Straight Talk Advice

Apr 02, 2013

Do I tell on sibling regarding Adderall use?

Dear Straight Talk: After reading the warning signs of Adderall abuse in your recent column (MAR 19), I'm 99 percent sure my older brother is on Adderall or something similar. He’s paranoid about his grades being perfect so he can get into a top college. Our parents just think he studies very hard, however, we share a room so I know he often stays up most of the night studying. Sometimes all night. He also acts very hyper. When he does try to sleep, he tosses and turns and talks about school in his sleep — all of which makes me lose sleep as well. His appetite has changed, too. He barely eats and has lost a lot of weight. It’s not so obvious when he’s dressed, but seen in his underwear, he’s wasting away. I’m really concerned. I don’t want to go to our parents and get him in trouble, though, since I’m sure he’s getting whatever it is illegally at school. Help! — Concerned Sister, La Habra, Calif.

Taylor 16, Santa Rosa, Calif. Ask me a question

Confronting him may just make him hide things. Don't put all the worry on your shoulders. Enlist a parent or adult who will help. Your brother may be upset now, but he will thank you later.

Colin 19, Whittier, Calif. Ask me a question

Your description definitely sounds like substance abuse. However, I always warn people to be very sure before dragging somebody through what might be a crazy allegation. Go to a higher authority. Make sure whoever that is will help your brother, not persecute him. Honestly, even if he isn't abusing something, he needs psychological help. People stress out about school way more than they should. Society pushes this stupid propaganda that if you don't excel academically you're condemned to poverty. It's completely false. I'm not saying disregard schoolwork, I'm saying don't disregard life for an unrealistic GPA.

Brandon 21, Mapleton, Maine Ask me a question

If this was my sister, I would just blow the whistle and have her drug tested. I'd rather see her shamed into cleaning up than become a prostitute or junkie. You have an obligation to your brother. You MUST pressure your parents into fixing this ASAP! What I know about Adderall is how addictive it is to those abusing it. Today's “gateway drug” isn't marijuana, it's these prescription drugs. Their temporary “great attributes” make you susceptible to cocaine or meth down the road — which are touted similarly. If your brother is cornered, there's a 50 percent chance he'll quit or get rehab to quit. The other 50 percent is that he'll dodge getting help and keep using. Your parents need to stay focused on this!

Dear Concerned Sister: Nobody likes to be the fink, but when someone is in serious trouble, you do it. Plus, if you don't tell, who will? Probably nobody. I agree that it sounds like he’s using Adderall — and that he is addicted and taking dangerously high doses. Fate has put this in your court and if you do nothing and something bad happens, you’ll never forgive yourself. Think of it this way: You're not getting him IN trouble. You're getting him OUT of trouble. Please don’t worry about the law; they are not interested in cases like this.

Showing your parents this column will be the most effective way to communicate the problem. If necessary, tell them anonymously, but don’t waste any more time. (I concur with Taylor and do not recommend going to your brother first. It could cause him to cloak his behavior and/or you to remain silent.) Your brother will love you again eventually — quite soon, from what I keep hearing. And you’ll be able to sleep again — for two reasons.

Editor’s Note: After our column two weeks ago, we received several letters from young people sharing dormitories or bedrooms with students strung out on Adderall or Adderall-like stimulants. To all of you — including those in dorm rooms who wish you had a different dorm-mate, or to MaryEllen whose hall has so many users, she wishes the dorms could be divided into “users” and “nonusers” — I urge you to take action by telling the student’s parents, if possible, or the dean’s office.

Whether you blow the whistle anonymously or not, I don’t care, just blow it loud and clear. At the very least it will start waking people up. For halls like MaryEllen’s, maybe put a petition together from the non-users so there is weight in numbers when you present it to the dean’s office. If you are communicating with parents, many are in denial about their "perfect" child, so make sure to be convincing.

Adderall has become the study drug of choice on high school and college campuses. To give you an idea of how addictive it is, it is a Schedule II controlled drug, right up there with morphine and Oxycontin. You can see the body wasting away, the anxiety, shaking and inability to sleep, but the damage goes far below the surface with serious effects on the heart, digestive system, endocrine system and brain, occasionally leading to psychosis. See our MAR 19 column for more warning signs and health effects.

