Drugs and Other Substances
Teen Drug Abuse
Teen years are the most common period for people to begin experimenting with drugs so, of course, drugs and alcohol are hot topics for every parent of adolescents.
“The most successful way to speak to your teenagers about drugs and alcohol is to be as neutral as possible. This means that acknowledging that drugs and alcohol are a normal part of life, but they can also be very dangerous and destructive,” says global youth ambassador Marushka Mujic, “Instead of imposing harsh rule and regulations about the subject, it is best to invite your child to express their thoughts, feelings, and concerns. Ask them if any of their friends have tried drugs and alcohol or if they have been confronted by a situation and they didn’t know how to handle it. Though your child may be nervous about being honest, the more neutral you are, the more likely you are to have a successful result.”
Between the ages of 12 and 20, teenagers go from less than 10 percent of drug and alcohol abuse to over 50 percent. There is an 80 percent chance your teen will try ... Read more
“This is a period in which their friends are using. Even if they have not started using, many of their friends are. It’s also a period in which their brain is developing and they are suddenly seeking more sensations, more pleasure, trying to avoid pain,” says psychologist Michael Dennis, “This is a period when they are susceptible and they are exposed and everyone around them is using. Even if you have educated them about it, so many people use it, it’s almost a norm to use it as well.”
“The most common drugs that I see around teens right now is definitely alcohol and marijuana together,” says psychologist Jerry Weichman, “Outside of that, ecstasy is very prevalent right now, as well as pills.”
Signs of Drug Use and Symptoms of Addiction
It may be hard to tell if your teen is using drugs. It is certainly not abnormal for a teen to begin acting strangely. Some suspicious behaviors may be normal teen responses to the developmental changes of adolescence. If your teen is generally fine – getting along with friends and family, doing well in school, staying involved with activities—you probably don’t have anything to worry about. However, if your teen seems depressed, withdrawn, or excessively moody, you should take a closer look for other red flags.
Common signs of alcohol or drug use include:
- Changes in personal appearance such as poor hygiene, lack of caring for appearance
- Smell of smoke or other unusual smells
- Chewing gum or mints to cover up breath
- Cash flow problems
- Reckless driving or car accidents
- Avoiding eye contact
- “Munchies” or sudden appetite
- Red eyes
- Dilated pupils
“It is particularly dangerous to use alcohol or drugs under the age of 18 because this is a period of adolescent brain development,” says Michael Dennis, “When people start using alcohol and drugs under the age of 15, they are two to six times more likely to go on and become addicted than if they start over the age of 18.”
Drug Abuse Treatment and Help
If you’ve caught your teen red-handed, what is the next step to getting them off of drugs or alcohol?
“It depends on a number of factors. Number one, if your child is 12 years old and using drugs, then you need to get that child in to a professional immediately. If your child is 17 and experimenting, sometimes it’s better to be careful not to overreact as much as to underreact,” says substance abuse expert Dan Cronin, “So I think it’s important starting from the beginning to have an open dialogue with your children and make sure that they understand the risk associated with experimenting with drugs and alcohol.”
“Once you know that your child has used alcohol or drugs, there's often a struggle between saying flat out, "Don't use it and keep it out of the house," or should you say, "Well if you're gonna use it, you're safer using it at home than out on the street or a friend's house where they might get busted?”,” says Michael Dennis, “This is really a catch-22; there's no good answer here. Because to say that it's better to use it at home than outside is to give a mixed message. And to say that it's okay to use, wink, wink, wink. Do it here, not someplace else. There is a logic to saying you can use it at home, but it doesn't keep up that positive pressure to stop the teens from using.”
If you don’t believe your child’s habits to be serious enough to send them directly to rehabilitation, there are routines you can change at home to help monitor your teen’s behavior.
“There are several habits that you can get into with your teen that will help you notice if they are using alcohol or drugs, or notice if they are starting to get in trouble,” says Michael Dennis, “One of the most basic ones is to have dinner together and make sure you are spending time with them, talking. That means, not having cell phones with text message conversations going on, not watching the TV or reading; but sitting down and talking to each other. Another thing is, before your teen goes out, you should know their friends. When they were little you did this, but as they get older, there is often a tendency of parents to let them go out with people that they don't know. Don't let them get into a car and take a ride with somebody who hasn't first talked to you about safe driving and seatbelts. It will make your teen embarrassed. It may make your teen annoyed with you, but it may also save their lives. Another thing that helps is when they come home, it's not acceptable to say, "Hey mom, I'm home," and go down to the basement or wherever and disappear. You want to make them come into the room and kiss you goodnight. The advantage of that is, you get to see them cross the room. You get to smell them. You can tell whether they have balance. You can see things, very unobtrusively, in the act of kissing them goodnight.”
After confronting your teen, if the problem continues it’s important to get professional help.
“If you know that your son or daughter is taking drugs, you need to get help because it could be a problem that could destroy their lives and it can actually even destroy -- I've seen families. So you need to get help as soon as possible,” says psychologist Chris Fulton, “You could ask your pediatrician for a referral or you could go to your panel of providers.”
“Talk to someone and tell them what's going on, so they can help guide you through the process,” says Dan Cronin, “It's a complicated process that we are not prepared to do. If we were, we would not be in that position in the first place. Seek out a licensed professional and get help.”
12-step programs are an excellent, cost-effective way to get your teen help.
“I think that 12-step programs play an important part of the aftercare process, especially for adolescents, because what happens is, once you've completed the treatment cycle and you're on the road to recovery, then you can go and hang with your friends, and it's the most easily reachable, it's the most affordable, widely recognized way for peer-to-peer support,” says Dan Cronin, “And today they have all kinds of groups in 12-step programs that are specific for adolescents and teenagers. So it's not like the old days when it was all 50-year-old guys sitting around smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee. They have all kinds of activities these days for kids and their own support groups.”