Many teens will occasionally experiment with what are sometimes called “gateway drugs,” such as alcohol and marijuana. While addiction or abuse of these substances can turn into a problem, most who try them tend to use them only occasionally or socially. In many ways, these “soft” drugs are different from and less harmful than harder drugs, like cocaine and heroin. There is a class of drugs that are more addictive than marijuana, and also more dangerous, however, that teens are getting ahold of more easily than they could cocaine or heroin. These are often called club drugs or party drugs, and they include things like Ecstasy, Rohypnol (roofies), Ketamine, and GHB. Finding out whether your teenager is using or abusing these drugs can be difficult, so it’s important to know the dangers and symptoms of club drug abuse, as well as what to do if your teen is using.
Types of Club Drugs
The most well-known club drug is Ecstasy. It usually comes in pill form, and it often has a character or picture stamped on it. Sometimes it’s powdered form (called Molly) or in a liquid form. Teens may be drawn to it because it leads to emotional warmth, euphoria, and distortions of perceptions that many find pleasant. It also causes a fast heartbeat, a higher body temperature, anxiety, jaw-clenching, dehydration, and paranoia. An overdose can cause a fatally high body temperature and severe dehydration, particularly if combined with caffeine or alcohol.
Rohypnol is the drug that is often slipped into someone’s (often a woman’s) drink to make them unconscious and unable to fight off a rapist. It can also be taken in pill form as a means to get high. It’s a type of benzodiazepine, which is similar to prescription drugs like Xanax, and it’s very addictive. It can cause relaxation, low blood pressure, and a reduction in social inhibition. It can also cause confusion, nightmares, tremors, and headaches.
Ketamine is a type of anesthetic that is usually used in animals. It can be used in humans, and sometimes is, but it causes confusion and other side effects. The reason people take ketamine as a club drug is because it causes a type of dissociation, which is a feeling of not being in your own body. In addition, it can cause slurred speech, a rapid heartbeat, confusion, nausea, and vomiting.
GHB is a sedative that causes euphoria and lowered inhibitions. It’s also sometimes used as a date rape drug. Its side effects can include lowered heart rate, tremors, seizures, confusion, and even coma and death.
Physical Symptoms of Club Drug Abuse
The physical symptoms of club drug abuse can range from extreme sedation to extreme euphoria, depending on the type taken. It can be difficult to determine exactly what type of drugs your teen has taken, because many different type of drugs have similar side effects. If you notice that your teen has any of the following symptoms, it’s best to take him or her to the hospital so the doctors can determine what was ingested (as well as if they took a dangerous dose) and treat them accordingly.
- dilated pupils
- slurred speech
- some other uncharacteristic behavior
Calling 911 for an ambulance might be warranted if your teen has the following symptoms:
- very high body temperature
- racing heart
- is nearly unresponsive
You might also notice withdrawal symptoms if your teen has gone a while without using drugs after an abusive pattern. These can include:
If these are happening on nights or weekends that your teen is home after a period of time that he wasn’t home or was out at parties, drug use might be the reason.
Behavioral Signs of Club Drug Abuse
There are some behaviors that might tip you off that your teen is using drugs. First, having an interest in attending parties or all-night raves, particularly if they don’t personally know the people involved, can be a sign. Many times, teens who are using drugs will begin to drop their old friends in favor of hanging out with new people. If your teenager is involved in an extracurricular activity that they enjoy and suddenly begins skipping practice or meetings, for example, there might be a club drug abuse issue behind it.
Your teen might let his or her grades slip into the failing range. They might lie about where they are going or where they spent the evening, because they know that you would not let them attend parties where club drugs are likely to be available. They might participate in high-risk activities that seem uncharacteristic; for example, they might be having unprotected sex, driving under the influence, racing in the car, or getting into legal trouble for shoplifting or fighting.
What You Can Do
The first thing you need to do is keep your teen physically safe. If he or she is experiencing severe symptoms, head to the emergency room. If you suspect drug use but the symptoms seem mild, an appointment with your teen’s general doctor might suffice. The doctor can evaluate your teen and refer you out to a substance abuse counselor or other mental health professional for the appropriate treatment.
Once your teen is in treatment, it’s important to set firm boundaries, insist that your teen attend therapy and support group meetings, and monitor any medications that have been prescribed. A 12-step program can help if your teen is addicted. Also, you might consider getting yourself some support; groups like Al-Anon can help people whose family members are dealing with an addiction or drug abuse problem. If your teen has become addicted to club drugs, remember that recovery is a process and that he or she will not be “cured.” It’s something that they’ll need to be vigilant about avoiding for a lifetime.
No one wants to believe that their teenager is involved with club drugs, but it’s important to be aware of the issue, the symptoms, and the dangers of using these drugs. Talk to your teen about party drugs and discuss tips for staying safe and avoiding situations that could become dangerous. If you do suspect drug use, step in quickly and do not wait to see if the problem gets better on its own. Finally, get your teen and yourself the support needed for the recovery process.