In part four of our series “Drugs and Our Kids,” we discuss what steps parents can take if they discover that their child has a substance abuse problem. All this week we’ll examine the issue, look for answers about why the drug epidemic has exploded in New Jersey, and discuss what can be done to reverse the trend.
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When Garden State parents discover their son or daughter has a substance abuse problem, what happens next?

"If a parent suspects there's a drug problem, they're right, because parents are the last people that will ever suspect their kid is using drugs," said Steve Liga, the executive director of the Middlesex County Chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

If that's the case, he said, "there have to be consequences for that action, you have to express concern and you have to make them see a counselor, somebody to ascertain just how serious this problem might be - don't discount it."

Julia Buccini, a Drug Counselor at Daytop New Jersey, said if you're a parent, the bottom line is you need to know "where your kids are, who they're hanging out with, and it sounds like little small things, but I think they're the most important things, if you know what your kids are doing, what they're up to, and you're involved in your child's life, it makes all the difference."

She also stressed if they're paying attention, parents will  know when something is wrong by their own instinct, but it's critically important to act upon that instinct and get help.

Paul Ressler of Hamilton, who lost his 22-year-old son Cory to a drug overdose, said parents need to step up to the plate.

"Don't be a friend to your kid these days, be a parent, make the tough decisions, and don't allow parties at home without supervision," Ressler said. "Provide fun things for them to do, get involved in school issues, be a part of their after-prom parties, after-graduation parties - the parents must get involved."

Seventeen-year-old Christina Rivell, a former addict who got hooked on heroin when she was 15, agrees.

"When I was using heroin I had no relationship with my mother," she said. "She tried getting control of me and I rebelled, so I would run away, I would just sleep at my friends house for weeks at a time."

Rivell stressed that kids should be able to talk to their parents about anything and feel comfortable.

"But they also need to have structure with you, and they need to know where you're going, what are doing, because once they let you do whatever you want, you control your own life, they don't have control over you," Rivell said.

She added "family is a huge support, without family you lose faith in yourself, and you feel like you have nothing to live for."

Click below to view the first three stories in the “Drugs and Our Kids” series: