NOV 02, 2022

A Parent’s Guide to Drug Emojis

By Abby Alger
Gabb Family Resources

Between 2019 and 2020, there was a 94% increase in adolescent overdose. [2] Social media has amplified the substance abuse epidemic in devastating ways. In fact, commonplace icons have become drug emojis, and are used to solicit drug purchases in ways parental filters may not catch.[11] 

One interpretation of this conversation could be:


Marijuana, Xanax, and Cocaine for sale.
Hook me up.
How much for Xanax?
$30
Payment sent.
The package will be there in 30 minutes.

The Value of Understanding Emojis

Today, emojis are considered the fastest-growing global language. [5] Kids have become fluent in emojis, using these symbols in combinations to form entire sentences. When we are aware of the alternate meanings these emojis signify, we can more easily protect our children.

Drug emoji meanings

Emojis can have several possible meanings in this emerging language, and a combination of emojis can mean something else entirely. Context should be taken into account as well.

As an example, text messaging a maple leaf might be referencing Canada, or could be emoji drug slang for an illicit drug.

Combinations of emojis are used as sentences and allow kids to be involved in illicit drug activity without parents being aware. If you see a common emoji grouped with seemingly harmless emojis, take a closer look. 


Because many adults don’t understand emojis, young people can use them for dangerous behaviors, including buying drugs online. In fact, drug enforcement agencies have identified several drug dealer emojis.

Types of drugs are referenced when using the snowflake emoji, diamond emoji, ice-cream emoji and horse emoji, to name a few.  

What parents need to know about drug emojis

Any child with access to social media is at risk of being offered drugs and can easily buy drugs online.
Kids can use emojis as a secret language—often undetected by parents, teachers, or filtering software.
Emojis of nature, expressions, food, objects, or body parts can be used to signify drugs.

Using fun and colorful emojis to order harmful substances can send the message that using drugs is not a big deal.

Youth Substance Abuse Is Facilitated By Social Media

While experimentation with alcohol and drugs by youth is nothing new, social media is. Kids are bombarded with content that glamorizes substance abuse but conceals its dangers.


Social media glorifies drug use and provides an easy avenue for drug sales. [3]

bowl of pills

Skittles parties

A life-threatening trend, “skittle parties”, have become popular. Kids empty various prescription medications (usually taken from their parent’s medicine cabinets) into a bowl and pass it around multiple times.

Teens then take whatever pill(s) they pick up to experience a high. [4] The risk of overdosing or suffering harmful effects is likely.

“If your teen is abusing [prescription] drugs, their life is at stake. The issue isn’t any less serious if they’re using prescription drugs as opposed to street drugs. It’s just as deadly.”

[5]

When parents are informed about these trends, they are empowered to discuss the dangers of engaging in this reckless behavior with their children.

Kids can buy drugs on social media

Drug emojis are used to advertise and purchase drugs on social media. Almost a quarter of teens have seen drugs advertised on social media. One study reveals that 30% of cocaine users have drugs delivered to their porches within 30 minutes of purchasing online, faster than some food delivery services!

By using drug emojis, minors can easily purchase drugs online while keeping parents unaware. 

three peoples hands holding pills in a circle

Drug Emojis: A Parent’s Guide

Use this guide to understand your child’s online conversations and how to have direct talks about drug use.

When You Find Drug Emojis on Your Child’s Phone

Finding these messages on your child’s phone does not necessarily mean they are using drugs. Emojis have many meanings — sometimes a honeypot represents Oxycodone and sometimes it’s a term of endearment. 


Use your best judgment, try to talk to your child calmly, and consult with medical and mental health professionals as needed. 

What to Do if You Suspect Your Child Is Using Drugs

If you have reason to believe your child has tried or is abusing substances, it is not your fault. You are not alone and there is support for you through this process. Below are some warning signs of drug use in teens.

Decreased school performance
Unusual sleep habits or health issues
Sudden friendship changes
Breakdown of family relationships

Even though parents may feel panicked, knowing we have the knowledge and resources to help our kids can help us maintain our cool. Children may further hide their activities from us if they fear how we will react. [11] 

In fact, shame can actually worsen substance abuse. [12]

This does not mean we approve of their substance use. We can set boundaries, enforce consequences, and offer support and love. Sometimes children may continue to make harmful choices; however, what they are choosing at 14 will most likely be different when they are older. 

We can continue to love them and be ready to help them address the problem, regardless of how far it has progressed. 

When you see signs, find evidence, or have a gut feeling your child might be using drugs, be sure to find support for yourself while you plan next steps. You are not alone and this is not your fault. Children are bombarded with harmful messages and dangerous opportunities.

Early intervention is important, but choose a time when your teen is sober and you are both calm. 

The conversation will be much more productive if both you and your teen are calm and sober.

While you do not have to have evidence of their substance abuse to talk to your child, it can help. Parents may have different opinions about going through their child’s things and looking at messages on social media and text. There is no universal correct approach. You will know what is best.

Prepare for children to be angry (how dare you snoop through my things), deny using (it’s not my vape pen), or call you a hypocrite (you aren’t perfect).

Describe the situation instead of criticizing and try to de-escalate the situation. Set rules and consequences, while keeping minimal expectations for their immediate progress. Reach out to professionals for additional help. 

Below are sample questions and phrases you can consider using.

 


Questions To Ask When You Think Your Child Is Using Drugs

  • “I have noticed that you’re going to more parties lately. What are they like? Do you feel comfortable?”

  • “Have you seen other kids using alcohol or drugs? Have you tried any of it?“

  • “I waited until this morning to talk to you, but last night I noticed you came home smelling like marijuana and your eyes were bloodshot. Let’s talk about it.”

  • “5 of my prescription medications went missing this weekend. Let’s talk about that.”

  • “I’m not here to criticize you. I love you and want to help you.”

  • “We can work through this together.”

  • “It may not seem like it now, but these rules are in place to help you.”


Confronting your child about suspected substance abuse takes bravery and preparation. Parents can find more support and resources at DrugFree.org, including an intervention eBook.

Parents Make A Difference

mother and daughter holding hands and smiling at camera

Parents influence their children’s activities. Kids are more likely to avoid substance abuse if their parents talk early to them about the risks, establish clear boundaries, and regularly monitor their activities.

Knowing the drug emoji code empowers you to better understand your children’s interactions online and protect them. Share this guide to help educate your community and subscribe to Gabb family resources for more information about parenting in the digital age.

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