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What Parents Should Understand About Teen Substance Use

As a parent or guardian of a child, one of your top priorities is to keep your child healthy and safe. Whether you are raising a biological child or acting as a guardian for another family member, you have likely gone to great lengths to provide a nurturing environment where your child can grow and thrive. However, despite all your hard work, it can still be shocking when your child succumbs to problematic substance use.

To better understand what parents need to know about teen substance use, it is important to consider the unique challenges and risk factors associated with adolescent drug and alcohol abuse. 

Substance Use vs. Substance Abuse

There is a difference between substance use and substance abuse.

  • Substance use: This includes using a substance for the purpose it was intended for. For example, drinking alcohol at a party or smoking cigarettes when out with friends. 
  • Substance abuse: This means using a substance in a way that leads to problems. This might include drinking alcohol every day or taking larger amounts of a drug than prescribed. 

What Is Addiction?

Addiction is defined as being unable to stop using a substance even though it is causing problems. This can include feeling the need to use a substance every day, missing work or school due to drug use, or continuing to use despite legal or financial consequences. 

Medical research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse confirms that addiction arises from the brain’s response to intoxicating drugs. Addiction is viewed as a chronic condition comparable to diabetes or hypertension.

Genetic or Environmental? 

Addiction ultimately occurs due to a complex interplay between genetic, environmental, and social factors. Some examples include: 

  • A child’s home environment 
  • Peer group
  • Stress at school or in social settings
  • Psychological health

Addiction is a disease that requires treatment, and recovery is possible. Parents need to be supportive, understand their teen’s condition, and know when to seek professional help.

Teens and Addiction

Adolescents often begin using substances at a younger age than previous generations, putting them at greater risk for adverse effects on brain development and function. Moreover, many teens do not believe that substance abuse poses any real danger, making them more likely to experiment with drugs or alcohol without thinking about the potential consequences.

Parents need to understand what factors can put their children at risk for developing an addiction and what they can do to help prevent such issues from occurring. This includes knowing what substances are most commonly abused by teens today and what common risk factors often lead young people toward substance abuse. 

Warning Signs

There are many challenges associated with addiction, and one of the most difficult is that it can progress from early warning signs to full-blown substance abuse if left unchecked. However, knowing what to look for can make early intervention possible, dramatically improving the chances of successful treatment. 

When a child or teenager begins exhibiting warning signs of substance abuse, it is crucial for parents and other family members to take note. Mood changes, academic problems, and changing social interactions are all indicators of something going on. Other warning signs include:

  • Become irritable, defensive, or quick-tempered
  • Struggling with grades at school  
  • Getting into trouble with teachers or administrators 
  • Gradually distancing themselves from family and friends
  • Opting to spend time with new friends 
  • Substances such as drugs or alcohol may appear in the youth’s room or personal belongings

These warning signs indicate that parents should take immediate action to address the situation and get their children the help they need. Early detection is key to preventing long-term physical or mental damage from substance abuse. 

Talk to Your Teen

As a parent, your natural response to discovering that your child has become addicted to drugs or alcohol is often shame, disappointment, and frustration. Of course, these emotions are expected; however, it’s critical to temper these feelings when dealing directly with your teen. Throwing around accusations and blame will only push your teen further away. However, overreacting or lashing out can prevent teens from opening up about their experiences. 

Getting teens to talk is essential in determining if their drug use was a one-time thing or if it’s becoming a problem. Parents should explain how they care about their child and their future. Teens who feel supported and loved are more likely to confide in their parents and seek help if they’re struggling. It’s also vital for parents to listen without judgment and refrain from lecturing. This way, teens will be more likely to open up and share what’s going on. 

Many teens who struggle with addiction also have a co-occurring mental health disorder, such as anxiety or depression. The most effective treatment integrates care for both issues. Clearfork Academy offers a continuum of support for your teen’s substance use and mental health concerns. Our intensive outpatient and residential/inpatient treatment centers are staffed with licensed professionals trained to address co-occurring substance use and mental health treatment concurrently. It’s essential to recognize that one disorder does not cause the other; they occur at the same time, and both require clinical intervention. As a parent, it’s important to know the warning signs of substance abuse and to talk to your teen early and often. Help is available, and you are not alone. If you know a teen struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues, don’t wait. Early intervention saves lives. Reach out to Clearfork Academy today at (817) 259-2597

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