To parents: It is impossible to tell how much weight someone has lost through their clothing. I know of one mother who almost fainted when she finally saw her daughter naked in a case of anorexia. She had no idea, though she saw her daughter daily. If your child has lost weight, and there are other warning signs, consider “accidentally” walking in on him/her in the shower or bedroom to make sure there isn’t something his/her sibling is too afraid to tell you about.

Final note: Adolescence continues to age 25. I may sound like a broken record, but if you see the warning signs for Adderall abuse, don’t hesitate to drug test your child without warning. (Keep in mind that amphetamines last only three days in the system.) From all reports I get from today’s youth, they want to be drug tested for cause. They want you to see through their denial (almost all addicts resort to dishonesty — yes, even a child who never lies). Keep some home drug test kits on hand, and know how to use them. I can’t recommend enough www.recoveryhappens.com for high-quality test kits that cost $5 each compared to $40 at Walgreens. Please see their website video for how to properly use them so your child can’t cheat the test. Administered properly, drug tests are truth machines. (BTW: a fit-throwing or steely refusal to take the test is called a “positive".) Home tests are often the first step of an eyes-wide-open journey with a good rehab counselor that can save your child’s life and health. It’s scary to confront your child, but if there’s cause, don’t wimp out. No one else is going to do it if you don’t.

Hugs not drugs. —Lauren


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  1. By Judabeth, age , from Roseville, CA on 04/02/2013

    I don’t agree that telling on someone is the best thing to do in all cases.  I know it isn’t in mine.  Due to complicated family issues that I don’t need to go into, my stepsister who is a year older than I am recently came to live with us and I have to share my room with her.  I don’t know if it’s Adderall or what, but I know she’s on drugs that she gets from her boyfriend that she hides in our room.  I know where she hides them and she knows that I know but says she’ll see to it that I’m very sorry if I tell, and knowing her, I believe her.  She already makes things hell for me, and acts like she owns the room even though she moved into my room.  She constantly makes fun of me and puts me down.  I can’t even get undressed in my own room without her looking at me and smirking and making fun of my body just because it isn’t perfect like she thinks her’s is.  This is very humiliating, especially when I’m naked and it’s hard to avoid ever being naked in your own room.  It normally shouldn’t be a problem when you’re both girls, but in this case it is a problem.  I also can’t have friends spend the night anymore since she also makes fun of their bodies, so nobody will sleep over anymore.

    I would gladly trade places with the girl who recently wrote about having to undress in front of her gay stepsister.  At least her stepsister sounded like a decent person.  My stepsister also puts me down for not having a boyfriend when she does, but I actually think I’m better off with no boyfriend than the drug using boyfriend she has.

    Things are already bad enough, so I figure why make things worse for myself by telling on her?  I hate her, and I figure if she wants to ruin her life with drugs, why should I care?  It’s easy to say you should tell and try to get someone help when you’re not the one who is going to suffer for it.

    HATE HER

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  2. By L.N., age , from El Segundo, CA on 04/02/2013

    My older sister who is a senior is on Adderall.  Our mom doesn’t have a clue and actually compliments her on all the weight she has lost and the good grades she has been getting.  However, we share a room so I see her naked and know that she has lost way too much weight and also know that she barely sleeps much of the time.  She doesn’t want me to tell our mom and says she’ll stop once she gets into college.  However, from what I’ve read, it’s not that easy.  I know she’ll be very mad at me if I tell our mom which will make things difficult since we share a room.  However, I love her and care about her and know she needs help.  I also know our mom will be mad that I didn’t tell when she finds out, which she almost certainly will sooner or later.  Either way, somebody will be very mad at me no matter what I do which I think is an unfair position to be in when I haven’t done anything.

    L.N.

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  3. By Lori, age , from Santa Rosa, CA on 04/02/2013

    My mom is a workaholic divorce lawyer who is on Adderall.  She has a doctor’s prescription for it, so she thinks it’s fine.  When I tried to tactfully tell her about some of the things I had read about it on Straight Talk and other places on line, she reminded me that she has a prescription and said that I’m not a doctor.  She gives all of her clients her cell number in case of emergency and gets calls all night long from clients who think every little thing is an “emergency.” It seems like she gets hardly any sleep.  My sister and I share a room and bathroom, so we see each other nude every day, but we had not seen our mom nude in a very long time.  Last month she decided that she felt guilty about not spending any time with us so she decided to take us on a “girls weekend.” We all shared one hotel room so we saw her nude.  We were shocked to see that she’s literally skin and bones.  I also realized that we rarely see her eat, so it looks like she’s showing the symptoms of Adderall abuse.  However, we don’t know how to try to get her help.  She and our dad are divorced and they don’t even talk to each other unless they can’t possibly avoid it, usually regarding issues involving my sister and me, so we obviously can’t go to him.  She thinks she’s fine and isn’t the type to listen to anybody else anyway.

