Teen Drug Abuse: Understanding Signs and How to Intervene

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As a parent, you want nothing more than to see your children succeed. Having teens who experiment with drugs is disappointing, especially since they put their health, safety, and future at risk. Although teens’ use of illegal drugs (other than marijuana and inhalants) is now the lowest in history, 24 percent of young men and women still use them for recreational purposes.

Why do teens abuse drugs?

Several factors contribute to teen drug abuse. Insecurity and longing for social acceptance are among the most common reasons. Look at it this way: we ourselves were once teenagers who often felt invincible and almost never considered the consequences of our actions. Our teens are living and breathing the same mindset, which leads some of them to take dangerous risks — such as using legal or illegal drugs.

What are the common risk factors for teen drug abuse?

A teenager has higher chances of abusing drugs if he or she has:

  • A family history of substance abuse
  • Difficulties with feelings of social rejection
  • A history of impulsive behavior
  • Low self-esteem
  • A mental or behavioral health condition, including depression, anxiety or attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • An account of traumatic events, such as being a victim of abuse or experiencing a life-changing accident

What are the consequences of teen drug abuse?

The negative effects of teen drug abuse might include:

  • A weakened immune system
  • Serious health problems, such as heart failure, respiratory distress, and seizures
  • Nausea and abdominal pain, which can lead to changes in appetite and weight loss
  • Impaired driving that may lead to accidents
  • Increased sexual activity and practice of unsafe sex
  • Concentration problems, mental confusion, and brain damage
  • Complete drug dependence causing psychotic behavior

How do I talk to my teen about drug abuse?

The best time to sit your teen down and discuss drug abuse is when interruptions are unlikely. Then:

  • Ask for his or her views on drugs. Avoid lectures and listen to your teen’s opinions about harmful medications. Assure them they can be honest with you.
  • Discuss reasons not to use drugs. Avoid scare tactics. Instead, emphasize how drug use can affect and destroy important things to your teen, such as their appearance, ability to drive, do sports, date, and live a healthy life.
  • Talk about ways to resist peer pressure. Discuss with your teen how they can turn down drug offers from peers.
  • Be ready to share your own experience with drugs. Consider how you’ll respond if your teen asks about your history with drug use. If you never abused drugs, explain why. If you had used drugs, be open about what the experience taught you and how you managed to change for the better.

What are the preventive strategies?

Consider these ways to prevent teen drug abuse or a possible relapse:

  • Be on top of your teen’s activities
  • Establish strict rules and consequences for using drugs
  • Keep an eye on any prescription drugs he or she may have or need
  • Know your teen’s friends and be mindful of bad influences
  • Set a good example and don’t abuse drugs yourself
  • Give your support at all cost

Teen Drug Abuse: Moving Forward

If your teenager admits to abusing drugs, let them know you’re disappointed and enforce the consequences you’ve established. Speak calmly and show you are coming from a place of worry. Share concrete details to back up your suspicions, which will make it difficult for your teen to deny the situation. Remember, assure them they can be 100 percent honest with you. And going forward, spend more time with your teen and keep a watchful eye on his or her whereabouts and activities.
When your son or daughter is ready to make a change and seek treatment, help them locate a doctor, therapist, treatment program, or support group. Call 1–800–662–HELP to find the care and assistance your child needs.