Teens and young adults can hear about drug and alcohol abuse on TV, radio, news, online, in movies and even at school. A person is most likely to start trying drugs during their teenage years. Starting drug or alcohol use as a teen can lead to drug or alcohol addiction and other health problems when they grow up.
Many teens who use drugs or alcohol will stop use, but addiction is still a risk. There are many things a parent can do to help prevent your teen from using drugs and alcohol. Some preventative measures include:
- Open communication. Talk to your teen about taking drugs and what effects they can have. Let them know how drug or alcohol abuse can harm their health, relationships and potentially their future. Let them know how you feel about them abusing drugs and/or alcohol and why they aren’t supposed to.
- Text your teen. Sending positive text messages to your teen or following up on a conversation with a text can remind them of your conversation. You don’t have to use shorthand texting language, just text the way you talk or use the speak-to-text option on your phone.
- Get involved in their life. Spend time together, and give your child your full attention. Turn off the TV, cell phone or computer and really listen to what they have to say. Try to have regular, device-free, family dinners. Teens respond well when they feel respected and listened to.
- Know where your teen is and what they’re doing. Keeping track of your kids can help you protect them and gives them fewer opportunities to abuse drugs or alcohol.
- Set clear rules and enforce them fairly. Children, and especially teens, need rules. This is what gives them structure and makes them feel safe and loved. It is also how they learn for themselves what is safe and what can get them into trouble.
- Set a good example for your teen. Even if you don’t think so, teens look up to their parents. Show them how you handle stressful situations and difficult people, so they can learn how to handle these situations as well.
- Teach your teen how to refuse drugs and alcohol. Often, teens start abusing drugs or alcohol because they want to fit in with other kids. Help them practice how to say “no” if someone offers them drugs or alcohol. Teach them that people who pressure them to do things they are uncomfortable with may not be good friends to have or keep.
- Make your home safe. It is important to know the people you have in the house and avoid having people who abuse drugs and alcohol there. Keep track of medications and cleaning products you have in the house.
Talking About Teen Drug And Alcohol Abuse
Drug and/or alcohol abuse is largely preventable. Talking with your teen about the risks of drug or alcohol abuse can help educate them on things they may or may not know. Make sure you are listening and allowing them to ask questions.
Choose a time when you’re not likely to be interrupted, and set phones to silent. If you’re anxious, share your feelings with your teen. The more honest and vulnerable you are with your thoughts and feelings the more likely your teen will be open and honest with you.
The Mayo Clinic makes the following suggestions for talking to your teen about drugs and alcohol:
- Ask your teen about their thoughts and feelings. Avoid lecturing. Instead, listen to your teen’s opinions and questions about drugs or alcohol. Make sure your teen knows they can be honest with you. Be aware of your teen’s body language to see how they really feel about the topic.
- Discuss reasons not to abuse drugs or alcohol. Avoid scare tactics, as teens can see right through this. Emphasize how drug or alcohol use can affect things that are important to your teen, like sports, driving, health, and appearance.
- Consider messages in the media. Some TV programs, movies, websites or songs can glamorize or trivialize drug or alcohol use. Talk to your teen about what they see and hear and answer any questions they have.
- Discuss ways to resist peer pressure. Brainstorm with your teen about how to turn down offers of drugs or alcohol. Provide your teen with an easy “out.” Teach them excuses, such as “I can’t drink/use drugs because my parents drug test me,” or “I can’t get high because I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow, and they may need a urine sample.” You could also consider setting up a discreet code your teen can use in a text message or phone call to you when they are in an uncomfortable situation.
- Be ready to discuss your own drug and alcohol use. Think about how you’ll respond if your teen asks about your own drug and alcohol use. If you choose not to use drugs, explain why. If you did use drugs, share what the experience taught you.
Dangers Of Teen Drug And Alcohol Abuse
Teens who experiment with drugs and alcohol put their health and safety at risk. There are many dangerous and negative consequences of teen drug and alcohol abuse. Some of these consequences may include:
- Impaired driving. Driving under the influence of any drug can impair a driver’s motor skills, putting the driver, passengers, and others on the road at risk.
- Sexual activity. Teen drug and alcohol abuse are linked with poor judgment, which can result in unplanned and unsafe sex.
- Drug or alcohol dependence. Teens who abuse drugs or alcohol are at an increased risk of serious drug or alcohol use later in life.
- Concentration problems. Using drugs and alcohol can negatively affect the way a teen’s brain develops, and this can cause serious memory problems later in life.
- Serious health problems. Drug and alcohol abuse can cause damage to internal organs. Chronic high doses of certain drugs, like methamphetamine, can cause psychotic behavior. Chronic use of inhalants can harm the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys. Abuse of prescription or over-the-counter medications can cause respiratory distress and seizures.
Why Teens Abuse Drugs And Alcohol
There are various factors that can contribute to teen drug and alcohol abuse. Some teens who do drugs feel indestructible and may take dangerous risks, like abusing drugs or alcohol. Others may fall to peer pressure and consequently, drink underage or experiment with drugs like marijuana. Some may even try performance-enhancing substances to boost their fitness or fit in. Teens often do not consider the consequences of their actions and therefore may abuse drugs and alcohol without realizing their dangers or that these substances could be gateway drugs.
Research has shown that the key risk periods for drug and alcohol abuse occur during major transitions in children’s lives. These transitions include significant changes in physical development, like puberty, or social situations, such as moving or parents divorcing, when children experience heightened vulnerability for problem behaviors.
Risks of drug and alcohol abuse appear at every transition from early childhood through young adulthood, so prevention planners need to consider their target audiences and implement programs that provide support appropriate for each developmental stage.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, many youth do not progress beyond initial drug or alcohol use, but a small percentage quickly escalate their substance abuse. Research has shown that youth are most likely to experience a combination of high levels of risk factors and low protective factors. These adolescents were characterized by high stress, low parental support, and low academic competence.
Common Risk Factors For Teen Substance Abuse
Risk factors are the individual circumstances that have the potential to increase the likelihood of a teen abusing drugs and/or alcohol. Some risk factors include:
- a family history of substance abuse
- a mental or behavioral health condition, such as depression, anxiety or ADHD
- impulsive behavior
- history of traumatic events, such as experiencing a car accident or being a victim of abuse
- low self-esteem or feelings of social rejection
Treatment For Teens Struggling With Addiction
If you suspect that your teen is experimenting with drugs or alcohol, or that their drug use is starting to escalate, it may be time to seek help. Talk to a counselor at your child’s school, or reach out to one of our substance abuse counselors.
To learn more about how to prevent your teen from abusing drugs or alcohol, contact us today.