How to Handle Teenage Drug Use
Feeling concerned about your child’s drug use can be very stressful. Some parents try to help, while others put up with it without saying much. If you are in doubt about whether to step back or step up and offer support, there are some tips about how to handle teenage drug abuse.
Understanding Drug or Alcohol Use
Various misconceptions about addiction prevent people from accepting, coping, or dealing with their child’s drug abuse. It also prevents them from helping to stop it.
Out of the 5.1 million adolescents with a substance use disorder in 2018, nearly 9 in 10 did not get treatment.
But drugs or alcohol react differently in the brains of adolescents than they do in adult brains, which places young people in a vulnerable position. It makes them more prone to addiction. Studies found that among people aged 26 and over, those who began drinking before 15 were five times more likely to report having an alcohol use disorder than those who waited until age 21. Substance use also has long-term effects on a developing brain. This means that concerned parents might have to rightfully remain so.
The best protection against drug use or a drug problem is by giving children the facts even before they are at risk. But in the case that a child is already using drugs or has a problem with substance abuse, understanding exactly what it means can greatly help prevent it from progressing or repeating. Getting them the treatment they need may help prevent a series of risks.
In case there are mental health issues in a family, there should be extra caution about a child taking drugs. Mental health and addiction are often related. But while substance abuse has been linked to mood swings, depression, and many other serious mental health issues, anyone runs the risk of an overdose from taking drugs. That even includes healthy, fit, young people. The risk depends more on the type of drug, whether it is mixed with other drugs, and how much of it is taken.
Most young people are experimenting with drugs, and this often causes concerned adults to accept risky behavior as a phase of adolescence. They assume their children won’t become regular users, and even though this possibility truly exists, moving away from it may cause a person to miss a crucial part of the bigger picture. Catching a child smoking once or being drunk once and addressing it may seem enough, but parents may not know the whole scope of their children’s substance use. That is why it is never too soon or too protective to speak up, even when someone is sure their child is simply experimenting.
As teens commonly exhibit risky behavior, drug abuse increases these risks and can have serious and potentially life-threatening effects on them. Out-of-character behavior may lead to injury, unprotected sex, drunk driving, or overdose and can completely change a young person’s life. These risks can come even by just experimenting.
A developing brain can be damaged in the long run if it is exposed to substance use. It can lead to learning difficulties in adulthood, and according to the CDC, can contribute to the development of adult health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and sleep disorders.
How to Handle Teenage Drug Use
While it is a frightening time when suspecting a child is using drugs, the most crucial thing to do is to confront it so that you may support your child.
Neither talking to your teen about drug abuse, nor the help of addiction professionals can happen too early. But how would you talk to your child?
Like any important conversation, taking time to prepare and plan may be best. While the most important thing may be simply listening and talking to your child, taking a deep breath and planning what to say can help.
Knowing about drug and alcohol abuse is key. Being aware of the signs of substance abuse can help prevent the continuation of it, and can enable a person to take action right away. But it is also important to learn the common reasons why young people develop a drug problem. This may help someone spot any underlying cause for their child’s substance use and seek help to address this.
Different types of drugs bring about different effects and the reasons for taking them accordingly. Finding out about the specific drug a teen is using could inform a person greatly of what the child may be experiencing when taking the drug, the reasons for taking it, and the consequences of it. Many parents may prefer to stay out of the details, but to provide children with facts and warn them, adults may have to do some research and address any of their own questions about symptoms, types of treatment, and possible recovery.
Some young people could use drugs or alcohol for years without anyone knowing. By the time someone suspects a possible problem with drugs, it may already have developed to be serious. Teens may be very secretive about their alcohol or drug abuse, while adults may also be preoccupied or not notice a change in their child’s behavior.
Being aware of a teen’s behavior may mean paying more attention to social changes, warning signs of substance abuse, or keeping a closer eye on their activities. It can also mean being more attentive to a child’s stress, their coping mechanisms and knowing when they are going through tough times.
Fostering a safe environment and one that is free of drugs is also vital, so parents may have to become aware of their personal alcohol use, or the general health of the household.
Don’t Turn a Blind Eye
It can be difficult, but turning a blind eye may only make matters worse. This is especially true when kids are using alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism, or when they are at risk for developing an addiction. If a bothering feeling has been around, it is best to trust these instincts.
A teen’s drug use may lead them to a downward spiral and place them in serious harm if someone does not intervene immediately. Discovering the first signs of drug or alcohol abuse means that it is already the best time to act.
