Prevention of Teen Drug Abuse
The teenage years can be extremely complex. The combination of new interests, adult lifestyles, and a flurry of hormones can be overwhelming, leading to poor decision-making skills that put many teens in harm's way.
For even the best-behaved teens, a little experimentation is normal. This can come in many forms, including sneaking out, going to parties, lying about activities, trying cigarettes, and even sampling alcohol and drugs. For some teens, a beer with a friend or a puff of a joint is as far as it goes, but for others, what feels like harmless partying is really the start of something so much worse.
As your teen grows, changes, and makes new friends, maintaining the same relationship you've always had as parent and child won't be easy. Finding time to talk may become more challenging, and you may find yourself frustrated with your teen's one-word answers and lack of interest in opening up. However, proper communication as early as possible and for as long as possible is the key to preventing teen drug use.
How Common Is Teen Drug Abuse?
Despite what you've heard on the news or on television, not every teen is doing drugs, and usage rates of dangerous substances are actually at a low. However, approximately half of all teens sample drugs at least once during high school, and a percentage of these causal users will go on to become frequent users or even addicts.
Approximately one in six high school students tries marijuana, while 17% of teens have used alcohol within the past year. Harder drugs, like cocaine, heroin, and opiates are less common; roughly 5% of teens will try prescription opiates, while less than 1% will sample heroin. Hallucinogens and psychedelics, like acid, LSD, and ecstasy, are used by up to 6% of 12th graders, and make appearances most frequently at parties or concerts.
Some drugs are more accessible than others as well. Alcohol and marijuana, as the most commonly used substances, are extremely easy to access. Most teens have friends or acquaintances who deal drugs or who possess fake IDs. The internet also facilitates drug use; with online pharmacies, teens can purchase prescription drugs without contacting a doctor.
Why Communication Counts
To many teens, drug use is simply par for the course. When it seems like everyone smokes pot or drinks alcohol at parties, the peer pressure to participate can be immense. Unfortunately, a few times is all it takes to lay the foundation for addiction.
Predictably, teens don't want to talk to their parents about drug use, but this doesn't mean you shouldn't try. Many teens, especially those who try drugs because their friends urge them to do so, don't understand the risks at hand. Plenty of young adults find partying to be completely harmless, and it may be too late before they find out the painful truth. With adequate time to commit to education and warnings, the more likely it is that your child will adequately understand the risks of even occasional drug use.
The earlier you speak to your teen and the more open you are about what a bad experience with drugs or alcohol can mean, the more likely you are to successfully send a message that will stick. This is especially true when it comes to the benefits of delaying first use.
Logically, you have to expect that your teen will try drugs or alcohol sooner or later, but the earlier this occurs, the worse the side effects can be. Teens who try drugs or alcohol in their preteen or early teen years are far more likely to experience addiction, educational failings, assault, abuse, and long-term behavior problems. The more open you are about risks, the more likely your teen is to delay use until college, or even after.
How to Talk to Your Teen
Talking to your teen about drugs, especially if you already expect use and experimentation, likely won't be easy. This is particularly true if you and your teen aren't as close as you used to be. However, this isn't an excuse to delay a conversation that has to happen; part of being a good a parent means talking about the tough stuff teens need to know.
Here's how to make the most out of a conversation with your teen.
Map Out a Conversation
With a serious topic like drug abuse, you need an action plan. This doesn't mean typing up a script or bringing note cards, but it does mean finding a reason to start a conversation and defining a point to make with your teen.
For example, heroin has been a critical problem in states across the country, with far too many tragic teen deaths. A local news story or new research on drug abuse and teen users can be a good hook to get the conversation going.
Find a Quiet Place to Talk
A serious conversation shouldn't be a spur of the moment occurrence; you need to do everything possible to facilitate a productive discussion. This means finding a quiet place without distractions, like a bench at the park or in the car on a longer trip.
Start out with your conversation plan, and do your best to keep your teen engaged. Ask questions that go beyond yes or no, like "what kinds of pressure have you experienced?" or "how do your friends feel about illegal drug use?" Try not to use names if you bring up friends; your teen may not want to spill secrets about others.
If your teen begins to open up about drug use or expresses interest in trying illegal substances, do everything possible to stay calm. Getting angry is a natural reaction, but nothing shuts a teen down faster than the risk of punishment. Instead, keep your voice level and reserve judgment. Ask questions if you need to, but do not let any emotion show.
If your teen seems hesitant to disclose information, reassure him that you will not punish him and that what he has to say will not leave your conversation. Reassure him that his honesty matters to you and that you are concerned about his safety first and foremost.
Check in Often
One talk isn't enough, even if you feel you made your point loud and clear. Find time to check back in over the following months, and do your best to make sure your teen knows that you are always available to speak about peer pressure, substance use, or addiction in a safe, judgment-free space. For more tips on an intervention see our blog on When to Step In.
If your teen used drugs and alcohol in the past and has since committed to a clean lifestyle, preventing relapse will become a focus in your family. A constant fear of further use is to be expected, but knowing the warnings signs can help you catch a problem before it's too late.
- A new-found disinterest in any rehab-related events, like 12 Step meetings
- Negative behaviors, like skipping school, sneaking out, and lying
- Spending time with friends with drug ties
- Irritability and mood instability, like anger or resentment
- Withdrawal symptoms, like fatigue, nausea, and anxiety
If you are seeing some of these signs, it's time to seek professional help. See more of signs of relapse and what to do on our blog.
Get the Help Your Teen Needs
Unfortunately, talking isn't enough to sideline an addiction. if you feel that your teen is showing signs of substance abuse, including a combative attitude about the dangers of drug use, it's never too soon to seek help.
Teen Treatment Center is a comprehensive resource, offering inpatient rehabilitation intended to help your teen break free from the bonds of addiction. If you need a confidential resource, please contact our facility today at (844) 319-5239 24/7/365 to speak to a trained admissions counselor.
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