    Lori

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  4. By Cathy, age , from Lambertville, OH on 04/03/2013

    I guess Adderall affects everybody differently.  For me, it made me eat too much and gain too much weight.  It caused me to binge on foods and drinks full of sugar, and I never ate anything healthy.  Like those who get too thin, it wasn’t obvious how fat I was getting except for my sister who I share a room with and the only one who saw me completley naked.  When she found out I was taking Adderall that I was getting illegally (which is very easy at my school) she told our parents.  I was really mad at first.  However, they made me stop and get help and now I’m grateful and my sister and I are closer than we ever were before.  We now get along great sharing a room which was never true before.  I now realize that I wasn’t in my right mind when I was on Adderall and I think that’s true of most people who are on it or any other drug, so I agree that you should tell someone.

    Cathy

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  5. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Sebastopol, CA, USA on 04/04/2013

    To Cathy from Labertville, Ohio—I am so grateful that you wrote with the experience of being told on by a sibling! (And SO GLAD you’re off the Adderall.) Whenever experiences like this are recounted, they almost all have happy endings like yours. THANK YOU for giving so many others the courage to tell!—Love, Lauren

    To L.N.—It’s true you are between a rock and a hard place. I still say TELL. If parents get upset because you didn’t tell sooner, use this compassionate comeback. “I was scared, and I know you’re scared, too, that you didn’t notice it yourself. Let’s just forgive each other and move forward in getting _____ help.” (L.N. this comeback is absolutely true…you were scared! And parents upset at you in this situation ARE just reacting to their own guilt over not catching it themselves and their fear for their child). If you say this calmly, compassionately, and factually (no judgment or sarcasm in your voice), it should handle the problem. Please let me know what happens.—Love, Lauren

    Judabeth—Ouch, this is a tough. Whistleblowing is a super tough thing to do, and really, there has to be a lot of love to do something that can bounce back and get YOU in trouble. I’m not hearing that her life is in danger, and I, for one, certainly wouldn’t think less of you if, in this case, you don’t get involved. If things change, though, and her life (or long-term health) IS in danger, I hope you change your position. —Love, Lauren

    Lori—Wow, another tough one. It indeed sounds like your mom is harming herself – and like Cathy said, has been taken out of her right mind by the drug. I suggest confiding in a couple of close relatives and friends of hers what you’ve written here. I also lean toward confiding in your dad. As the mother of his daughters, her wellbeing is in his interest. Discuss with these people the best course of action. Because drug abusers are not in their right mind, they usually need some kind of “intervention” or “jarring truth event” to wake them up. Look for help from these other adults to create something like this. Heartfelt letters from you and your sister you laid on her bed won’t hurt either. Her health sounds in peril. Definitely get others involved! Like all these experiences; she will be mad at first and grateful later. It takes a lot of guts and love. Good luck and let me know what happens. —Love, Lauren

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  6. By Alice, age , from Folsom, CA on 04/05/2013

    I am a single parent with daughters who are 16 and 14.  My older daughter has been hyperactive lately which is not like her.  She also has not been eating well and has been losing weight.  She has also avoided having me seeing her undressed which is something new.  Since we have an all female household, all of us had always been casual about nudity around the house and the girls never bothered to put on a bathrobe when they were going to take a shower or worry about closing the door to their room when they were undressing.  However, she now not only closes but locks the door when she’s undressing and always wears a bathrobe when she goes to the shower.  She still has no problem undressing with her sister in the room or even sharing the bathroom with her when she’s taking a shower or even using the toilet, so I think my younger daughter knows much more than I do about what is going on.  The girls are very close and confide in each other about everything, and never tell on each other.  I really suspect drug use, but I do not want to falsely accuse her and don’t want to put her sister in the position of either breaching her confidence or lying to me, so I am not sure what to do.

