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Co-Occurring Disorders in Teens: Bipolar Disorder - The Great Imitator

Angry outbursts, erratic sleep patterns, sudden mood swings, and changes in personality. If you’re a parent of a teenager, these behaviors can be the status quo—actually, we often take these behaviors for granted. When teens are in trouble, when they are struggling to cope with issues that are too difficult for them to handle, drinking or getting high makes these behaviors worse often to the point of frightening us.

Symptoms of drug abuse often mimic other behaviors and make it hard to figure out exactly what’s going on in kids who are getting high. We know that kids (and adults) get high to help manage the difficult emotions associated with life’s challenges. And we know that adolescence presents them (and us!) with unique challenges.

Your parental instinct that something is wrong is often correct, but understanding the difference in the root causes of their erratic behavior will help you decide what course to take with your child.

Is My Teenager Getting High?

by Barry Lessin

November 14th, 2010

The thought of your teenager getting high is likely to make you very uncomfortable.

“My kid?”

When you say those two words to yourself, you don't want to believe that your child could be involved in using drugs or alcohol, but you also don't want to ignore the possible early warning signs. So what do you do? We are often so worried that we become immobilized and lose sight of one of the basics of human communication:


If you think your child is drinking or using drugs, the most important thing to do is to come right out and ask. Research suggests that when we talk openly about drugs and drinking, children are more likely to have better self-control and develop more negative perceptions about these risky behaviors. The work you put into opening up lines of communication now can make all the difference in the future.

Some tips for how to ask:

1. Begin by preparing:

  • Role-playing with your husband or partner to anticipate possible responses
  • Get as much information about your child from other people (teachers, friend’s parents, etc).
  • Get into their world first, try to understand where she’s coming from.

2. Use a tone of concern, not interrogation. You’re not trying to “catch” her lying or pressure her to share information she’s doesn’t want to. You want to be having a regular conversation with you expressing genuine interest.

3. Find an opportunity when your child is available, during their down time. It’s never a good idea to talk while they’re in the middle of/on their way to an activity.

4. Ask questions about the general availability of drugs and alcohol in the community or if they know anybody getting high. Ask them about their friends’ behavior and express interest in their opinion about their friends’ risky behavior.

Remember that we were teenagers once. Reflecting on our own experience as teens can help us understand better what works when talking to our kids about these difficult issues.

Realize that determining whether your child has a drug and alcohol abuse problem is a process that will have ups and downs over time. Asking is the first step in this process.

Learning as much as you can about this process will increase your success in early identification of a problem. You’re already on that path by being here. Good luck….

In coming blog entries, I’ll share with you some ideas about taking the next steps in the process.

In the meantime you can learn more about these steps yourself by checking out TIME TO TALK.

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