One out of every four Americans with drug addiction issues reports that they started their addictive behaviors as teenagers, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Despite increased awareness of the dangers, teen drug abuse and addiction levels remain at epidemic levels. However, there are steps you can take to help teens break the cycle of drug abuse before it becomes a lifelong struggle.
Why Teen Drug Abuse is an Epidemic
If your teen is struggling with drug abuse or drug addiction, research shows they aren’t the only one. According to DrugFree.org, one in every ten people over the age 12 has a drug or alcohol problem, and roughly 600,000 college students are injured while under the influence of alcohol every year.
Teen drug abuse remains an epidemic for many reasons, but a large one has to do with increased accessibility. Alcohol and drugs are now more available than ever with more than 50% of children having had their first drink by the age of 15. This is a worrying statistic, especially given that children who start drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to develop a drug or alcohol problem later in life than people who waited until their 21st birthday.
Along with increased accessibility, there is new research that suggests teens starting with so-called “safe drugs” are likely to experiment with more addictive drugs like heroin and cocaine. Biology also plays a role in the teen drug epidemic because the teenage brain is still developing, especially the parts of it dealing with rational decision making. Consequently, some teens may like illogical or irrational choices despite being aware of the possible consequences.
What Drives Teens to Experiment with Drugs
Some teens are tempted to use drugs by simply being around family members and friends who do so on a regular basis. Easy access to prescription painkillers that a family member may be taking and even some over-the-counter medications can also convince teens to experiment. Peer pressure and depression can also drive teens looking to fit in or escape from sadness, bullying, or a difficult home life to experiment with drugs.
Your genetic makeup also has a big influence on the way you use drugs and alcohol, and family history is actually the single biggest indicator of future problems. If one or more members of your family already suffer from addiction related issues, it’s possible that your child may also be predisposed towards them. Children of alcoholics are between 4 and 10 times more likely to become dependent on alcohol than those who have no family history of alcohol abuse. If that’s the case, it’s a good idea to talk to your child about the risks and dangers and to stay alert for warning signs.
Communication Can Prevent Teen Drug Abuse and Addiction
If you’ve never had “the talk” with your kids, it’s worth knowing that prevention is always better than cure. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence states in their Facts for Parents resource that children who learn about the risks of drugs and alcohol from their parents are up to 50% less likely to use them. Having an open and honest conversation with your kids could help prevent drug addiction problems in the future.
Starting the conversation about drug abuse with your teen can be difficult. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids provides the following recommendations:
- Put yourself in your teen’s shoes
- Be clear about your goals
- Stay positive
- Avoid lecturing
- Find a comfortable setting
- Be aware of your body language
Learn more on how to talk to your teens about drugs in the video below.
Drug Abuse Warning Signs Parents Should Look For
While prevention is important, drug addiction can still occur, even if you’ve done everything right. Many parents worry that the prevalence of drugs and alcohol will put their children at risk. If you are concerned that your son or daughter might already be hiding an alcohol or drug problem, the NCADD offers a comprehensive list of warning signs to look out for, including:
- Physical health indicators, including bloodshot eyes and frequent nosebleeds
- Behavioral indicators, such as declining grades, stealing or unusual demands for privacy
- Psychological indicators, such as unexplained personality changes, lack of motivation and anxiety
Keeping this comprehensive list of warning signs in mind, there are some more specific and common warning signs of drug use to look out for, including:
- Getting more or less sleep than usual
- Missing money from wallets and purses
- Prescriptions running out sooner than expected
- Secrecy or vagueness about activities
- Changes in appetite (includes over-eating and under-eating)
- Cryptic conversations (stopping conversations when somebody is around or texting in code when they never did so before)
- Finding drug paraphernalia
Parents are also advised to watch out for withdrawal signs, which can include agitation, mood swings, neglecting other activities and physical symptoms such as sweating, shaking, and vomiting. Withdrawal can be extremely dangerous and should be managed by a trained medical professional.
How to Discuss Drug Abuse Concerns with Teens
Remain calm while discussing your initial concerns with your teen. Realize that there may be denial or accusations that you’re violating their privacy. However, your support does matter and studies show that teens are more influenced by their parents than they may be willing to admit.
It’s really important to let your children know that they can come to you with issues like this and be listened to without judgment. After all, these are issues that are most likely beyond their control, and if they can’t turn to a trusted adult to help them through difficult times in their lives, there’s a chance they’ll turn to something much more damaging instead.
Professional Drug Abuse and Support for Your Teen
If you know or suspect that your son or daughter is using drugs or alcohol, it’s important to know that you’re not alone and there is a lot of support out there to help your family get through this difficult challenge. Start by finding an affiliate in your local area to see what support they can offer you and get in touch with services that can help your child get back on track. Professional addiction counselors can also help your teen acknowledge a problem with drug abuse or addiction while providing the resources necessary to start down the road to recovery.
Is your teen or someone you love suffering drug abuse or addiction? Call our Addiction Advisors for guidance: 1-800-259-1361.