Drug and alcohol addiction are more common with adolescents than most of us would like to believe. Many parents also find that they’re unprepared when they learn that their son or daughter is using and has developed a substance use disorder. If you’re a parent who has an adolescent child with a drug addiction, there’s plenty of help available. However, it’s important to know how to approach the subject with teens.
Most Common Types of Drug and Alcohol Abuse With Teenagers
While vaping is on the rise, the good news is that fewer 8th to 12th graders are drinking alcohol. In a 2019 survey, approximately 29.3% of 12th graders reported using alcohol in the last month. This percentage is actually down from 2014; that year, researchers gathered a rate of 37.4% using alcohol within the previous month. Binge drinking was also lower in 2019. Nevertheless, the rate of 14.4% of 12th graders reporting binge drinking may still seem high.
Additionally, the same survey found that opioid use, which includes drugs like such as Vicodin and Oxycontin, declined over the previous five years. The use of drugs like cocaine, methamphetamines, and over-the-counter cold medicine has remained steady. Unfortunately, the perceived danger of using cocaine has fallen since 2013, with only 48% of adolescent respondents perceiving the use of cocaine just once or twice as dangerous.
The age range of 12-17 is generally considered a significant risk period for substance use disorder. Researchers believe that people who use drugs or alcohol at a young age are more likely to develop an addiction later on in life.
Ideally, you’ll take steps to prevent your teen from becoming involved with drugs in the first place. If you do find out that your adolescent has started using drugs and alcohol, you should address the situation in a way that does not make them feel more alienated. While it’s a difficult line to walk, you must remain engaged and supportive without allowing the substance use to continue.
How to Prevent Drug and Alcohol Addiction in Adolescents
It might seem like your child has grown up quickly. In fact, you might not feel like they’re old enough to talk about drugs and alcohol. While addiction can be a scary topic of conversation, it’s better to do it sooner rather than later. There are a few tips to remember that can help prevent drug and alcohol use.
One of the most important things is to remain involved in your teen’s life no matter the circumstances. As children get older, they begin to pull away from their parents. While older children need to learn how to do more things themselves and gain a certain amount of independence, that doesn’t mean that you should have a hands-off approach to parenting them. Adolescents and young adults still need their parents’ guidance. You should actively engage them in conversations about drugs and alcohol.
When you’re talking with your adolescent, you’ll want to make sure that it doesn’t come across as an interrogation. Furthermore, you should communicate that you’re interested in their well-being. For instance, you can ask them about their extracurricular interests, such as their sports practices. You can also plan some time talking to them without distractions like smartphones and other people around them.
Parents should also be engaged with what their kids are doing and who they’re talking to. For instance, if your child has friends over to your house, don’t feel like you’re intruding simply by popping into their room to say hello. While you want to give them the independence to spend time with their friends, saying hello and asking for a quick introduction will still give them plenty of time to talk to their friends. You can also talk to the parents of your teenager’s friends. This may help you better understand what kind of environment your child is in when they go over to their friends’ houses.
Beyond talking to your teenager casually about what’s going on in their lives, you should also take the time to explain the effects of drugs. When you’re having conversations about illegal substances, clearly explain why you don’t want them experimenting. One technique that you can use is to talk to them about drugs and alcohol while you’re taking a leisurely drive. This technique lessens eye contact, which can make it easier for teenagers to open up about the subject.
What to Do If You Find Out Your Adolescent Is Using Drugs or Alcohol
While it can be a difficult conversation, if you find out that your adolescent child is using drugs or alcohol, you need to confront them. Talking about drug use is one of the more uncomfortable conversations that parents will have with their kids, so you’ll probably want some tips on how to confront drug use.
One of the first steps that you should take is to decide how you’ll approach the subject and what your major talking points will be. When you’re planning out the conversation, you should first understand how the use of drugs affects the brains of adolescents. The brain is not done developing until the mid-20s, so using drugs or alcohol can affect your child’s cognitive abilities for the rest of their life. You should also understand some of the reasons that adolescents begin using drugs and alcohol in the first place.
