Many teens experiment with drugs and alcohol at some point in their lives. When limited to “soft” substances and short-term experimentation, the experience can be considered “normal” within the North American teen culture. However, drugs and alcohol become serious issues for teens when they find that they cannot control their cravings. Once it has reached this point their behavior falls under the category of drug or substance abuse.
Symptoms of Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Parents should become concerned if they notice the following symptoms in their youngster:
- Frequent red eyes
- Frequently using eye drops
- Frequently feeling unwell
- Drop in academic performance
- Unusual behaviors
- Increase in irritability or irrationality
- Having new friends who have little to do with the child’s normal social activities
- Finding rags or papers soaked with chemicals
- Finding paint or other stains on clothing, hands, or face (which may mean your teen is inhaling vapors)
Types of Substances Most Commonly Abused
- Marijuana- most common
- Crystal meth
- Painkillers such as Codeine, Oxycontin, and Demerol- most common amongst younger teens
- Stimulants such as Ritalin or Dexedrine- most common amongst older teens and college students
- Depressants such a Nembutal, Valium and Xanax
- Cough suppressants such as Nyquil
Household products (effects of which are accessed through inhaling – “huffing”):
- Paint thinner
- Nail polish remover
- Spray paint
- Cleaning fluids
Alcohol and tobacco are also very commonly abused drugs.
Consequences of Substance Abuse
The effects of substance abuse can be severe. Both direct and indirect consequences are possible. For instance, intoxication can lead indirectly to death through motor vehicle accidents that occur while under the influence and intoxication can lead directly to death by causing cardiac arrest. Here is a list of some of the frequent consequences of substance abuse:
- Alcohol and drug abuse is a main cause of teen death or serious injury associated to car accidents
- Violent behavior
- Brain damage
- Unplanned pregnancy and STD’s including HIV’s because of unprotected sex
- Becoming outcast from family, friends and society
- Cardiac arrest
- Financial and relationship issues
Assessment and Treatment Options
Once you suspect that your teen may be abusing substances, you should have him or her professionally assessed. Most localities have a substance abuse hotline that can help you find a substance abuse treatment center and other facilities and resources that can help you. You can also ask your doctor for such a referral. Try to find a professional and/or a facility that specializes in abuse in order to obtain the most accurate assessment and treatment plan. If your teen is found to have a substance abuse disorder, you will probably want to arrange for individual psychological counseling as well as a specific substance abuse treatment plan. Psychological counseling can help your youngster uncover specific stresses that have lead to addiction and can also help him or her learn to manage such stresses in a more healthy way in the future. The substance abuse treatment plan will help him or her to become free of the addiction and maintain sobriety. Here are some common types of substance abuse interventions:
- Outpatient Treatment – There are several different treatments that fall under this category. Intensive outpatient (IOP) treatments are treatment programs that are usually two to four hours every evening for four or five days a week. Another is partial hospitalization and day treatment which involves the addict going to a treatment facility during the day and be a part of the rules of the treatment and then go home at night.
- 12-step programs- Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous are popular self help programs which involve 12 steps to overcoming addictions
- Non 12-step programs– There are other self help programs that do not involve 12 steps such as Rational Recovery or S.M.A.R.T
- Residential treatment– Residential treatment centers are therapeutic and structured environments that first starts with withdrawal and helps the patient deal with the withdrawal symptoms. This approach usually has both individual and group counseling. It also consists of exercise and other activities that reduce stress such as yoga, and acupuncture
Helping Your Teen
Parents may think that their kids will get the best anti-drug education from programs and school. However, this is not true and recent studies have shown that the most effective type of drug education comes from parents who talk to their kids openly about this issue. The biggest favor a parent can do for their teen is be a good role model.
Other Tips and Important Information for Parents
- Although there is a genetic predisposition to alcoholism and drug abuse, environmental factors (stresses) are what initially trigger these issues.
- Kids who are supervised more often are less likely to do drugs.
- Since teens who feel like they don’t fit in “with the crowd” are more at risk, parents can try to help their isolated teen join structured productive activities to reduce isolation (such as sports, drama clubs, speaking clubs, part-time jobs, creative activities and so on).
- Kids who grow up around heavy drinkers are at risk.
- Family activities can also be preventative (i.e family trips, projects, visiting relatives, home-based activities and so on).
- The public library often contains many colorful, teen-friendly books on every aspect of alcohol and drug abuse – bring such books home sporadically throughout the teen years (just leave them lying around) in order to provide information and to remind your kids of the dangers in substance abuse (without you personally having to lecture them).
Education, a healthy model and effective stress management skills can go a long way toward preventing teen substance abuse. However, parents are not the only factor in this syndrome. Even the best parents cannot necessarily prevent their kids from falling into substance abuse patterns. However, being informed and open-eyed can allow parents to take EARLY steps to help their addicted child. Early intervention will often be faster and more successful than treatment that occurs when addiction is well entrenched. However, even when the child has a more severe case of substance abuse, parents should not despair. Being supportive and part of the recovery process is one way that they can really help set their teen on a healthier, substance-free road for life. Parents whose children are involved in 12 step programs can be supportive by joining the 12 step programs that are specifically designed for family members. Parents whose kids are in therapy can also access therapy for themselves to help reduce any potentially harmful familb-based stress patterns. In other words, the more involvement in the recovery process, the better. Teens can recover from severe substance abuse disorders and go on to live successful, addiction-free lives.