Teenage Drug Abuse - a Mum's Story
When Sylvia from Newcastle discovered that her two eldest sons were using drugs she blamed herself….
I am 49 years old and never came into contact with illegal drugs in my youth. I was a normal teenager who loved dancing, boys and doing all those things that generally frighten parents to death, like staying out late, hitch-hiking home from the dances and playing truant from school on the odd occasion. Even when I went into the Royal Navy at 17, mixing with young people from all walks of life and living away from home, drugs did not play a part and weren’t even offered.
Of course, smoking cigarettes was fashionable in those days, as was drinking alcohol. In fact, the Royal Navy issued 200 cigarettes per month plus a daily tot of rum to all ratings over the age of 18.
The point is: I was ill-equipped to instruct my own children about the dangers associated with drug use. I read the papers and I watched the telly, didn't I? As far as I was aware, if people took illegal drugs, they died. End of story, end of education for my kids. I told them that drugs would kill them and, like most parents, I assumed this wise advice had been taken on board. Mother had spoken and mum's word was law.
The terrible truth
When I discovered (by accident) that two of my sons were using a wide variety of drugs, from LSD and speed, to cannabis and ecstasy, my world fell apart. I went through a whole range of reactions, all of which, I know now, were the result of my own ignorance.
I remember the feeling of fear. Fear that they would soon be on heroin and would die. I really believed that once on drugs, you couldn't help yourself, and it was only a matter of time before they took over your life and eventually killed you.
I phoned a drug help-line and was told that the drugs my sons were using were not as serious as they could be. It was only cannabis and LSD. Many kids tried them and most stopped after a while. This was not what I wanted to hear. I needed someone to tell me all about the drugs, to explain why my children had taken them, and to tell me how to talk to them. To me it seemed that the person on the other end of the phone was trivialising a very serious matter.
But it must have sunk in that my kids were probably not going to die, because if they were, I doubt that I’d have got so angry.
I went totally ballistic. I ranted and raged like someone demented. I actually threw my 18 year-old out of the house and he went to stay with a friend. He was probably glad – if the drugs didn’t kill him, surely I would!
I desperately wanted to know who had supplied the stuff. I think now that I was just looking for someone to blame other than myself. The more my sons refused to tell me, the madder I got. I can't ever remember being so angry in all of my life.
Inevitably the feelings of self-blame started to creep in. Was it my fault they’d used drugs? I was divorced and had to work part-time to keep things together. Was it because I wasn't always there? We lived in a council estate. Were they involved because of the environment into which I had taken them? Was it because I couldn't buy them Nike trainers? They were always complaining they didn't have the latest gear and I couldn't afford to buy them those things.
Helplessness and hate
The worst feeling of all was helplessness. I just didn’t know what to do. I had always hated ‘druggies’ with a vengeance. I thought they were scum… and here I was, with all my hopes and ambitions for these children, seeing scum when I looked at their dear faces. I never ever want to feel like that again. I hated what they had done and, God forgive me, for a brief moment I hated them.
This probably sounds over the top to anyone who knows about drugs but to a mum, who knew nothing about them, the feelings were real and overwhelming.
Taking control by learning more
I became determined to learn as much as I could about drugs so I could talk sensibly to my younger children and hopefully avoid or minimise the chances of them repeating their older brothers' mistakes. Over the next few months I discovered enough to know that, had I been more aware of myself, I would have been able to talk to them openly and, on reflection, would almost certainly have detected that they were using something at least 18 months before I actually found out.
I now understand why my children tried drugs and I know that it wasn't my fault. I only feel this way because I went out and looked for answers.
Most mothers and fathers my age are as ignorant as I was then, so I spend a lot of time talking to groups of parents about drugs. Hopefully, I help them to avoid the awful feelings I went through by wising them up a little.
Enlightening parents is one thing but I also believe that it’s important to educate young children on the dangers of drugs from a very early age. This education must be ongoing throughout their school years. Because I’m better informed, my younger children are too. This is no guarantee that they won't be drawn into experimenting at some point in their young lives but at least I’m better equipped to deal with the situation than I was in the past.
Find out more
- Talk to Frank is a free, 24 hour drug helpline with information and advice for parents and teens. Call 0800 77 66 00 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Drugscope has an excellent list of links to useful UK and international websites.
- Teen Drug Abuse is a US site with information on drug statistics, drugs at school and the effect on families.
- Leading the Debate on Childhood Anxiety: Junk food, on-screen entertainment and lack of time spent with adults are being blamed as experts say we put too much pressure on children to grow up quickly...
- Video Diary: Communication is the key to understanding older children's behaviour. As seen on Supernanny, a Video Diary could help get you and your child talking again.
- Discipline for Dads: Effective discipline requires positive attention and good relationships, says Tom Beardshaw from Fathers Direct. Tom gives his top tips for how parents can work together to discipline their children.