Teen drug abuse: Help your teen avoid drugs
Teens who experiment with drugs put their health and safety at risk. Help prevent teen drug abuse by talking to your teen about the consequences of using drugs and the importance of making healthy choices.
Why teens abuse drugs
Various factors can contribute to teen drug abuse, from insecurity to a desire for social acceptance. Teens often feel indestructible and might not consider the consequences of their actions, leading them to take dangerous risks — such as abusing legal or illegal drugs.
Common risk factors for teen drug abuse include:
- A family history of substance abuse
- A mental or behavioral health condition, such as depression, anxiety or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Impulsive behavior
- A history of traumatic events, such as experiencing a car accident or being a victim of abuse
- Low self-esteem or feelings of social rejection
Consequences of teen drug abuse
Negative consequences of teen drug abuse might include:
- Impaired driving. Driving under the influence of any drug can impair a driver's motor skills, putting the driver, passengers and others on the road at risk.
- Sexual activity. Teen drug abuse is linked with poor judgment, which can result in unplanned and unsafe sex.
- Drug dependence. Teens who abuse drugs are at increased risk of serious drug use later in life.
- Concentration problems. Use of drugs, such as marijuana, might affect a teen's memory and ability to learn.
- Serious health problems. Ecstasy can cause liver and heart failure. High doses of or chronic use of methamphetamine can cause psychotic behavior. Chronic use of inhalants can harm the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys. Abuse of prescription or over-the-counter medications can cause respiratory distress and seizures.
Talking about teen drug abuse
Choose a time when you're unlikely to be interrupted — and set aside phones. If you're anxious, share your feelings with your teen.
To talk to your teen about drugs:
- Ask your teen's views. Avoid lectures. Instead, listen to your teen's opinions and questions about drugs. Assure your teen that he or she can be honest with you. Watch your teen's body language to see how he or she feels about the topic.
- Discuss reasons not to abuse drugs. Avoid scare tactics. Emphasize how drug use can affect things important to your teen — such as sports, driving, health and appearance.
- Consider media messages. Some television programs, movies, websites or songs glamorize or trivialize drug use. Talk about what your teen sees and hears.
- Discuss ways to resist peer pressure. Brainstorm with your teen about how to turn down offers of drugs.
- Be ready to discuss your own drug use. Think how you'll respond if your teen asks about your own drug use. If you chose not to use drugs, explain why. If you did use drugs, share what the experience taught you.
Other preventive strategies
Consider other strategies to prevent teen drug abuse:
- Know your teen's activities. Pay attention to your teen's whereabouts. Find out what adult-supervised activities your teen is interested in and encourage him or her to get involved.
- Establish rules and consequences. Explain your family rules and what the consequences of using drugs will be. Rules might include leaving a party where drug abuse occurs and not riding in a car with a driver who's been using drugs. Be sure to consistently discipline your teen if he or she breaks the rules.
- Know your teen's friends. If your teen's friends abuse drugs, your teen might feel pressure to experiment, too.
- Keep an eye on prescription drugs. Take an inventory of all prescription and over-the-counter medications in your home.
- Provide support. Offer praise and encouragement when your teen succeeds. A strong bond between you and your teen might help prevent your teen from abusing drugs.
- Set a good example. Don't abuse drugs yourself. Teens notice what their parents say and do.
Recognizing the warning signs of teen drug abuse
Be aware of possible red flags, such as:
- Sudden or extreme change in friends, eating habits, sleeping patterns, physical appearance, coordination or school performance
- Irresponsible behavior, poor judgment and general lack of interest
- Breaking rules or withdrawing from the family
- Medicine containers, despite a lack of illness, or drug paraphernalia in your teen's room
Seeking help for teen drug abuse
If you suspect that your teen is experimenting with or abusing drugs:
- Talk to him or her. You can never intervene too early. Casual drug use can turn into drug abuse, dependence or addiction — and cause accidents, legal trouble and health problems.
- Encourage honesty. Speak calmly and express that you are coming from a place of concern. Share specific details to back up your suspicion, which will make it harder for your teen to deny what's happening. Verify any claims he or she makes.
- Focus on the behavior, not the person. Emphasize that drug use is dangerous but that doesn't mean your teen is a bad person.
If your teen admits to abusing drugs, let him or her know that you're disappointed and enforce the consequences you've established. Going forward, spend more time with your teen and keep a close eye on his or her whereabouts and activities. Check in regularly, ask questions when he or she gets home from an activity and reach out to other parents. If you think your teen is involved in significant drug use, contact a doctor, counselor or other health care provider for help.
It's never too soon to start talking to your teen about drug abuse. The conversations you have today can help your teen make healthy choices in the future.
Last updated: February 2nd, 2016