Chesterton Tribune

Drugs under your own roof: Know the signs

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As parents’ nightmares go, it’s one of the worst: a child’s addiction to drugs.

Which means that right now, in neighborhoods throughout Duneland, there are fathers and mothers at their wits’ end in houses turned upside down: plunging grades, erratic or secretive behavior, dodgy new friends, even run-ins with the law.

In some cases the crisis may yet be incipient, the signs are troubling but not definitive, and moms and dads may have only a disquieting suspicion of the intruder in their home. Perhaps they suspect but—terrified of knowing for sure—have turned a blind eye in the hope that they’re wrong, that their child’s behavior will improve, that things will just get better.

Parents whose children still live under their roofs, however—whose kids go to school here or, because of the sputtering economy, never moved out or have moved back in—have this advantage over empty-nesters: the chance to intervene meaningfully, to communicate regularly with their child, to establish and enforce rules, to get professional help.

Know the Signs

Identifying the problem, making the diagnosis, is only the first step. Allen Grecula, director of group education for Frontline Foundations Inc.—a faith-based substance-abuse treatment program for young adults in Chesterton—tells parents not only to recognize these warning signs of drug abuse but to be prepared to document them in detail, with time, place, and circumstance:

•Physical signs: bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils; shifts in appetite or sleep; changes in appearance or dress; unusual odors on the breath, body, or clothing; impaired coordination.

•Behavioral signs: drops in attendance or performance at school or work; unexplained financial need; secretiveness or isolation; a sudden change in friends or cliques; a sudden disinterest in favorite activities; missing money or valuables at home.

•Psychological signs: changes in attitude; mood swings, angry outbursts, or irritability; periods of unusual hyperactivity, agitation, or giddiness; lack of motivation, lethargy, a “spaced-out” demeanor; fearfulness, anxiety, or paranoia.

For Det. Comm. Jeff Biggs of the Porter County Sheriff’s Police—formerly operations coordinator of the Drug Task Force—any break in a child’s routine or habits is a cause for concern. “The behavior to watch for is anything not normal for their child,” he said. “There are so many drugs out there. Some will make you excited and others will make you sleepy. The big problem is that a lot of people mix the drugs to get a high and a low, which causes overdoses and deaths.”

“Parents should be suspicious of any change in behavior,” Biggs added. “That includes a drastic change in eating habits. Not all heroin or crack-cocaine addicts are skinny.”

Parents should also pay particular attention to the litter in their child’s room or oddities found in the trash or car. “Paraphernalia comes in all shapes and sizes, from store-bought to homemade,” Biggs said. “I have seen paper, dollars, cards rolled up tightly, and straws to snort powder cocaine, heroin, and meth. These drugs are often packaged in small ziplock baggies, cellophane, or very small folded-up foil or paper squares. When powder drugs are heated into a liquid to inject, addicts sometimes use a very small cotton ball or piece of cigarette filter to filter the drug as they draw it up into the syringe.”

“Addicts tend to keep spoons around,” Biggs noted. “Or they use a pop can or Altoid tin. Anything with burn marks should be suspect as paraphernalia.”

Biggs did have this caution for parents: “Be careful searching you kid’s room because needles are usually hidden. You could be stuck by a needle used by your child or your child’s friend.”

The Next Step

Making the diagnosis is only the first step in the healing process. Unfortunately, it’s also the easiest. And parents need to use great care and tact in initiating the next step, because they’re treading in a minefield and what they do and say next, far from helping matters, could conceivably sabotage their child’s recovery before it even starts.

Indeed, parents shouldn’t even think of talking to their child, Grecula advised, until they’ve thoroughly prepared themselves. Part of that preparation is acquainting oneself with the ways and means of drug abuse and the drug subculture. Part, developing options for counseling and rehab. “First, educate yourself about the issue. Know your local resources and get feedback.”

At least as important, though, is a self-interrogation, Grecula said. Parents need to understand what biases, ambivalences, or grudges they make be taking into a conversation with their child:

•What is my attitude toward people struggling with addiction?

•What are my motives?

•Am I more likely to preach, punish, and criticize than I am to understand and support?

•Am I even the right person to talk to my child?

“We may do more harm than good in some cases,” Grecula said. “Many times people we are close to will not listen to us but may be more inclined to listen to professionals. Many times we do things we intend to be good in our loved ones’ lives but end up causing more damage than good.”

Lumbering into a destructive confrontation with their child is one mistake which parents can make. Turning a blind eye is another.

Grecula calls it “enabling” and it may take any number of forms: “Making excuses for the individual, such as calling off work for them or referring to the person’s usage as a ‘phase.’ Continually bailing them out of jail. Paying their bills. Reasoning their irrational behaviors. Overall ignoring of the problem. Believing their lies. Not discussing their usage.”

