Coping with substance abuse of any kind and at any age is difficult, but teen substance abuse is especially concerning for parents and other family members of teenagers.
If you’re struggling with the effects of a teen who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, there are ways you can cope and give your teenager and your family the help they need.
Read on to learn some effective, actionable ways you can deal with this issue and continue to move forward in a meaningful way.
Risks and Statistics
While peer pressure is a common factor in teen substance abuse, other factors may also come into play. In a world driven by modern technology, things like social media and the need to compete with others may drive some teens to use drugs or drink alcohol.
Other risk factors may include financial hardships or living in a financially unstable environment, abuse, genetics, or simply feelings of being overwhelmed. Whatever the reason, teen substance abuse stats in the United States are staggering.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), as of 2019, drug and alcohol use among teens is on the rise. In a recent survey, 26% of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 claimed to drink alcohol. The number increased much higher in young adults.
The stats on illicit drug use is much more significant. Over 49% of teenagers at the age of 12 and up claimed to use some kind of illicit drug in their lifetime.
Using drugs and drinking alcohol among teens is fairly widespread. According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, approximately 86% of teenagers claimed to know someone who either smokes, drinks, or uses drugs during the school day.
While some teens partake in substance use as a social tool, others struggle with long-term use and abuse. When the occasional use becomes a habit, all parents should be concerned.
Signs of Substance Abuse in Teens
While not all drugs and not all teens are alike, there are some common signs that your teenager may be struggling with substance abuse. It’s important to be aware of these signs and to communicate with your teen often so you can easily spot if someone is wrong.
Some of the most common red flags that parents should look for include:
- Teenagers who typically excel suddenly have low grades, missed tests, etc.
- Notifications from the school that your teen is missing classes
- Acting in a withdrawn manner and losing interest in things they once enjoyed
- Changes in sleep habits and/or in appetite
- Poor hygiene (bad breath, body odor that is abnormal)
- Refusing to make eye contact or talk to you or other members of the family
- Smells of smoke on clothing or in the hair
- Behavioral changes that are extreme or seem unusually out of character
- Secretive behavior (i.e. stealing, sneaking out of the house)
- Spending time with a new group of friends while dismissing their old friends
While not all of these signs indicate that your teen is struggling with substance abuse, they are the most common red flags. Currently, the COVID-19 pandemic is also affecting the mental health and well-being of adults and teenagers. Increased stress and anxiety may play a role in teens turning to substance abuse to help them “escape” or to feel numb.
What Parents Can do About Teen Substance Abuse
If you suspect that your teenager is struggling with drugs or alcohol, it’s imperative that you take action as soon as possible. Certain drugs like opioids can be fatal and no parent wants to see their child die as a result of a drug overdose.
Before you begin tackling the issue, it’s important that both parents are on the same page and have a plan of action that they can agree on. Sit down and talk to your spouse or partner and express your concerns. Then, decide what you want to do to address the problem together as a team.
Keep in mind that no one person is to blame if your teen is struggling with substance abuse. Agree to approach your teenager out of a place of love and concern rather than an angry or accusatory one.
Even if you don’t agree about certain aspects of the problem, it’s crucial that you both come together before you talk to your teen. It’s imperative that you’re united on this issue, otherwise, your teenager may try to turn the problem against you since they can see you’re not both on the same page.
Find Evidence of Substance Abuse
Talking to your teenager about this sensitive subject may result in an argument, but as a parent, it’s your job to oversee your teen’s well-being. If you need to find real evidence that your teen is drinking or using drugs, it might be time to do some “investigating” before you approach them.
Remember that teens are not adults yet and that they’re still living in your home. If you feel like you need some evidence first, don’t hesitate to go through their belongings to see what you can find.
Some common places where teens may hide drugs, pipes, and other drug-related items include small pockets on purses and backpacks, areas under the bed, or in desk or dresser drawers. Other areas may include buried in the dirt of houseplants, inside a book, or in “fake items” designed to conceal drugs. You may also find them hidden in over-the-counter medicine bottles, such as Advil or Tylenol.
If you do find drugs or drug paraphernalia, remember to stay calm. Gather your evidence and keep it in a safe place until you’re ready to talk to your teen face-to-face.
Having the Conversation
The first step in dealing with your teen’s substance use or abuse is to sit them down and have a serious conversation. It’s absolutely vital that you remain calm and measured and refrain from yelling or talking to them in an accusatory tone.