Remaining active in a child’s life is important; instead of looking the other way, know who their friends are, how they are feeling, and how they are spending their free time. Talking about the dangers or the influence of drugs or alcohol is one way of being active. Share and explain the possible jail time or fines for drunk driving as a consequence of using illegal drugs, or the possibility that someone may be seriously injured or killed.
Often people who think their children may be using drugs may panic. Young people who experiment with drugs may not develop any issues, but even considering the risk that they do, it is best to stay calm. A successful conversation with a teen about substances may require a person to act and react informed and composed.
Direct accusations of involvement with drugs, showing anger, or being overly emotional may not work. Substance abuse behaviors may have been mistaken for symptoms of depression, anxiety, or another mental health problem, or a teen may be experiencing pressure at school and may not have shared the details. That is why the conversation may be best started with questions and indirect statements.
Sharing news about drugs used in professional sports is an indirect channel to start a conversation and provide information about the risks of drugs. Keeping the subject broad and not reacting in a way that may shut down the conversation helps. Open-ended questions about your child’s friends or what they like or dislike about their school avoid a yes or no answer from them, and can start a conversation. A nonjudgmental, caring manner of asking questions is more likely to provoke honest answers, while a lack of confidence or distrust may cause a child to shut down.
Allowing a lot of time for response, keeping open communication, truly paying attention, and not rushing the conversation can help.
Often kids come forward with concerns or questions when their self-esteem is boosted. Making talking a regular part of the day may make this particular conversation stand out less. Try to talk to your child after their achievements are praised, or when engaging in activities where you can stay connected. Attempting to talk to them when they are high may not be the right time. Walking together or driving in the car may be a time to bring up a conversation, as some teens are more likely to talk when they do not have to make eye contact.
Don’t Give Up
Teens may refuse to talk, may deny that they are taking drugs, or become aggressive. It may require patience and a little more time from parents to get through to them, but the important thing is not to give up.
If a child refuses to talk, it is important not to panic, but instead, address the behavior. Instead of emphasizing the drugs, a person could set clear limits about behavior they find unacceptable, or that it may come with consequences. Continuing to highlight things that worry a parent, and expressing concern over a child’s well-being, without blaming the behaviors on substance use, is important.
It may be helpful to be fully prepared. That means, for every possible outcome.
A child may open up about their use of drugs and ask for help, in which case a parent should have done their research and have an available treatment option ready. They might need to know exactly how to respond to make their child feel safe and let them know that asking for help is okay or be able to share treatment options and their benefits.
A parent may have to be prepared for when a child is using drugs and denies it, too. Many parents find physical evidence of their child’s substance use and may want to use this as a means of insisting, while other parents believe that looking through their teen’s things is an invasion of their privacy. Either way, following up and monitoring their behavior is vital with, or without evidence.
Before attempting the conversation, it may be useful to think of any rules or consequences of breaking these may be, or what exactly a parent wishes to express and how. The details of a parent’s concern should be fully expressed to both the child and perhaps a child’s pediatrician. This may help determine whether a teen has a medical or mental health problem underlying substance use, or causing behavioral changes on its own.
Having a goal or desired outcome for the initial conversation with a child may make it go better. While it may be best to keep expectations low, and unrealistic to expect admittance and a pledge to stop right away, an objective of expressing to them that you don’t want them to use drugs is the first win. The first conversation may only achieve the initiation of speaking, but by setting a small goal and moving toward it step by step, other conversations may be very successful.
While it is critical for a parent to establish whether their child has developed a substance use disorder or has made drugs a habit, professional help can help at any point. Even if a teen does not admit to regular abuse of drugs, or they do not show signs of addiction, they may still be at risk for developing one when they are adults.
Drugs and alcohol can affect a teen differently than they would at other ages, and mental health professionals at treatment centers have expertise on how to help. Substance use disorders are very difficult and sometimes impossible to overcome without treatment help, and the earlier help is sought, the better.
There are many support groups available for the family members of addicted individuals. Here, family members can learn how to support their children, how to deal with altered family dynamics, as well as to voice their feelings. They can lean on others and learn from their coping strategies while being in touch with a community group that understands the challenges they may have.
Where Can I Find a Treatment Center?
If you are worried about your teen’s addiction to drugs or their mental well-being, Clearfork can help. As a center specializing in behavioral health treatment for substance use, mental health, and the co-occurrence of the two, Clearfork’s residential rehab for teens provides the most supportive environment for your child and family members.
By including individual, family, and group therapies, we can help any young person who struggles with the physical, mental and social bonds of chemical dependency and mental health. With our outdoor adventure program and 24/7 staff and nursing support, Clearfork can provide your child with a healthy future, starting today.