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Parents’ Guide to Teen Substance Use and Abuse

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Among teens, experimentation with drugs and alcohol can seem inevitable. However, this experimentation comes at a cost- slowed growth, negative health effects, participation in risky behaviors, and a higher risk of developing a substance use disorder. According to Project Know, 17.2% of high school students have reported consuming alcohol for the first time before they turned 13 years old. Further research has shown that approximately 50% of teens have misused drugs (prescription or illicit) in the last year.

Parents of teens often feel that they are helpless to counter the temptations, however there are some basic things that can be done to help prepare and protect them from making the wrong choices.


According to CBS News, teens who know their parents disapprove of drug use or underage drinking are less likely to participate. Take the time to talk to your kids before temptation strikes so that they will be prepared. The biggest mistake any parent can make is to wait too long to have this discussion with their kids. Remember- 17.2% of high school students reported consuming alcohol before the age of 13.

Although some parents think that experimentation with drugs and alcohol is no big deal, they should consider the potential costs. Although experimentation doesn’t always lead to addiction, it can, and no one will really know if a person has that potential until it’s too late. Kids should be aware of the risks of addiction, as well as the potential dangers of poor choices due to impaired judgement.

Be honest. If kids ask tough questions, answer them as honestly as possible. They will trust you more if they know you are being truthful. Keep in mind that a smart kid may not necessarily be fully mature. The prefrontal cortex of the bran, which is what is responsible for judgement, doesn’t fully mature until a person is in their mid-20s. This means that teens are susceptible to making bad choices regardless of their IQ.


Many kids use drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with things happening in their life. Being in tune with them will help parents present healthier ways of dealing with and processing life events.

More than two-thirds of teens who abuse substances suffer from mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, and eating disorders. If your child suffers from any of these issues, they have a higher risk factor for substance abuse and addiction.

Family history also contributes to the risk of addiction that individuals face when using drugs or alcohol. If your family has a history of addiction, making your child aware of this trend could help them make better, more informed choices.


Believe it or not, kids notice more than you might realize. The old saying, “More is caught than taught,” bodes well in this instance. If you tell your child one thing and do something contrary, they will likely be confused and not take your word at face value.

Removing Temptation

According to the CDC, one in five teens experiments with prescription drugs at some point in their life, and most teens obtain these drugs from friends and family. For the sake of your teens, as well as visitors, keep track of all drugs kept in your home. Pay attention to any other substances that have a potential for abuse, such as solvents, aerosols, and over-the-counter medications.

Consider locking your medicine cabinet or purchasing a lock box for your medication, and locking any alcohol that might be in your home. According to Paul Michaels, founder and CEO of National Bartender, “Drinking responsibly includes being responsible for your drink.”

Getting Help when Needed

CBS News states that, “Two million children between the ages of 12 and 17 need treatment for a substance abuse problem…. But only about 150,000 get the help they need.” If you suspect that your child is struggling or may have an issue with drugs or alcohol, seek professional help. This could look differently depending on the individual, but talking to a school counselor, trusted teacher, pastor, pediatrician, psychiatrist, counselor, or other experts might help. CBS News says, “Prevention and early intervention are key.”

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