Let your teen know that this is coming from a place of love and that you’re concerned about their well-being. Prepare for your teenager to respond in anger and possibly resort to name-calling or even storming out of the room.
The initial talk about drug use is never easy for any parent. Do your best to take deep breaths and continually remind yourself and your teenager that this conversation is happening because you love them.
Make sure that you show your teenager the evidence of drug use you’ve found (if any) during this conversation. Without it, it’s easy for your teen to accuse of lying and you won’t have any proof to back up your concerns.
Expect your teen to react in anger and know that they might say things that are hurtful or shocking. This is simply a reaction to you addressing this issue, and it’s completely normal for anyone to behave this way after being confronted. The key is determining how you move forward from here.
Set Expectations and Enforce Consequences
If you’re able to talk to your teenager in a calm and rational way, now is the time to tell them exactly what you expect. Lay down some ground rules that include absolutely no more drug use in the home first and foremost.
Explain to your teen that you expect them to stop using drugs and even that they must stop hanging around certain people if that’s what it takes. When you make your expectations clear, there should be no confusion moving forward.
Anything your child or teen does that they shouldn’t do must have a set of consequences. Without consequences, people will continue the same behavior they’ve been doing, which is what often leads to more serious issues with abuse or overdose.
Make it clear that your teen will have to face these consequences and that it will start immediately. Whether that means taking away their smartphone or the car, or “grounding” them, it’s simply part of the healing process.
Every parent does things in their own unique way, so the consequences you choose to enforce are entirely up to you. Just make it very clear that they’re a direct result of this problem, and that the purpose is to help your teenager see the seriousness of their actions.
Do Not Ignore Mental Health
While some teens use drugs or drink because they want to fit in, others may be struggling with much deeper issues. Never ignore the fact that your teenager might be suffering from a mental health-related problem that has lead to drug use.
Some common issues that teenagers face include ADHD, eating disorders, anxiety, and depression. Ask your teenager what they are struggling with and if they’ve been feeling a certain way that may benefit from the help of a mental health professional.
Mental health problems and drug abuse often go hand-in-hand. Never ignore the fact that your teen may in fact just need some help that addresses their issues on a much deeper level.
If you ignore mental health problems, substance abuse will likely only get worse. Until the underlying problem is addressed, your teenager will probably continue using drugs or drinking to “numb” them from the pain that they’re feeling deep down.
In many cases, people who get help for their mental health problems learn how to cope in a much more healthy way. Talk to your teenager openly about how they’re feeling and see if you can get to the root of the problem.
Don’t Go it Alone
Parents who are dealing with teen substance abuse may feel like they’re alone. However, finding support from others is crucial not just for your teen, but also for you.
Turn to people you can trust for help with this issue including your teen’s doctor, school teachers, or close friends and members of your immediate family. You might feel embarrassed that your teen is struggling with substance abuse but it’s important to remember that this is not your fault.
Create a close-knit support system that can provide help to you and your teenager. There are also a number of helpful parent support groups online that address the specific issue of struggling with teen substance abuse.
Feeling overwhelmed by this situation can set you up for failure if you don’t have the right support. Never hesitate to reach out to others and get the help you all need together as a family.
If your teen’s substance abuse is severe or continues, it may be time to consider a rehab facility. Whether it’s inpatient or outpatient, this may be the best route available to get them the level of care and help they need to recover.
Once your teen’s substance abuse is addressed, it’s crucial to stay as supportive as possible to help them through it. Remember that being supportive is not the same thing as enabling and that you’ll probably have to practice a lot of “tough love” during this time.
Never ignore your teen’s drug use and never try to cover it up to others by lying. Be open and honest and admit that there is a serious problem that the entire family needs to address together.
Keep your mind and your ears open to your teen. Let them know you’re always available if they ever need to talk or vent about the things they struggle with.
Once your teenager realizes they are loved and have plenty of support, they can begin the road to recovery. Don’t forget to take care of yourself during this difficult time, too. Reach out to others and practice self-care so that you are able to provide your teen with the level of support they need to get better.
Recovery is Possible
Dealing with teen substance abuse is never easy, but it’s crucial that parents know how to begin addressing the problem. With the right approach and a good support system, you can tackle this problem head-on and then start the recovery process together.
If you are concerned about your teenager and need help and support, please visit our website and contact us today for more information.