Prevention & Support
Preventing Teen Drug Abuse
By Mark Reynolds, Addiction Specialist
Teen drug abuse is becoming an increasingly large problem with today's kids, and a parent should never neglect it as one of his or her main concerns. Unfortunately, many parents make the mistake of assuming that their children will never get involved with drugs. This might allow parents to completely underestimate the importance of taking steps to prevent teen drug abuse and talking to their teens about it. Because 1 in 10 adolescents will try illicit drugs at least once between the ages of 12 and 17 (according to SAMHSA), it is imperative that parents begin learning to prevent teen drug abuse.
The first step in preventing teen drug abuse is paying attention. Becoming attentive is crucial in preventing these issues. You may already feel as if you pay enough attention to your children, but be on the lookout for particular behavior. Don't assume that your teens are using drugs, but stay alert. It's also important to know the signs of drug use, watch who your teen hangs around with, periodically check their bedrooms, keep an eye on grades in school and work performance, keep tabs on them when they're not at home or school, and more. You can get a pretty good idea of what is going on or what path a teen is heading down just by staying on top of their activities.
It's also very important to be a role model to your teen. Whether you realize it or not, teens watch what their parents do, and a lot of times, they mimic their parents' actions. Refraining from drinking excessively in front of your teens is essential, as well as avoiding illegal drug use altogether. Even if you're making sure that you're doing these things, never laugh or joke about drug use. Implying that drug use is funny or normal with your teen is detrimental to his/her viewpoint on the issue.
What's equally important as well is making sure that your teen is occupied and has hobbies. Many teens make the mistake of using illegal drugs simply because they were bored at the time, or they had nothing better to do. Encourage your teen to get involved in school activities, and always make it a point to do things as a family. This is especially crucial if your teen complains a lot about being bored.
Complimenting your teen can really do a world of good in preventing teen drug abuse as well. Teens that do drugs tend to carry low self esteems due to feeling as if there's nothing better for them to do. They may even feel as if they must use illegal drugs to "fit in" with others socially. Building your teen's self esteem up and giving them positive reinforcement can actually counteract this mentality and significantly strengthen prevention efforts. With a lot of confidence, a teen will probably feel as if they are too good for drugs or they don't need to rely on them to "fit in."
Being honest with your teens will also help out in preventing drug use. Don't avoid talking to your teen about drugs and don't beat around the bush when it comes to the reality of drug use. To really get the conversation rolling, you can ask them what they already know about drugs and discuss the realistic effects of drug use. Be sure to touch on psychological, physical, and the social effects. For example, you could choose to explain the gruesome side effects that accompany crystal methamphetamine addiction. To name a few, crystal methamphetamine addiction can cause poor skin condition, erectile dysfunction, heart complications, high risk for stroke, high risk for heart attacks, and so much more. Be sure to imply that drug use ultimately entails jail time or death as well. Because teens might not be aware of the severity of illegal drug use, it's imperative to open their eyes to the ultimate results of using drugs. You can even lightly note statistics in your conversation to give your teen a more practical perspective.
Prevention is most effective when you are also aware of the warning signs of drug use. For example, teens that using drugs might exhibit warning signs, such as extreme weight loss or weight gain, strange mood swings, aggressive or negative behavior, fatigue or excessive energy, and more. Specifically, these could be warning signs of crystal meth addiction or another serious addiction and they should not be ignored. Is your teen "acting right?" Changes in personality are often huge indicators of drug abuse.
Additionally, traits such as sudden disrespect for authority, memory loss, shortened attention span, laziness, loss of interest in once-loved activities, and poor performance in school or work are all major signs of teen drug abuse. These traits can also signify a crystal meth addiction or other serious drug addiction, and they should not be taken lightly. If you notice these signs, there is still time to act appropriately. Talk to your child about their sudden changes in personality or work ethics. They might even have an innocent reason for their actions.
It's also extremely crucial not to confuse these traits with normal stages and phases of adolescence. The warning signs of drug abuse and the normal stages of "growing up" share a lot of similarities. Your child could just be experiencing rebellious behavior or mood swings that are somewhat typical and natural when adolescents grow up. However, a teen that exhibits several of the warning signs for drug use has a pretty bold chance of being responsible for using drugs. If you find that your teen is exhibiting several of the warning signs, don't hesitate to talk to him/her. Your child could really be struggling with a drug problem and he or she may be desperate for help.
Realistically, drug abuse can lead to addiction. Many parents view drug use as an ordinary struggle with their children, but it's not often considered that their actions could lead them down a dangerous path with virtually no return. Of course, some teens will use drugs once and never try them again, but for others, the first time can be the beginning to a lifelong struggle. This is why it's imperative to implement effective teen drug abuse prevention.
You may even have a sneaking suspicion that your teen is using drugs, and you aren't sure how to go about handling it or stopping it before it gets serious. One of the first actions to take to prevent excessive drug abuse is to stop supplying your teen with money. If your child absolutely needs the money, then it's reasonable to give it to his or her. However, for the time being, do not give your child any money to go out to eat, go to the movies, buy clothes, etc. Instead, try to go along on shopping trips or pay for movie tickets by yourself.
Your next plan of action should be to give your teen a random drug test. It's not a good idea to threaten them with the drug test or let them know that you're planning on giving one. Simply surprise them with it and do not allow them to get out of taking it.
Additionally, if you are struggling with your teen sneaking out at night, incorporate the use of an alarm system. This will provide extra resistance against your teen trying to leave at night. If you do decide to try out an alarm system, make sure there are no loop holes in the configuration that would make it easy for your teen to leave at night.
If your independent efforts in controlling your teen's drug use do not succeed, it may eventually be time to consider some sort of drug treatment and extra help for your child. It could be possible that your teen would be more capable of ceasing drug abuse through the help of a rehabilitation center or some sort of medication. Seeking drug treatment should never be too far away from your solutions to your teen's drug problem, but it should never be one of the first. If your teen is experiencing a major struggle with his/her drug problem, drug treatment is definitely recommended.
Rehabilitation facilities can offer the teaching of skills to help teens steer clear of drugs and avoid going back to them or "relapsing." In addition to helping teens out with these basic skills, rehab facilities offer help with building their personalities back up as well as mental states. Some facilities might even host events or weekend activities to help get teens active once again and interested in things other than drugs.
Overall, prevention is most important when it comes to handling the issue of drugs and substance abuse among teenagers. There are literally tons of things that you can do as a parent to help ensure that your teen does not get involved with the wrong crowd or illegal activities. It's definitely a lot easier to take precautions in prevention than to later discover down the road that your teen is addicted to drugs. There is an old adage that states, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," and this is especially true with the growing issue with teen drug abuse.
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