Many teens will experiment with tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs before they graduate from high school. Early drug use may not lead to addiction, and most teens will not be damaged by their use. However, some will have abusive patterns and put themselves and others in danger.
As parents we need to point out the the facts, provide honest information, and support our teens in making the right decisions. But, as parents we need to understand why our teens use drugs and how to stop them from substance abuse.
Teens may use drugs for many different reasons. For some, substance abuse is a part of everyday life. Teens are curious and willing to take risks. They might start using drugs simply as an experiment, or to lose weight or appear cool. Substance abuse by teens is not a result of accidental or experimental use of drugs. Teens who abuse drugs do it for the same reasons that adults do.
Substance abuse is usually part of a much larger problem, like not fitting in at school, problems at home, not meeting expectations, personal stress, or trauma. Substance use may seem to help deal with these stresses or provide escape from dealing with them. Then the young person may come to feel that they need the substance to relax or get through the situation.
Preventing Substance Use
One thing we can do to prevent substance use in teens is to be honest, and provide facts. Scare tactics do not work and can lead to misinformation. Problem substance abuse can and may be associated with adverse childhood experiences such as physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, growing up with a parent who was depressed or addicted to drugs.
When Problems Emerge
Some teens will develop unhealthy relationships with substances. This is a fact that we can't change, but what we can change is how such situations are handled. If you notice that a child or teenager is presenting with several risk factors, or appears to be engaged in problem use, you can do something to help. The most important things are not to ignore such situations, and to inform yourself as best you can.
Here are some tips if you suspect your teen or a friend you care about is engaged in substance use:
- Try not to panic or over-react – it's natural to be concerned, but yelling or becoming angry will not help;
- Don't feel guilty – you are not to blame, and it's more constructive to focus on improving the current situation;
- Inform yourself, and know the facts about the substances and their effects;
- Try to find out the extent of the substance use – was it experimental, will it continue or worsen?
- Pick a good time to talk to the child, and be honest with them. Express your fears and uncertainties, show that you care, and don't lecture or be judgemental. This will make it easier for them to come to you if they are having problems, or need advice.
It is important to be honest, and let them know if you don't have the answers. Talk and build trust. Substance abuse issues are very complex and there are many conflicting messages around. You as a parent need to inform yourself before you can be honest and communicate, your teens need to trust you and come to you when they have questions. This trust is built if you treat them with respect, and let them make some of their own decisions.