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Is your teen abusing drugs?

Mark Myers LCSW, CADC Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor Myers Counseling Group

Adolescent years could prove challenging for both parents(s) and teenager. Teenagers are trying to master on onslaught of social, educational, emotional, and physical changes. These changes are not experienced and dealt with in the same ways by all youth as well as by their parents. Some kids turn to substance use because of curiosity, to pursue or avoid a feeling and/or peer pressure. If a parent discoverers their child to be using drugs, there is no one way to determine why they may be using. The adolescent themselves may not be able to answer this. However, there are some ways to recognize if it is a problem and direction on what to do if you suspect your teen is abusing or addicted to a substance.


Do look for changes in your child

These changes could be in behavior (sleeping patterns, fatigue, hygiene), social aspects(change of friends), scholastically (drop in grades or school activities), family involvement (isolation, avoiding family events), and attitude (oppositional behavior). Typically, most teens go through some degrees of unsteadiness during these years. It does not mean there absolutely is a drug/alcohol problem, but certainly warrants further examination. Substance abuse problems can develop suddenly or over time. There is not a predictable course it will run.

Do ask your child about drug abuse

Ask your child directly about being under the influence or involved in drug or alcohol use. Some parents shy away from being direct with their children about uncomfortable issues. Avoiding the topic will not make the concern go away. If you are direct, it means conveying your thoughts in a clear and firm manner. It does not mean yelling or screaming. Also, present your concerns based from specific examples.

Do maintain awareness of your home environment

Prescription drug abuse is the most abused drug after marijuana and synthetic marijuana. Parents should be cognizant of their own medication supply as well as their child’s(if he/she is on medication). If you keep alcohol in the house, be aware of anything missing or supplies being low, or running out sooner than expected. Teenagers could also use household products such as common cleaning solutions, to get high on.

Do stay active in your child's life

This would include talking to your child’s friend’s parents, monitoring social media, and even checking their rooms. Parents should monitor unexplained items that are brought into the house. Some items may look harmless, but in fact could be drug paraphernalia. If you are unsure of what a new item brought into the house could be, take it to your local police station or treatment facility. They should be able to help you.

Do set clear and firm guidelines

These guidelines should not have any wiggle room. The clearer you are in your expectations, the more accountable your child will be. Focus on the the topic at hand (your concern about your child using drugs) and not allow yourself to be side tracked (“everyone is doing it”) if you are discussing his/her use. If a child is addicted or abusing drugs, it will be more difficult for them to adhere to clear guidelines. This will bring the problem out sooner rather than later.


Do not allow your teen to take over your house

A parent of a substance abusing child could feel helpless or intimidated in addressing the issue with their child. Stand your ground and if necessary solicit outside help. Some parents become intimidated by their teenager which can make any type of parental discipline ineffective. A child, no matter how much he or she protests, is looking for a parent for guidance.

Do not be inconsistent

If a spouse is involved, presenting a united front is crucial. A child will pick up on the inconsistencies.They will turn to the other parent to undermine any type of rules or structure the other one is trying to establish. If you periodically enforce rules, a teenager will not abide by them. They will not know what to expect from one interaction to another.

Do not lecture or over explain a rule or consequence

Teenagers will shut you out if you lecture. They will see your lips move, but tune out. Children are more responsive to consequences attached to their behaviors. Expecting them to share the same values as an adult is unrealistic. Adults are at different maturity levels and life experiences. They are more likely be able to follow a rule or guideline if they are concerned about the consequence, rather than follow it because they agree with the reason you are trying to enforce it.

Do not present conflicting messages

Role modeling is essential in addressing adolescent substance abuse. If a parent is abusing drugs or alcohol themselves, they will not be looked at as a reputable source of information. Also, allowing one child a different set of rules then the other is not only going to be confusing for the teenager, but most likely will create feelings of anger and resentment. If your child is abusing or addicted to drugs, it might be a good time for you to evaluate your own use. There is a greater likelihood of someone becoming addicted if there is a family history of addiction.

Do not give up

If a child sees you give up then the battle is lost. There are many resources out there that could benefit you. Support groups (Tough Love, Family Anonymous), primary care physicians, and therapists could also help guide you. Look into local area treatment centers. Usually they will have varying levels of care and should be able to assist you in finding the right level of treatment for your child. In a study published in the Journal of American Medical Association found that teenagers who reported feeling close to their families were least likely to engage in risky behaviors.

Jumping cartoon

Raising a child today is challenging. At times, it seems a desired goal for a parent is surviving adolescence with as few emotional scars as possible. Teenagers as a rule, are not open about sharing information, especially about themselves. Parents need to find a balance between allowing their child some space, and making sure they are safe. If a child is demonstrating behavior that is out of character or of concern, they should address it right away. Develop a plan of action to address your concerns. The sooner the behavior is addressed the more likelihood you can stop it without significant damage being done. If you are not confident you can deal with the issue, seek out assistance at a treatment facility or therapist.

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Photo Credits: qu'est ce qu'on s'emmerde avec les parents le dimanche... by Flickr: Biscarotte; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Mark Myers LCSW, CADCLicensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor

Mark Myers received his Master of Social Work Degree from Loyola University. He has been practicing in the helping profession for over 20 years. He is an Illinois Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Certified Alcohol and Other Drug Counselor. ...

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