You can start suspecting there is a problem if there is a sudden decreased interest in family activities, changes in appetite, abusive language, constant lying, spending more time in their room than usual, missing curfew, a new and general disrespect, always needing or having money, changes in friends, and of course, finding drugs or drug material such as filter paper to roll “blunts” or tiny ziplock bags to store cocaine or a number of other substances. The subject is taboo, and we Muslims usually tend to shy away from the subject, living in denial rather than trying to confront this growing problem facing our communities in the West and indeed around the world. From “traditional” drugs such as opium to more “fresh” and exciting drugs such as LCD and ecstasy to substances such as alcohol and liquor, which have become so commonplace that we don’t even think of them as drugs, we have a growing problem, and with that comes a growing need for awareness on this subject, especially at the high rate of use by American teens and young adults.
In a study of 12-17 year olds, 13 percent reported to have used marijuana, 9.3 percent used an illegal substance other than marijuana, and about 32 percent used one of the most widely abused substances, alcohol. The numbers increased dramatically when 18-25 year olds were asked, with about 24 percent having used marijuana, 13 percent having used an illicit drug other than marijuana, and 75 percent having used alcohol.
With these shocking statistics, we need to be vigilant and informed enough to recognize the warning signs of drug use in order to identify if our peers or family members are abusing substances, and also what can lead a person to habitual drug use, in order to create more nurturing environments to prevent people from experimenting with such substances.
If you are living with a teenager or you know teens or are a teen, you should be aware of the warning signs surrounding substance abuse, and also keep in mind that although these are warning signs for drug use, not everyone presents this way, and also, not everyone who does have these signs is necessarily on drugs, but rather, these are just eye openers that allow you to look more into the person and investigate further into possible illicit substance abuse. So at home, you can start suspecting there is a problem if there is a sudden decreased interest in family activities, changes in appetite, abusive language, constant lying, spending more time in their room than usual, missing curfew, a new and general disrespect, always needing or having money, changes in friends, and of course, finding drugs or drug material such as filter paper to roll “blunts” or tiny ziplock bags to store cocaine or a number of other substances. At school, you can expect a sudden drop in grades, not bringing home any homework or not showing you any work, less memory, lack of interest in sports or socializing, and a number of other symptoms. These can also be symptoms dealing with depression, but regardless, if an adolescent exhibits these symptoms, (s)he need to be checked further for drug use or depression, which is another concern for this age group. If a problem is confirmed, then some changes must be made by the family and even friends.
Although drug use has extremely negative consequences, a person can find it as a way to escape daily stressors, or even untreated mental disorders, which are commonplace for teens, or as a way to rebel against parents who are either too busy to give their children attention or are abusive physically or emotionally. The child cannot be the only person to blame, and if (s)he is found to be abusing substances, it is necessary to sit together as a family and try and figure out what is causing this behavior. It would also be a good idea to find a therapist who can work with the family and the child to help find ways to mend the issue. The family should also turn more to spirituality as a group, praying together and finding constructive ways to spend time together, bringing fulfillment to everyone’s life and hence taking away the need or desire to use drugs. Friends also have a role to play, such as spending more time with the drug use victim and trying to fill his/her day with constructive activities. Again, however, we would like to emphasize taking advantage of therapy if you know of anyone suffering from such a problem, or you are dealing with this situation at home with a family member or yourself.
To conclude, we should remember that Islam gives us the opportunity five times a day to clear our minds of the various stresses of daily life and to connect with God. This is a powerful tool that we are blessed to have been commanded to take advantage of, and has the potential to lift our spirits without having to resort to forbidden and illegal activities. When followed correctly, our faith also commands parents to watch over and respect their children, and to befriend and teach them right from wrong. If our religion is followed correctly, there should be very little reason for a child to want to rebel against parents, and this is as much the responsibility of the child as it is the parent’s. Our Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny) tells parents on raising their children, “Teach them for seven years, train them for seven years, and befriend them for seven years.” Nowhere in that did he say to neglect, or to be completely authoritarian or completely permissive. Parents must be balanced in dealing with their children to prevent outcomes such as the abuse of drugs rampant in our communities today, and children and youth must not neglect their faith and religious duties either.
Shady Shebak grew up in Michigan and received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Michigan-Dearborn. He is currently a second-year medical student at the American University of the Caribbean and has kindly agreed to write about various health-related issues for Islamic Insights on a biweekly basis.