What Parents Can Do About Teen Drug Use

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According to the SAMHSA’s 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, “About one in eight youths aged 12 to 17 (12.4 percent) indicated that they had been approached by someone selling drugs in the past month” and of the “Past Month Use of Selected Illicit Drugs”, marijuana and psychotherapeutics were at the top of the list. An alarming trend is an increase in teen drug use involving psychoactive substances deemed to be natural, legal, or those synthetic substances promoted under the disguise of use for other intended purposes such as bath salts.

Teens have an enormous amount of information at their fingertips in online sources that provide information about drugs, their effects, and how to obtain, make, and use them often glorifying their use and minimizing the dangerous risks. In their curiosities and quests for greater independence, new sensations, and peer approval, teens are vulnerable to impulsive drug use simply because their judgment and inhibitions mechanisms are not fully developed. Parents have opportunities to improve their teen’s “protective factors” everyday, regardless of their stages of development or age.

Be Involved

Prevention is the key element that will safeguard the teen from the dangers of drug abuse. Don’t wait to talk to them about the hazards they face and even though you may not be informed about all the drugs that are out there, teens do hear what their parents are saying. Be a good role model, be honest about your concerns, monitor their activities, and set clear rules and consequences for behaviors with consistency and follow-ups.

Look For the Signs

According to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, “Early drug use often leads to other forms of unhealthy, unproductive behavior. Illegal drugs are associated with premature sexual activity (with attendant risks of unwanted pregnancy and exposure to sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS), delinquency, and involvement in the criminal justice system.”

Physical and behavioral signs of teen drug use can be subtle or obvious. Recognizing the signs early can mean all the difference between having a happy, healthy, and stable teen and having one that is totally lost and unprepared for societal accountability and the ultimate dangers of continued drug abuse. Look for the signs of:

  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Changes in appearance – glazed or bloodshot eyes, dilated or pinpointed pupils, tremors, tired looking, pale, sweating, or dark circles under their eyes
  • Being overly excited, talkative, nodding off, or having abnormal perceptions
  • Poor hygiene
  • Changes in character, disposition, or attitudes
  • Changes in conduct, poor school attendance, grades, and efforts to do the right things
  • Changes in emotions such as increased depression, anxiety, moodiness, or aggression
  • Changes in relationships and becoming involved with other teen drug users
  • Isolation and loss of interest in once-enjoyed healthy activities

Some signs are self-evident such as being caught with the drugs or using them, possessing paraphernalia, being arrested, overdosing, having an accident while or becoming involved in crimes to obtain and use the drugs.

Get Educated

There are a vast number of resources available to parents about teen drug use and the best thing you can do for yourself and your child is to get educated. They know where to look, no matter how much safeguarding is instilled and rather than be naïve to these things, parents owe it to themselves to know what they are up against. Making it easy for your teen to push the limits and bamboozle you with their supposed “wisdom” is not an option.

Do Not Enable

Giving your teen money or rides, making excuses for their behaviors, covering up the behaviors, and letting them become wrecking balls in your home is the most unproductive thing a parent can do about teen drug use. Avoiding the behavior, thinking it will go away and perhaps, they are just going through one of the many phases teens go through, or thinking it can be fixed by pure love delays the inevitable.

The longer a teen is enabled in their drug use, the further they will advance. A startling fact from the 2014 Monitoring the Future Survey among grades 8, 10, and 12 is that between 2013 and 2014, the only increase in percentage for illicit drug users was heroin use by needle. Intravenous drug injection is taking America by storm and with the high potency prescription painkillers available to teens through their own families and medicine cabinets, opioid addictions have reached epidemic proportions. If these drugs are not easily obtainable, heroin is the highly available and lower cost alternative choice.

Involve Other People

Teen drug use can cause significant deteriorations in family dynamics, strain emotions among parents and other siblings, take away from family gatherings, finances, and other values in life. Parents and other family members tend to “get the short end of the stick” when it comes to keeping peace and stability. They become powerless in their anger, guilt, frustrations, and mistrust and end up with their own damages to the mental and physical health.

Involving other people is a way to find support, guidance and knowledge to take care of the things that truly matter. Involving physicians, guidance counselors, mentors or coaches, pastors, grandparents, and other loved one can be an enormous help.

There are also many resources available online and through 12-step mutual recovery groups such as Nar-Anon and AL-Anon where people who have loved one’s suffering from alcohol or drug addiction come together to assist each other in their own recoveries. These groups provide a great deal of resources, insights, information, and experiences with recovery practices that have proven beneficial and healing.

Finding Treatment

Beyond the 12 step programs of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, there are many substance abuse treatment centers available and exploring the internet can help a parent understand their options. Clergy, community programs, local hospitals are good sources of information and the SAMHSA treatment locator can help you find a program best suitable for your teen.