You need to set clear boundaries and appropriate consequences when you’re talking about certain types of drug use. For instance, if you have found out that they’re using nicotine products, you need to make clear that you don’t want them using cigarettes, vaping products, or any other types of products with nicotine.
You can also use positive reinforcement when they’re obeying the rules that you’ve set out. For instance, you can tell your child that you’re proud of them for making good choices. This may seem like a small comment, but it could have a real positive impact.
While alcohol and nicotine use can have many negative effects on the brain of your child, you also need to be aware of opioid use, which is one of the biggest drug problems in the U.S. today. If you suspect that your son or daughter is using opioids, such as heroin or Oxycontin, you should know that these types of drugs are especially addictive. Withdrawal symptoms are severe, and most people need medical assistance when trying to quit.
Signs of Drug Abuse
Knowing the signs of drug use is important if you want to make sure that you catch any potential problems sooner rather than later. There are several behaviors that adolescents engage in when they begin using drugs.
One of the first things that you should look out for is a change in their peer group. While it’s not uncommon for adolescents to make new friends or stop hanging out with old friends, especially when switching from different schools, a change in friends could also mean a change in the types of activities that your child is doing.
A decline in grades, skipping classes, and other types of academic underachievement that are out of character for your child are more possible signs of drug use. Your child might also exhibit a change in grooming habits and lose interest in their favorite activities.
While many teenagers sleep a lot because they’re growing and need the rest, you shouldn’t automatically dismiss a sign of extreme fatigue as it could also signal that your child is abusing drugs or alcohol. You might also wonder if your child’s mood swings and disinterest are related to being a typical teenager. When several important relationships begin to deteriorate with your child, you should consider the possibility that the mood swings are related to drug or alcohol abuse.
Where to Get Treatment
If you’ve found that your adolescent is using drugs, and they need help quitting, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. There are rehab programs geared directly toward helping adolescents. If your son or daughter’s addiction continues past their 18th birthday, you may consider checking them into a residential facility such as The Granite House in Derry, New Hampshire.
At The Granite House, we use a 12-step program in our curriculum to help patients with the social and mental aspects of learning to live without drugs and alcohol. Our center also uses individualized therapy sessions to further tailor the recovery process to patient needs.
One of the first steps toward recovery is detox, and we are equipped to help both short- and long-term dependency problems. Drug use can affect major organs, such as the heart, so having a medically supervised detox is essential to the well-being of the patient.
Other Resources for Parents
If you’re looking for other ways that you can help your adolescent child recover from a substance use disorder, there are several resources available that can help.
THRIVE is an online resource that gives parents tips on how to talk to their adolescent about drugs and alcohol use. It’s a great resource to look at if it’s time to start the conversation but you’re unsure of what questions to ask.
Two other resources that you should consider using if you’re interested in learning more about the effects of drug use on adolescent bodies and minds are HealthyChildren.org and FamilyDoctor.org. Both of these sites give information about substance abuse.
You might also decide that you would like a support group that’s aimed at helping you cope with having a son or daughter who has been using drugs or alcohol. Al-Anon Family is a helpful resource that was specifically created to help family members who are worried about a loved one with a drinking problem.
You might also try Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous to help you find a drug and addiction treatment program that will help your son or daughter through the recovery process. Both groups can also provide you with further information on how a young adult can get the necessary support.
Don’t Wait to Take Action
Learning that your son or daughter has a drug or alcohol problem can be a scary experience, but there are plenty of resources available that can help you address the situation. Of course, it’s important to not stand by while your child develops an addiction. Your child’s formative years in middle school and high school can have a lasting effect on his or her future as an adult. Don’t wait to take action if you’ve noticed signs of a substance use disorder. It’s never too late to reach out for help.