DR. WALLACE: I'm 17 and live with my 15-year-old sister, our mother, and our grandmother. My mother was never married, so my sister and I don't know who our fathers are. This doesn't bother me one bit, but it bothers my sister very much. Our mother and grandmother both work full-time to support our family. They are two wonderful women and my sister and I both love them a lot.
I'm a very good student with high hopes of going to college and becoming an elementary school teacher. My sister is just the opposite. She hates school, gets poor grades, and has no intention of going to college. Despite our differences, we are very close and we love each other very much.
I am active in school activities and hang around with a nice group of kids. My sister hangs around with what I call undesirables. Her friends are constantly in trouble at school. I'm sure some of her friends abuse drugs. I always ask my sister if she is doing drugs and she always says, "No way, Jose."
Lately she has been acting odd and I really think she is doing drugs, but I'm not 100 percent sure. Other than acting odd, what are the telltale signs that someone is using drugs? I want to be the one who helps my sister straighten out her life. Our mom and grandmother have a lot on their minds and they don't need my sister's possible drug use to cloud their thinking. — Rosa, Brownsville, Tex.
ROSA: For 10 years I counseled teens at Community Psychiatric Centers in Santa Ana, California. The teens who came there, although they were addicted to drugs, were lucky enough to have caring parents who wanted to help them.
When parents contacted CPC wanting to know more about identifying drug use, they were given the following list of possible indicators of both alcohol and drug abuse in young people:
—Dramatic change in behavior or personality
—Rapid mood swings
—Drop in grades, loss of interest in school, sports, hobbies
—Secrecy about peers or activities
—Quickness to anger
—Increase in verbal or physical aggression toward authority figures
—Frequent profanity or lying
—Sudden change in appearance
—Rejection of old friends; reluctance to introduce new friends to family
—Red, runny eyes and runny nose
—Marked change in energy level
—Aggressive behavior (fighting, destroying property)
You are a loving sibling and it's great that you want to keep your sister away from drugs, but if she shows signs of drug abuse, tell your Mom immediately. Your sister may already be in too deep for you to rescue her all by yourself.
Your mother and grandmother may have a lot on their minds, but nothing could be more important to them than the safety and welfare of you and your sister. If your sister is in trouble, the rest of you must work as a team to pull her out of it. Don't keep her problem a secret. Is she's hooked on drugs, she'll need all the help and love she can get.
Dr. Robert Wallace welcomes questions from readers. Although he is unable to reply to all of them individually, he will answer as many as possible in this column. Email him at [email protected] To find out more about Dr. Robert Wallace and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.