    Alice

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  7. By Margo, age , from Auburn, CA on 04/05/2013

    I agree that Alice’s daughter has all the signs that she’s hiding something serious and needs help.  I knew that something was wrong when my sister started acting very depressed and suddenly wouldn’t undress in front of me and also started locking me out of the bathroom even though we were close and had always shared a room and had always been totally comfortable with nudity in front of each other as well as sharing the bathroom even when we were going poop like was discussed in Straight Talk recently. 

    I tried to tell our mom confidentially that something must be wrong but our mom just shrugged it off and said that she was just going through a “modesty phase” and would get over it and that not everybody is comfortable using the toilet in front of somebody else, even their sister. She also said that all teenagers get depressed at times but get over it.  But I knew something was wrong both because of the way she was acting and when she couldn’t even be in her underwear in front of me when she used to be totally casual about nudity in front of me in our room.  It turned out that she was cutting herself in places you could only see when she was undressed and finally cut herself so bad that the bleeding wouldn’t stop and she had to go to emergency and get stitches and they saw where she had cut herself all over.  Our mom felt really guilty because she realized that she should have listened to me and gotten her help sooner but at least she got help before it was too late.

    So I agree that you should tell your parents if you know that your brother or sister needs help whether it be drugs, anorexia, or cutting or whatever but it’s also important for parents to listen and not shrug it of as “just being a phase.”

    Margo

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  8. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Sebastopol, CA, USA on 04/05/2013

    Dear Alice- I’m glad you’re not shrugging this off. (Thanks Margo for your reinforcement!)  Hyperactivity, weight loss, sudden cloaking, I’m with ya: it’s probably drugs, the weight loss is probably dramatic. Super serious stuff.

    Confrontation isn’t easy—and harder for single parents. But you will take an enormous burden off your youngest daughter. It’s also great role-modeling.

    The following is suggestion only. It’s numbered just for structure. It is set up for your situation where it sounds like your daughter hasn’t been in trouble with substance or had a history of at-risk behavior, running away, etc. That would require some different steps and professional assistance. This scenario I would do with my own kid in a situation like yours. Parent empowerment time!

    STEP 1: Don’t delay.

    STEP 2: Build a team. Quietly, without blabbing, get one or two friends involved who “get the problem,” are aligned and willing to be scheduled at your home on a specific day/eve. (Since you lack the support of the two parents operating together, this gives you that support.) Ideal: if daughter’s dad “gets the problem” and won’t operate at cross purposes, make him one of these people. A strong male figure will be helpful.

    STEP 3: Buy drug-test kits. Study the www.recoveryhappens.com website and learn how to administer a simple home drug test. They just require urine that you dip a stick into. Buy at the drug store or order from www.recoveryhappens.com, I think it’s the 5-drug test kit (the one that includes amphetamines, since her symptoms suggest Adderall), but make sure by calling them if need be. Buy 2-3 kits in case you need to re-test.

    STEP 4: Have the talk. (We’re not drug testing yet. I just want you to be ready.) Take your daughter aside, be super honest just like you were in this letter: You read a column… You notice warning signs x, y and z… Are you taking Adderall or some other drug? How much weight have you lost? What’s going on in your life? You can cry here, this is real stuff. It’s not about being angry, it’s about being concerned. Anger just adds pepper to a wound that’s obviously already there or she wouldn’t be harming herself. You want to add LOVE to it. Having your younger daughter present is a good idea; maybe one of them will spill the beans. But don’t rely on it. Lying is the currency of drug abuse. And loyalty is the currency of co-dependent younger siblings. BTW: During this talk, don’t mention the drug test kits—I wouldn’t want her to bolt to dad’s house or something.

    STEP 4, cont: Don’t be duped. If, in your talk, you get less than a de-robing down to bra and underwear, a confession about serious drug use, and a willingness to receive help, convene the meeting as unresolved.