“These are all things that we can see as helping but end up hurting the individual and enabling that person’s behaviors,” Grecula said. “I would recommend that they seek help themselves if they see themselves doing these things, so they may begin the healing process.”

The Road to Recovery

When parents are finally ready to talk with their child, they still need to use great care, Grecula advised.

•Chose a good time and place to have the conversation. “Do not try to broach this topic of discussion while the person is under the influence.”

•Use “I” messages, not “you” ones. “This makes the situation feel less like an attack and children are more likely to listen.”

•Parents should prepare themselves to hear things they don’t like. “Listen to their feedback and where they are coming from.”

Confronting a child isn’t the end, though. It’s really only the beginning. Parents have their own role to play in their child’s recovery and it’s a difficult, hands-on one. “If you know you are dealing with someone with a drug or alcohol problem, you need to lay down rules and consequences,” Grecula said. “Keep a close eye on their activities. Encourage them to engage in positive social outlets.”

Biggs said much the same thing. “If parents suspect drug use, they should limit/control their child’s money and transportation and monitor their every activity and their friends. Sounds like a lot and I have seen parents get strict and then back off on some things, only to have their kids go right back to drugs.”

“Cell phones tell a lot,” Biggs added. “By monitoring your child’s cell phone text messages, you will be able to see who they are chatting to and what they are chatting about. There are no secrets to discovering the drug talk that goes back and forth with dealers and users. Text messages can tell you what drug your child prefers.”

Finally, Grecula said, parents should secure professional help for their child. At 18 treatment facilities within 20 miles of Chesterton are listed, with detailed information about each, including Grecula’s Frontline Foundations and also Porter-Starke Services.

Contacting Law Enforcement?

Both Grecula and Biggs agree that parents who perceive themselves to be in immediate danger should contact law enforcement immediately.

Biggs, on the other hand, believes that parents are best served when they involve the police from the beginning. “I have spoken to parents who are very torn,” he said. “They want their kids to stop using but they do not want to tell the police enough information to get their kid arrested.”

In the case, for instance, of parents’ finding an item of paraphernalia in their home, Biggs recommends a call to the local PD. “Whether their child is of adult age or not, the child needs to be confronted by parents and police. Arrests are not always made when paraphernalia is found. Sometimes the case is held over the child’s head to make sure they get on the right track and only if they don’t is the case forwarded for charges.”

But parents should know this: technically, under Indiana Code, a person who does nothing to stop drug use or dealing on property over which he has authority and responsibility is guilty of a felony: maintaining a common nuisance, punishable by a term of six months to three years.

Would the Porter County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office actually charge a parent under the statute?

“We might,” Prosecuting Attorney Brian Gensel said, depending on the circumstances. “Certainly parents are on the hook if they know their child is dealing on the premises. And if we could prove that parents knew their child was shooting up in the house, we could conceivably charge them.”

“Now it’s different if you’re talking about an elderly mother whose ne’er-do-well 45-year-old son comes home to live with her,” Gensel added.

In any case, Gensel noted, “the reality is that these parents are likely in crisis themselves and at their wits’ end over their child’s problem. Prosecuting would be like piling on.”

A somewhat different scenario of parental liability is one in which a child is found to be dealing drugs out of his parents’ vehicle. If the car’s title is in his own name, of course, then law enforcement will seize it. If it’s in his parents’ name, they do have a defense, Gensel said: “‘I didn’t know he was doing that.’”

But that defense only works once. “I remember one case where a kid was selling out of his mom’s car,” Gensel said. “He was arrested. Then six months later he was arrested again for selling out of his mom’s car. That time the vehicle was seized. It’s a know-or-should-have-known standard.”

About Frontline

Frontline Foundations Inc., a faith-based substance abuse recovery program, exclusively serves men and women aged 18 to 28.

Affiliated with Frontline are certified substance abuse professionals, medical professionals, mental health professionals, and members of the clergy.

Components of the program:

•Clinical substance abuse assessment and evaluation.

•Individual treatment and planning.

•Peer-to-peer recovery, relapse prevention, and group education.

•Family education and counseling.

•Weekly meals in a group setting.

•Aftercare/art recovery.

•Referral services for dual diagnosis and treatment, detoxification, and addiction medicine.

Frontline’s goals include serving a minimum of 90 young adults and their families annually and achieving a lower relapse rate than the national average of 40 to 60 percent.

Frontline also has an established relationship with Porter County judicial system.

For more information, call (219) 728-1638 or visit its website at


Valuable resources can also be found at



 Posted 3/18/2011