on the signs," she says.

If you do suspect a problem, it's essential to address it with your child, say experts. Admittedly, this is easiest to do when you already have a strong, communicative relationship; if you don't, Faddis counsels bringing in outside help, like a therapist, right away. While parents may feel conflicted and worry about antagonizing their child with accusations, Sara Swanson's mother, Michelle Swanson, can testify that discovering the truth and following through should take precedence. "I was scared to death that Sara would hate me for confronting her and accusing her of using drugs," she says, "but I was more afraid of finding out one day that she was dead. I wanted to be my daughter's best friend, but at that critical time in her life, I had to be the parent."

"They were willing to listen to what I had to say and decide on the right consequence," remembers Sara, who says she benefited much more from the counseling and treatment her parents got her than she might have from stern lectures and grounding: "If they had shut me in my room, I'd have been so much more depressed than I was."

Several months into Evan Rokoszak's jail sentence, his Facebook page, strewn with postings, was a virtual memorial to him and his former life. "[Everything] is so different without you, we all miss you so much," reads one post. And, apparently without irony, "What doesn't kill you, will only make you stronger."

Drugs didn't kill Sara Swanson — but she has a different take on what's helped her grow stronger. "When my parents intervened, I hated them for ruining my fun, but I respect them 20 times more now that I can think clearly," she says. "They were there for me when I needed them. If they hadn't figured out what was going on with me and spoken up, or if they just turned their heads, I would probably be dead right now."

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