    STEP 5: Truth Test. NEXT DAY (don’t wait, or she might temporarily stop using, go to Dad’s etc.) your friends are scheduled to come over. This is not the Gestapo, these are friends, the setting is relaxed, but firm. They are there for support. Out of love. A drug test is a truth serum. When she asks, “Why don’t you believe me?” You say stuff like, “I can’t—too worried about you. I’m your mom, I don’t stand by and watch my daughter waste away.” “Because I love you.” “Both of you.” If she’s super crabby, “Why are “all” these people here?” Be honest. “I was scared; I’ve never done this before.” (The “village” stuff is really great! We DO need each other to parent well.) You could continue with, “Actually, Love, I DO want to believe you, and a negative drug test will MAKE me believe.” (They really are truth machines… even kids love them for that, at least once they’re clean.)

    She might be really pissed (no pun intended), but sit firm till she pees in the cup and don’t let her go anywhere that night. Since you’ve studied the video, you know to escort her into the bathroom and actually watch her pee. (Don’t let sister escort her!) Be the authority who’s savvy, kind, fair, loving AND firm AND determined to not let your daughter be taken down by a stupid drug. Or cheat the test. 

    REFUSAL: Don’t force anything. Tell her you consider a refusal a POSITIVE.

    POSITIVE TEST—If positive, DO NOT be talked out of outpatient rehab therapy. Even if she says she’ll quit, weekly rehab therapy will help heal the roots of the addiction so she doesn’t relapse. Like Brandon said in the original column above in green: “You have to stay focused on this!” You live very near Recovery Happens in Fair Oaks. I can’t recommend their program and therapists enough. Give them a call.

    NEGATIVE TEST: Something obviously is going on, and now you are in a position with support, and having openly encountered her, to figure out next steps for getting her whatever help she needs. I would definitely appeal to younger sibling for help at this point. Main thing: stay focused and don’t ever give up on her even if she or situation gets difficult.

    Alice, good luck! Don’t hesitate to ask more questions. Love, Lauren

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  9. By Rhonda, age , from Carmichael, CA on 04/06/2013

    Maybe some teenagers need to be drug tested, but it should only be if there is a really good reason.  Our mom has a friend whose daughter got in serious trouble with drugs, so it made her paranoid that my sister and I might be using drugs.  She uses any little thing as an excuse to think we might be on drugs:  losing or gaining a little weight, acting a little depressed, oversleeping on a weekend or staying up really late, any little misbehavior and on and on.  We have never used drugs and never intend to, but she has to make sure.  At random times, she comes into our room and makes us strip so that she can see if we’re losing or gaining too much weight or if there are any signs on our bodies of drug injection.  Even though she’s our mom and we don’t really have a problem with her seeing us nude, it still is very humiliating to have to be strip searced like this. 

    She’s also decided to randomly drug test us with a home drug testing kit, so we have to pee in a cup while she stands there watching which we also find very embarrassing even though she’s our mom.  She says there’s no reason to be embarrassed since she’s the one who changed our diapers and toilet trained us and pointed out that we’ve never been modest about bathroom functions and share the bathroom when we’re peeing (and even sometimes when we’re having a bowel movement).  She says that if we aren’t using drugs we have nothing to hide and it shouldn’t bother us.  Well, it does bother us and to us having her stand there and stare at us while we pee into a cup is totally different than sharing the bathroom when we’re using the toilet and don’t really even look at each other.

    We have never tested positive, but that hasn’t eased her paranoia and she feels that she needs to keep on checking.

    Rhonda

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  10. By Sarah Jean, age , from Westminster, CA, USA on 04/06/2013

    I went through drug rehab and now am glad that my mom tests me as it proves to her that I’m off drugs, and knowing that I’ll be tested helps to keep me from using as I know that I can’t get away with anything.  Peeing in a cup in front of her is no big deal anymore.  I even have my sister watch so that she’ll see what happens if you use drugs.  I never had a problem with my mom or my sister being in the bathroom when I was peeing, anyway.  I don’t see what there is to be embarrassed about when it’s your mom or your sister or a close female friend any more than undressing in front of them.  BM’s are a different story at least for me, but fortunately that isn’t necessary in drug testing.  I am determined to stay clean and really want to set a good example for my younger sister who looks up to me.  Since we share a room, she knew much better than our mom how bad off I was when I was using drugs, but didn’t tell our mom since she didn’t want to get me in trouble.  However, in retrospect, I wish she had told as I could have gotten help sooner, and if I ever see my sister using drugs I will tell.  However, I do agree with Rhonda that it isn’t fair to test somebody without a valid reason to believe they are using drugs.

    Sarah Jean

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