Teen drug and alcohol use is more common than most parents would like to believe. 70.8 percent of all high school students admit to trying alcohol at least once, according to a 2011 Centers for Disease Control study. In the same study, 39.9 percent of high school students said they have tried marijuana, 8.2 percent stated they had tried ecstasy and 6.8 percent indicated that they had tried cocaine.
Instead of just lamenting the downfall of youth and talking these statistics to mean that teens using drugs and alcohol is an unavoidable inevitability, parents should be proactive, not only teaching their children of the dangers of drug and alcohol use, but also responding appropriately if they find that their once-innocent children have already tried an intoxicant. The way in which parents respond to finding out that their teens aren’t strangers to drugs and alcohol can play an important part in determining whether their teens continue to use and abuse these chemicals.
Lock up Drugs and Alcohol
Parents who know that their teens have begun dabbling in drug and alcohol use should take extra caution with alcohol and RX drugs they keep in their own homes. These parents should lock up any prescription medications – even if they have no reason to believe that the child has tried these medications, once teens start experimenting with getting high a habit, they may be willing experiment with drugs they had never before considered, warns Empowering Parents.
Parents should also closely monitor alcohol they keep in the home – if possible, putting this alcohol under lock and key. While placing these intoxicants where teens can’t access them won’t ensure that the teens don’t get drugs or alcohol through other means, it does prevent acquisition of these items from being so easy, potentially reducing the likelihood that a merely-experimenting teen uses chemicals at home. It also prevents teens from accessing these drugs or alcohol and distributing them to friends for recreational use.
Though teens are often hesitant to share details of their lives with their parents, parents are within their rights to ask their teens about their drug and alcohol use. Parents should speak to their teens, telling them that they know that the teens have tried these intoxicants. They should follow this statement up with a discussion of the topic, asking their children questions about their drug and alcohol use. To make these questioning sessions as effective as possible, parents should avoid placing blame or threatening to punish their teens, as teens will logically refuse to be honest with their parents if they are being threatened with punishments. Parents should instead approach their teens from the standpoint of wanting to help them, telling their teens that they are worried about them and that they just want to help. When asking questions, parents should actively listen to teen’s responses to make it feel less like an inquisition and more like a discussion.
Parents shouldn’t assume that their teens know that they aren’t supposed to be using drugs. If they don’t have set rules prohibiting the use of drugs or alcohol, parents should establish these rules immediately, speaking to their teens about the dangers of using these substances when they lay down the rules for these likely-reluctant kids. When composing these rules, parents should set clear consequences for rule violation, as rules without attached consequences are largely unenforceable. While teens will likely rebel against these rules – as they largely do against all rules – parents can improve the likelihood that their teens accept the new guidelines willingly by clearly stating to their teens that these rules are intended to keep them safe. If and when teens break these drug and alcohol use rules, parents should enforce the consequences with consistency, reminding teens each time that the rules are in place to keep them safe and that they aren’t going anywhere. If teens continue to violate the house rules on drug and alcohol use, parents should increase the consequences, making them more firm and clearly communicating to teens that use of these intoxicants will not be tolerated.
Cut off Cash
For teens to use drugs and alcohol habitually, they will need money to purchase these intoxicants. Parents who worry that their teens are using these substances regularly can potentially disrupt their teens’ use of these items by cutting off access to cash. Parents who regularly hand out cash for trips to the movies or the mall can either stop this practice all together, telling their teens they will go to the mall with them, or purchase gift cards that will at least somewhat limit how the teen uses the funds – though this doesn’t eliminate the possibility that teens will sell the gift cards for cash and use this cash to purchase the drugs or alcohol they desire. Parents whose teens have jobs are more limited in their ability to control their teens’ behaviors through finances, but they can keep close eyes on their teens bank accounts, if the accounts are joint, and speak to the teens about any increases they notice in withdrawals from these accounts.
Not all children who try drugs or alcohol need help. Many will experiment once or twice and quickly decide that substance abuse isn’t for them. Some children, however, descend rapidly into the world of substance abuse. If parents know or suspect that that their children are using drugs and/or alcohol regularly, getting help might be best, recommends the Ocala/Marion Country Community Council Against Substance Abuse. The longer parents allow their children to continue their misuse of drugs and alcohol, the harder it will be to break them of these habits. Parents who suspect that their children are using or abusing drugs or alcohol should speak with their children’s primary care doctors regarding their concerns, as these medical professionals can advise them on the appropriate course of action.
Hold an Intervention
When teen’s drug and alcohol use advances from one or two recreational uses to regular drug or alcohol consumption, parents must intervene, reminds The Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Instead of waiting for drug and alcohol use to become severe, parents should intervene early, recommends this source, as early intervention is the most effective way to control a drug or alcohol dependency problem. To stage an effective intervention, parents must speak to their teens when the teens are neither drunk nor high. The parents should also avoid speaking to the teens when they are angry. Parents must prepare for these interventions, gathering evidence to support the validity of their concerns as, without this evidence, convincing teens that their drug and alcohol use is problematic may be very difficult.
Whether pressured by their peers or just eager to learn what all the hype is about, children can and do commonly experiment with drugs and alcohol. It is important that parents remember that just because their children have tried these intoxicants it doesn’t mean that they will continue using. By responding firmly and appropriately upon learning that their children have experimented with intoxicants, parents can reduce the likelihoods that their teens make drug and alcohol use a pattern of behavior.