Substance use among teens ranges from experimentation to dependence. The consequences range from none to minor to life threatening, depending on the substance and frequency of use. Even minor use raises the risk of significant harm, including overdose, motor vehicle accidents, and consequences of sexual contact, such as pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Parental attitudes and the examples parents set regarding their own use of alcohol, tobacco, prescription drugs, and other substances are a powerful influence.
There are reasons our teens use drugs, drink alcohol, or engage in other substance use. Here are reasons why our teens may become addicted:
- Peer pressure
- Family pressure
- Push to succeed
- Identity issues
- Family dysfunction
- Feelings of emptiness or discontent
What You Can Do
As discussed before, communication is key. Start talking to your kids at an early age and do it in an age appropriate manner for complete understanding. Start with tobacco use, since people smoke openly in our society. Make it clear to your children that you do not want them using any type of drugs. Don’t use scare tactics, but explain the effects, such as: impaired motor skills, memory and concentration; major health conditions; and poor school performance. Also explain that if they use drugs, the people who care about them will be very disappointed.
You will also want to get to know your teen’s friends. Invite them over and encourage open discussions about what’s happening at school. If you think one of your teen’s friends might be using drugs, encourage your teen to distance herself from the friend. It won’t be easy, but you have the best interest of your teen in mind. Get her involved in adult-supervised after school activities to keep her busy.
Make sure your teen is prepared when faced with the temptation of drugs or alcohol. Let him know you are available to pick him up at a moment’s notice, to remove him from a situation, with no questions asked and no consequences. Know where your kids are and have them check in with you.
If you suspect your child uses drugs, get help. Do not shame them. Let him know you are there for him no matter what. Be calm and let him know everything will be OK. Take your child to your family physician. Doctors can help assess whether a teen has a substance use disorder and help to implement the appropriate intervention. Health professionals can perform drug tests and refer you to the appropriate facility for further treatment. Teens should receive services from programs and therapists with expertise in treating adolescents. Teens should not receive the same treatment as adults. Teen programs must be adapted for their particular issues.