Teen substance abuse is extremely common, and it’s a serious issue. According to a recent survey conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), more than 7,800 people in the US begin using illicit drugs every day and more than half are under the age of 18. As a parent, finding out your teenager is using drugs or drinking can be scary, extremely stressful, and can have you end up feeling extremely helpless.
As the teenage brain is growing, it is wired to be curious and seek out new experiences. It’s in a constant state of development, meaning it can adapt to addictive substances more quickly than the adult brain.Teen brains also have a mature reward system. They feel pleasure and pain in ways similar to adults, but the decision-making areas of the brain are immature. Thus, teens are more likely to act on impulses or emotions and less likely to fully assess situations.
Gateway Drugs To Teen Substance Abuse
The reward system works by releasing a small amount of a chemical called dopamine in the brain. Dopamine makes us feel happy. It’s naturally released to reward basic behaviors necessary to survival such as eating, exercising or having sex. Other behaviors that teens find pleasurable, such as playing sports, listening to music or socializing, cause small dopamine releases. However, when drug or alcohol use increases, a surge of dopamine floods the brain. This can cause teens to repeat the same destructive behaviors impulsively over and over again.
As teen substance abuse has gone up, the most popular drugs that teens use haven’t changed much for the past five decades. Alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco consistently rank among the top substances among use, however there are still others that may come into play as these substances can typically be a “gateway drug,” to other more harmful substances. The packaging of advertisements for alcoholic energy drinks, electronic cigarettes, and synthetic marijuana are designed to appeal to those who are young.
However, as a parent looking for credible substance abuse resources, it can be overwhelming to do an internet search when you don’t know the first place to start. To cut the confusion and get straight to the point, we’ve put a list together to help you handle teen substance abuse.
Come From A Loving Place
Parents shouldn’t overreact if their teen comes clean about using drugs. It may be natural to become angry and lose trust. However, remember that just because you’ve lost trust in them, doesn’t mean your teen has lost trust in you. Overreacting or lashing out can prevent a teen from opening up about their experience. Getting teens to talk is important to determine if their drug use was a one-time thing or if it’s becoming a problem. Parents should explain how they care about their child and the child’s future. Teens who feel supported and loved are also more likely to stop experimenting with drugs or seek help if they have an addiction. Often, you are only seeing the symptoms—things like changes in hairstyle, dress, broken curfews and trouble at school—not the deeper problems.
Naturally, there is a possibility that teens may lie about their drug use. Parents should reassure their child that they are concerned and want to help. If a teen continues denying using drugs but the parent still suspects untruthfulness, a home drug test or professional help can uncover a teen drug problem. Therapists, pediatricians and addiction specialists can help diagnose a teen drug problem.
Don’t Brush It Off As A Phase
While some adults will excuse teen substance abuse as “experimentation” it is important to remember that nobody sets out to become an alcoholic or an addict. There are times when addiction can begin as social, but escalate beyond just “fun.” As teens grow, they often go through many phases. However, as some stages can be short-term, substance abuse can be a lifelong battle and have permanent consequences. If a teen has already tried quitting or reducing use and failed, then it’s important to receive treatment as soon as possible.
Be Prepared For A Family Change
Maybe treatment is the answer, maybe it isn’t. However, addiction can be considered as a family disease and if treatment is required, be prepared to adjust your home life for your newly sober teen. Treatment professionals may work with you to create effective communication, boundaries, and counseling sessions for your child. Making informed decisions with your co-parent and should be a priority so that your teen can get the best help possible and create a solid foundation of recovery for your child.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
Just because your teen may be abusing substances doesn’t mean that you’re a bad parent. Even great parents have children who struggle with substance abuse. For some teens, anti-drug messages or programs like D.A.R.E are not enough to keep them from the temptation of alcohol and drugs. Each teen makes the decision to use or not. Educate yourself and don’t beat yourself up. Fortunately, there are adolescent treatment centers with family programs that are designed to educate on teen substance abuse and to promote a healthy recovery.
Get Yourself Some Help
Dealing with your teenagers substance abuse can be overwhelming and stressful on a parent. While helping your teenager, it is equally important to help yourself by talking to a professional in the field and even attending a support group with other parents who are dealing with the same issues. There is no shame for getting help for yourself and your child. The more support through these times, the better.