Drug use among teens is not uncommon. 48% of high school students report having used illicit drugs by the end of their senior year, while 14% say they have used opioid prescription drugs.
However, drug abuse is dangerous for everyone – and especially for teens. Teen drug use increases the risk of sexual violence, mental health problems, and suicide risk. It also makes it more likely that an individual will struggle with drug addiction as an adult: the majority of adults who meet the criteria for a substance use disorder started using substances as a teen or young adult.
If you find your teenager with drugs, you may feel angry, scared, or confused. However, there are some steps you can take to respond appropriately to the situation and support your child to leave drugs behind.
Why Do Teens Abuse Substances?
There are many different reasons why a teen might use drugs. Often, they are offered substances by peers at their school, college, or through other social networks.
Some risk factors make high-risk substance abuse more likely. However, teens may also use drugs without experiencing any of these factors.
Some risk factors for high-risk substance use include:
- Family history of drug and alcohol use
- Family rejection of gender identity or sexual orientation
- Spending time with peers who use substances
- Social isolation
- Low academic performance
- Childhood abuse
- Mental health issues
Why Are Teens So Vulnerable to Drug or Alcohol Use?
A teenager’s brain is still growing and developing in many different ways. Substance abuse can affect this development and produce long-lasting effects on various brain functions and structures.
Current research suggests that substance abuse in adolescents may lead to poorer neurocognitive performance, changes in white matter quality, changes in brain volume, and changes in activation to cognitive tasks. Teens who smoke marijuana are far more likely to develop psychiatric issues if they are already predisposed to the conditions. Moreover, teen drug abuse makes drug addiction as an adult more likely.
What to Do When You Discover Your Child Is Using Drugs?
If you discover your teenager is using drugs, it can be tempting to react angrily. However, doing so may be counterproductive and drive your child away, preventing meaningful and productive conversations. Instead, try to follow the following steps:
Take A Deep Breath
Sit down, take a deep breath, and plan the conversation. Your conversation with your teen will be most effective if you are calm and prepared.
Speak With Other Parenting Figures
If you share parenting responsibilities with anyone else, it’s important you get on the same page. Teens often turn to the other parent when one says no.
Try to agree on your position, present a united front, and agree not to undermine each other.
Think About Your Substance Use
If you have ever used drugs, cigarettes, or even alcohol, be prepared for your child to call you out. It’s important to be honest about your drug use, but make sure it can’t be used as an excuse for substance abuse.
For example, if you have used drugs in the past, explain any harmful consequences or why you decided to stop. Make sure they know that drugs affect everyone differently, and even if you were okay, it doesn’t mean they will be. If you still smoke, explain that you know that it is unhealthy.
You may want to collect some evidence of their drug use, such as hidden drug paraphernalia or drugs themselves. Be prepared for your child to offer excuses, such as holding the substances for someone else.
Your child may well react angrily or deny their drug use. If this happens, it’s important to remain calm and avoid a confrontation. Try not to respond angrily yourself.
If you need to, you can take a pause from the conversation and return to it later. Make sure you remind your child throughout that you love them, and that the conversation comes from a place of care.
Don’t set your goals too high, especially for the first conversation. It may take some time to reach your final goal, such as the end of your child’s drug use. In the beginning, even effectively expressing that you don’t want them to use drugs can be an achievement.
Lay Out Clear Rules
Before you being the conversation, you should establish what your rules will be, and what will happen if your child breaks them. Make sure you are prepared to enforce both the rules and their consequences. However, you should also listen to your child’s feedback and be prepared to adapt them where it seems reasonable.
Speak About Addiction in the Family
If other people in the family have lived with addiction, your child will be more at risk of developing a drug or alcohol problem. Make sure they are aware of this, creating even more reasons for them not to use drugs or alcohol.
Seeking Professional Help
You may have caught your child at the early stages of drug use, and quitting may be relatively easy. However, if you think your teen may be living with a substance use disorder, they will most likely need professional help to recover. Moreover, if they have become dependent on the substance, it may be dangerous for them to stop without medical support.
Some signs of a substance use disorder include:
- using drugs even when there are negative consequences
- experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit
- drug use interfering with school and family responsibilities
- loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- social isolation
You may want to speak with your child about addiction treatment centers and what options are available. Many treatment centers offer programs specially developed for teens. Researching options yourself can help make the process easier for your child – you could talk with a family doctor or contact rehab centers directly.
If your teenager seems unwilling to attend treatment, you may want to stage an intervention to encourage them to go. A mental health professional should be able to guide you through the intervention process.
Preventing Teen Substance Abuse
Teen substance abuse is a serious concern. However, there are steps that you can take – as a parent as a community – to prevent risky behaviors like substance abuse and promote drug-free kids. These protective factors include:
- Family engagement
- Family support
- Parents disapproving of drug or alcohol abuse
- School connectedness
Specialized Recovery Support for Teens with Clearfork Academy
At Clearfork Academy, we offer top-tier residential addiction treatment, specifically designed for teens. We believe in the power of each individual to overcome addiction and pursue a fulfilling, vibrant life.
We believe that addiction recovery requires a change in heart as well as evidence-based treatments. Combining the two, we walk with teenagers as they discover the path to a better future.
If your child is struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, contact us today to begin the healing process.