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Parents must create an addiction prevention family plan for teens

Addiction and substance use/abuse is an extremely complex problem. While there are no specific rules on how to manage it within your home, developing an addiction prevention family plan for teenagers is critical.

Addiction is a state of psychological and/or physical dependence on a substance, behavior or activity, which protects an individual from challenges, stresses, traumas and situations that are difficult to face. It is a method of escape and avoidance of negative thoughts or regrets of the past, current situations that are challenging to deal with, or worries about the future.

Substance use—such as drugs, alcohol or food—often become the addiction. However, the problem also can be seen in other non-substance behaviors, such as gambling, shopping, sex, self-harm, video games, the Internet or other technologies.

Addictions that develop in childhood easily become psychologically habitual, physically addictive and enmeshed in brain and personality development at a time when both are still developing. When habits form at a young age, the problem becomes extremely difficult to overcome, and it can lead to other co-morbid mental health problems later.

Both protective factors and risk factors need to be considered when developing a family plan for your teenagers. Protective factors are aimed at preventing or limiting the possibility of addiction or substance abuse. Risk factors are targeted at reducing the potential risk. It is crucial to work on both goals throughout every developmental stage, as factors will differ at each level.


Do maintain a predictable, stable, peaceful and functional household

The best and most basic defense is to surround the child in a stable, predictable and peaceful home environment. Routine and predictability is very important in a child’s life. It creates security and teaches self-control, while chaos and unpredictability can breed insecurity and teaches impulsivity.

Do instill positive values and open communication

Proper parental supervision and oversight are vital. Positive reinforcement of good behaviors is proven to be much more effective than punishing bad behaviors. Be consistent in teaching proper values. Promote volunteerism as an excellent way to instill positive community ties. Organized religion or a spiritual connection also can create positive values. Children copy what they see, and they will live the life that their parents do.

Do develop strong parent-child bonds and emotional/physical availability

Both physical and emotional bonding, as well as ongoing availability are necessary for positive behavioral and personality development. Encourage the maintenance of multiple strong relational attachments in various social settings. Focus on family activities for entertainment and recreation.

Do stay informed of addiction and substance abuse trends

Keep up on current problems and trends in addictions, especially in the surrounding community and state. Stay involved, informed and in touch with school administrators, counselors and teachers. The school counseling office or local police department most likely has a prevention program that they use. Reach out for help and direction if necessary. No one is to blame. Substance abuse and addiction is a very complex social problem that many parents deal with, and it needs to be dealt with proactively.

Do offer productive alternative activities

Offer other viable alternatives. Find organized sports, activities or community involvement that interests the child, so there is no room for substance use. Promote academic success to build confidence and self-esteem. If one thing doesn’t work, try another to allow for interest development. Organized activities that involve the whole family are an excellent way to offer alternatives, such as scouting, organized sports, or participation in a local charity or religious organization.


Do not practice inconsistency in parenting, disciplining and monitoring

Chaotic households and inconsistency in discipline breed insecurity and impulsivity. Never underestimate the power of trauma. Trauma is a life- threatening situation that a child finds him/herself in. The body reacts to it in a complex manner, and the fear can reside in the body and later re-emerge through the senses. Ridicule, neglect and/or avoidance are just as powerful an abuse as physical or sexual abuse is for a child.

Do not send mixed messages about addiction and substance use

Children will follow parents in attitude and behavior. Don’t send mixed messages about addiction and substance use/abuse. Never make alcohol or drugs, whether licit or illicit, readily available in the household. Keep the message consistent—that drugs and drinking are unacceptable and consequences will prevail if it does occur. Keep your word and practice what you say to kids.

Do not hesitate to reach out to others for help

Financial marginalization often occurs in conjunction with a lack of education, illiteracy or migration to America. Reaching out for help in the community, school system or to professionals can be very intimidating. The more affluent are often embarrassed to admit that they need help. Don’t let intimidation or embarrassment stop you from asking for help. The longer you wait, the more difficult the problem can be to control. Addiction and substance abuse problems are considered an “equal opportunity affliction,” which means that the problem cuts across members of society regardless of income, education, occupation, social class and age.

Do not ignore the early signs of an addiction or substance use problem

Blame, avoidance and denial are unproductive. Stay proactive in monitoring the situation. Watch for early risk factors, such as overly aggressive behavior, low self-esteem/confidence or inappropriate peer attraction. Closely monitor other mental health issues, personality problems, eating disorders and learning disabilities. Self-medicating other undetected problems are very common and are often the starting point for early use.

Do not wait to begin the conversation on addiction

Don’t wait to begin the conversation on the dangers of substance use, although you want to keep it at age appropriate level of understanding. For instance, in the early years, instruct kids on the importance of not accepting candy, pills or drinks from people they do not know. By the time they are 10 to 12 years old, more serious discussion should be started concerning the use of drugs for medical purposes, and the difference between licit and illicit drugs. Remind kids repeatedly on the dangers, and question them on what the talk is in school and with peers concerning drug or alcohol use.

Jumping cartoon

Addiction and substance use/abuse is a complex problem. There are no definite rules on how to deal with it in the home. It intersects both biology and behavior, and is one of the most debilitating and costly societal problems we face today. Addiction proofing your child is difficult in today’s world, but it is possible. Stay consistent with the message throughout your child’s development. Maintain a stable home environment, always be emotionally and physically available, and stay informed. Offer other viable alternatives that build skills, values and confidence.

This is an ongoing process of learning, teaching and monitoring your child’s activities and friendships. Remember that major life transitions are points of extra stress and vulnerability, such as divorce, a home move, death in the family and/or job loss.

More expert advice about Raising Teens

Photo Credits: Diverbo: Pueblo Inglés Teens - Alcazaba by Diverbo Idiomas via Flickr; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Sandy EndersOnline Educator

Sandy Enders, MS, SYC, MA, teaches in the Social & Behavioral Sciences department at Central Texas College and Housatonic Community College. She resides in Connecticut with her husband and son, Adam, who the two adopted at birth from Guatem...

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