Drug Guide for Parents

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Guest Post by Jennifer Kopf

As a parent, it’s sometimes hard to remember your own adolescence and what life was like during that time. If your crush didn’t call you on Friday night, it was the end of the world. If your mom dared to wave goodbye when she dropped you off at school,  life was over and you had to transfer schools. It’s a time a lot of us purposely forget, because it was a difficult time where you weren’t an adult but you weren’t a child and were just trying to figure out life.

The teenage years often involve exploration and self-discovery. During this journey, young people may experiment with substances and alcohol. They could have their first drink of alcohol at a highschool party in someone’s parent’s basement, discreetly smoke marijuana at a pep rally, or misuse prescription stimulants to help them study for an upcoming exam.

The Monitoring the Future study explores teenage substance misuse trends. Compiled by researchers at the University of Michigan, the survey examines teen behaviors and perceptions associated with various substances, including alcohol, marijuana and vaping products.

In 2017, the survey found that the five most commonly misused substances among U.S. teens include:

  •  Alcohol
  •  Marijuana
  • Vaping products
  • Cigarettes
  • Flavored cigars

However, researchers confirmed that adolescent misuse of heroin and prescription opioids, two major contributors of the opioid epidemic, was uncommon.

How to Talk to Your Teens About Drugs and Alcohol

Most parents have conversations about drug and alcohol early-on when their children are younger, but it’s important to revisit the conversation when they become a teenager especially if a parent has a suspicion their child is misusing substances. Parents can prepare for the eyerolls and the, “I know, mom” but if you can approach the subject in a more conversational way, teens are likely to respond more positively.

Talking with teens can be challenging. Having meaningful, ongoing conversations about substance misuse is the key to helping keep teenagers healthy and safe. Through these periodic conversations, parents can foster mutual understanding and breakthrough communication barriers so parents and their kids feel more connected to one another.

Some tips on how parents can talk to their teens include:

1. Choosing a good time and place

Look for blocks of time to talk, for example, after dinner, before bed, before school, etc. Parents can also take a walk or drive with their teen; with less eye contact their child won’t feel like they’re “under a microscope” and might open up more.

2. Approach the conversation with openness and active listening

Parents should keep an open mind, remain curious and calm, and hopefully, as a result, teens will be more receptive to what is being discussed. For a more engaging conversation, parents should ask open-ended questions. They should also use active listening techniques to let their teen know that they are being understood.

3. Understand a parent’s influence

Parents can discuss the negative effects of drugs and alcohol. They’ll need to clearly communicate that they do not want their teen misusing drugs. Parents may talk about the short and long-term effects substances can have to their child’s physical and mental health, safety and ability to make good decisions. Parents will explain to their teen that experimenting with drugs and alcohol during this time is risky to their still-developing brain.

During this part of the conversation, parents can also share stories of people in recovery or those they have lost to drugs and alcohol. These personal accounts can be powerful teaching tools.

4. Offer empathy and support

Parents should acknowledge that they understand what their teenager is going through, and that teen years can be tough, but drugs and alcohol are not a useful or healthy way to cope with problems. Parent can remind their child that they are there for support and guidance, and that it’s important that they are healthy, happy and make safe choices.   

Signs of Potential Drug and Alcohol Use

Determining if a teen is misusing substances and alcohol can be difficult. Many of the signs and symptoms of substance misuse are, at times, typical teenage behavior. If a parent has noticed any changes of behavior in their child, it’s okay to err on the side of caution.

Behavioral Changes that occur due to drug or alcohol misuse include:

  • Changed relationships with family or friends
  • Frequently broken curfews
  •  Avoiding eye contact
  •  Locking doors
  • Going out every night
  • Frequently making excuses
  • Has the “munchies” or an increased appetite
  • Exhibits uncharacteristically loud, obnoxious behavior 
  • Becomes unusually clumsy; stumbling, lacking coordination, poor balance
  • Disappearing for long periods of time
  • Has periods of sleeplessness
  •  Has periods of high energy

Teens may also experience mood and personality shifts that include:

  • Mood changes or emotional instability
  • Withdrawn
  • Depressed
  • Loss of inhibitions
  • Silent
  • Hostile
  • Angry
  • Uncooperative 
  • Secretive
  • Deceitful
  • Less motivated

If parents confirm that their teen is misusing drugs or alcohol, they have to remember not to overreact. It’s important to respond to the teen with love and then determine what needs to be done. Teens with mild substance use disorders can often recover through outpatient treatment, but those with more serious substance addictions usually require inpatient rehab treatment.

When considering which treatment option would best best, parents should be sure to talk to a professional who is well-versed in addiction recovery. You can find a variety of resources, including local Boston and National resources on our Phase2Parenting website here: https://www.phase2parenting.com/alcoholdrugs/. In addition, representatives at the The Recovery Village are available to speak to 24/7 about treatments options for teens.


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Jennifer Kopf is a Florida-based writer who works for the content team at The Recovery Village. Jennifer strives to raise awareness for mental health and lifelong recovery from substance misuse and addiction. When she isn’t writing, she’s reading a book at the beach or at the park playing with her two pomeranians.


PLEASE NOTE: The writers of this article are not medical professionals. The information in this column is not intended and should not be construed as providing medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information and provide a perspective to better understand the lives of themselves and their children. Articles on this website may be opinion based. The articles are not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist, psychotherapist or other licensed medical professional. If you do have health or safety concerns, please get in touch with a healthcare professional.