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Teens, Alcohol and Drugs

Do you know how widespread under-age drinking is in the United States? Alcohol and drug use are a serious issue with teens today. Alcohol seems to be the drug of choice for an estimated 10.8 million teenagers. When asked where they get their alcohol, teens report getting it from adults. Alcohol is easy to obtain for our youth. In a recent survey,* 40 percent of kids ages 12 – 20 who drank in the past month reported obtaining alcohol at no cost from someone 21 years of age or older.

Marijuana is the most widely used illegal drug among America’s youth;* 42 percent of 12th graders report having tried it at least once. How safe is your medicine cabinet? Everyday 2,500 teenagers abuse a painkiller for the first time. Teens abuse prescription drugs more than any illicit drug except marijuana.

Why do youth drink or use drugs? Teens drink or use drugs for several different reasons, but here are six common ones:

  1. It is easy to get. Friends, older siblings, or even parents may be the supplier. Kids have been known to raid a parent’s liquor bar, steal from the store, or “shoulder tap” an adult to buy it for them.
  2. Teenagers want to fit in. Teens want to be seen as being cool. They may begin to experiment because of the pressure placed on them from peers, parents, grades, popularity, college and career demands, or the pressure to be successful.
  3. Teens see the example set by the adults in their lives. Drinking is pervasive in our culture and it is glorified. Just watch the TV ads during a sports game, you’ll get the idea. Also, many adults use prescription medications like tranquilizers or sleeping pills and their kids witness this as a way to mask the pain.
  4. It makes kids feel important. Drugs falsely empower kids. They feel big and grown- up and mature. Some may use drugs to rebel against the values of their parents. They might brag and feel “cool” if they have tried a variety of substances.
  5. Boredom. If a teenager lacks specific or clear goals, he or she may feel a sense of futility and turn to alcohol or drugs.
  6. Self-medication. If a teen is suffering inside emotionally, he or she may turn to drinking or drugs to help mask the pain or to reduce symptoms of depression, helplessness, anxiety or unresolved emotional distress.
What Can Parents Do?
  1. Be informed on drug and alcohol issues facing teens today. Parents can help the most by not ignoring the problem and being educated about the current trends in drug use.
  2. Educate yourself and your kids about the potential negative effects of teen drug and alcohol use. Give honest information, not scare tactics. A good place to start: The harmful effects of alcohol/drug use on the developing teen brain. Educating your child on the risks involved may ward off more serious problems.
  3. Know the warning signs of drug use. Some of these include changes in behavior, friends, or school performance. Have the insight and courage to take action if a problem needs to be addressed.
  4. Keep the lines of communication open with your child. This needs to begin well before there is a problem. Always be your child’s ally. If you treat your teen like the enemy, please get professional help! In counseling, you can learn healthy communication skills, boundaries, and work to strengthen your relationship with your teen.
  5. Dialogue your values. Let your child know how you feel about drug usage and ask your teens what they think. It may be different than your opinion, so sit tight, bite your tongue, and let them have their say. Have patience and listen. Let them know that you will always be available for your child.
  6. Encourage activities outside of the home. Teens need to be involved so they can develop a sense of belonging to a peer group in addition to their family. It keeps them active and they develop skills and other interests. Encourage their involvement in sports, music, arts, social clubs or groups.
  7. Connect as a family. Have meals together, set a game night or go for a family walk. Engage with your children-get involved at school, watch their activities, meet their friends and friend’s parents, and provide opportunities for them to hang-out at your house.
  8. Take action if you suspect there is a problem. Most kids experiment with alcohol or drug use, but this can lead to more serious problems. Do what you need to protect your child. Talk with them. If your child begins to develop a serious drug and/or alcohol problem, take action: get counseling for your teen, restrict privileges such as driving and computer use, and consider drug testing. Don’t bury your head and hope it will go away…it will get worse. You may also need counseling for yourself so not to enable your teens and to set boundaries, limits and consequences effectively.
  9. If your teen is regularly abusing alcohol/drugs, don’t sit back and hope the problem will get better on its own. Ask for help! Remember that you are the adult and need to take the lead. Stay calm when you address the problem. Anger, blame, shame and hostility will push your teen away.
  10. State the behavioral facts that you are seeing. For example, “Billy, we need to have a serious talk. Last night you came home with alcohol on your breath again and last week we found a bottle of vodka in your closet. Your grades have dropped and I am concerned.”
  11. Communicate the seriousness of what is taking place calmly. Send a clear message letting your teen know that you are there to help. Help your child link the negative impact that drug use is having on his or her life.
  12. Get professional help if needed. Contact your child’s pediatrician and let him or her know what is going on. Call health professionals like a counselor for support and guidance.
  13. Consider a 12-Step Program for your teen and your family. There are AA and Al-Anon meetings daily in nearly every city. Visit various meetings to find the one that feels right for you.