I receive hundreds of questions about how parents should react to their teenager who is using drugs and alcohol. Some of these parent’s are in denial about the issue, some concerned about how it will effect them long term, and some are even worried about addiction. There are also parents who cannot believe their son/daughter are experimenting with drugs, and do nothing in hopes that it will go away. These parents are often embarrassed or ashamed that their teenager is using drugs or alcohol. They live in silence.
So lets clear the air and provide some guidelines for parents who are dealing with teenagers abusing drugs and/or alcohol. First, it will be helpful to form categories to help us. Let’s categorize our teenagers into 3 groups. Here they are:
- Teen #1: The teen who never tries drugs or alcohol.
- Teen #2: The teen who will experiment and stop, or continue to use occasionally, without significant problems.
- Teen #3: The teen that experiments, continues using and develops a dependency, causing significant harm to themselves and others
For those parents fortunate enough to have a Teen #1; congratulations. But read on, you WILL encounter a parent with teen #2 or #3 and you will want to offer words of wisdom. For the rest of us, there should be 1 question you should be asking yourself: “What do I do, if my child is using drugs or alcohol?” (Teen #2 or #3)
First of all, if you are aware of your teen experimenting with drugs and alcohol, a full-blown intervention may not be in order, but definitely a nice talk is overdue. Tell them you are concerned, maybe they can shed some additional light on the situation and you can discuss things like peer pressure, etc. If your teen is unwilling to talk, let them now you are concerned and there has been a violation of trust, therefore things will be changing. This might be the time to enlist a professional to talk to your teen. Maybe they aren’t comfortable talking about the issue of drugs and alcohol with their parents. If this isn’t the first time you have heard of your teen using drugs or alcohol, it’s time to intervene before serious consequences may occur.
Putting aside reasons for experimentation and factors contributing to abuse, let’s focus on interventions to the problem. Here are some tips, in no particular order:
- As parents, it is important that we keep our cool. Whatever the reason our child has chosen this route, we may or may not ever know, but the fact remains, that it is our responsibility to engage from here on out. So this is the time to put aside differences, opinions, blame, and resentments, and make this a priority.
- Enlist a professional. You will need a LICENSED counselor to assist your teen, and your family to work through the many issues that will develop over the next months. Anger, mistrust, betrayal, anxiety and depression will all rear their heads. Find a counselor with the following licensing credentials: LCSW, LCP, LCDC. Remember, this person needs to show you that he or she has experience in the area of adolescents, substance abuse, and families.
- Your teen does not live in a bubble, and unless you are providing him with drugs and alcohol, he’s getting it from somewhere. This is not the time to play detective, and find out his source of drugs and alcohol, but it IS the time to become aware of the friends who he socializes with, and figure out who is a positive influence and who is not. Supervision is key. Remember, he has broken your trust. You may have loosened the leash (so to speak) in the past because you want your teen to be more independent, but it might be time to reel them in a little. Be sure you know WHERE they are at all times, WHO they are with, and DON’T let them be anywhere without supervision, at least until the issue is under control. Trust will need to be regained, and the counselor you enlisted can help you get back to trusting your child again.
- Time to take a look in the mirror. When you seek out a counselor, they will urge you to take a deep look into what’s going on at home. How is your marriage? Has there been a divorce? Are you struggling with your own substance abuse issues? Have you mis-prioritized things? Are you over stressed? Overworked? In a recent study by Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology at Indiana University and published in the Journal of Drug & Alcohol Dependence, “…parental separation predicts early substance involvement that is not explained by parental alcoholism nor associated family background characteristics”. Translation, teenagers whose parents are detached and preoccupied may be at increased risk for drug and alcohol involvement, even when alcoholism and abuse doesn’t run in the family. Here is another study that states “children develop expectations and norms about alcohol use during the elementary school years…”.
- Take inventory. You have made this issue a priority; now begin to look around you for support. Who can you trust? Who will be on board for this ride? Who might need to go? Then move to friends and family in the community. As a parent, you will need social support more than ever. Don’t hesitate to look online at other resources and places for support. Read and research keywords like teen substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and successful treatments. Make sure you seek out reputable sites such as:
It is evident that doing nothing about teenage drug/alcohol abuse can lead to terrible outcomes. At the same time, meeting the problem head on can be a stressful and oftentimes isolating event in a parent and teen’s life.
If you feel you are ready to tackle this task, call (210-481-3727) us at Pace Counseling and we would be glad to point you in the right direction.