Parents can spot teen drug use and take steps to prevent it

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Parents need to face the fact that drugs are widely used among teens -- even theirs. Hazelden outlines what signs parents can look for and what steps they can take if they discover their teens are using drugs.

"Many teens suffer terrible consequences from drugs and alcohol simply by experimenting. Accidents, deaths, unintentional overdoses, sexual trauma, violence and legal issues are a few of these pitfalls." Joseph Lee, M.D.

Summer, with its promise of free time and relaxed adult supervision, can present prime opportunities for adolescents and teenagers to use alcohol or other drugs. Consider the facts:

  •     Forty-four percent of high school seniors report drinking in the past 30 days
  •     One-third of high school seniors report having used marijuana – as do 27 percent of 10th graders
  •     Fifteen percent of eighth graders, 29 percent of 10th graders and 37 percent of 12th graders report using any illicit drug in the past year

These findings are from the most recent “Monitoring the Future” survey, an annual study of adolescent drug use sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. They underline the fact that drugs are widely used among teens today – a fact that parents need to face.

Psychiatrist Joseph Lee, M.D., adolescent addiction specialist at Hazelden’s Center for Youth and Families says, "You don't have to be an addict to experience problems from substance use. Many teens suffer terrible consequences from drugs and alcohol simply by experimenting. Accidents, deaths, unintentional overdoses, sexual trauma, violence and legal issues are a few of these pitfalls."

Since adolescence often brings dramatic changes in a child’s moods and behaviors, parents may have a difficult time spotting the signs of substance abuse. However, according to Hazelden, observing more than a few of the following signs means that it’s time for a parent to take action:

  •     The smell of alcohol or odor of marijuana
  •     Stealing or borrowing money
  •     Defensiveness about activities and possessions
  •     Unusual mood changes or temper outbursts
  •     Marked changes in eating or sleeping habits
  •     Decline in academic performance
  •     Heavy use of perfumes, mouthwash or other scents to hide drug use
  •     A bedroom littered with burned matches, pipes or other drug paraphernalia
  •     Changes in friend groups
  •     Significant change in personal appearance or hygiene
  •     Loss of interest in usual activities or hobbies
  •     Difficulty with concentration
  •     Frequent visits to doctors for medical issues and prescriptions

The earlier a parent responds to such signs, the better. Lee offers the following guidelines:

Set the expectations in your home
Research indicates that parental disapproval deters adolescent drug use. Remind your children that you expect them to avoid all alcohol or other drug use – period. Set clear rules around alcohol and other drug use. “Parenting is about leadership and modeling in adolescence,” Lee says. “Don’t lose sight of the fact that you are incredibly influential at this time in their lives. You can be up front about your shared value system without being overbearing. Then model those values in your actions and words.”

Talk about it
Develop a culture of open communication in your home, regardless of the issue. That way, talking about drugs and alcohol won’t be an awkward experience. If you suspect substance abuse, share your observations with your child, while avoiding judgment. Stick to the facts and stay calm. Don’t have the conversation if your child is under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Teens don’t process advice as well when they are emotionally charged. If tempers flare, wait for a moment when cooler heads prevail.

Take advantage of help
Parents don’t have to do this alone. Many professionals can help intervene with your child, such as a family doctor, therapist, school counselor or addiction counselor. In addition, turn to support groups for teenagers and their families who are in recovery from addiction. “Parents are at their best when they are being parents,” Lee remarks. “Juggling the roles of parent, friend, and co-counselor can be difficult. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you feel stretched.”

Help your child create a plan for refusing drugs
The key is to come up with a plan that your teenager will actually use in a social setting where kids are using drugs. Role play possible scenarios and offer help while encouraging good decision making. Of course, the best defense against substance use is prevention.

Get to know your teen’s world
Stay actively involved in your teen’s life. Get to know his or her friends and their parents, and talk to their teachers. Association with a poor choice of peers can easily lead to substance abuse. Take time each week to ask what your child is thinking, feeling and doing – and listen to the answers without interrupting. The more resources you have the better the trust will be between you and your teen. They’ll also feel less intrusion if you are a natural part of their social life. You don’t have to be a helicopter parent to get results. Just stay tuned in.

Parents who want more information are encouraged to consult “Teen Alcohol and Other Drug Use: Knowing the Signs and What to Do About Them,” a 23-minute video and DVD produced by Hazelden. Visit Hazelden’s online bookstore or call 800-328-9000 for more on this video and other Hazelden educational resources.

About Hazelden–Hazelden, a national nonprofit organization founded in 1949, helps people reclaim their lives from the disease of addiction. Built on decades of knowledge and experience, Hazelden offers a comprehensive approach to addiction that addresses the full range of patient, family, and professional needs, including treatment and continuing care for youth and adults, research, higher education, public education and advocacy, and publishing. It has facilities in Minnesota, Oregon, Illinois, New York, and Florida. Learn more at http://www.hazelden.org.

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Christine Anderson

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