Substance Use and Abuse in Teens – How to identify experimentation, exploration and red flag issues

 In Health, Teens

Interventions and open communication with your teen

The best approach to have with teens with regards to substance use/abuse and identifying if this is a serious problem or just experimentation is, NEVER PANIC! Intervention and open communication require non-alarmist action. We are raising children in a world where drug (both legal and illegal), tobacco and alcohol procurement, use and abuse are inherent and needs to be confronted almost daily. There is only one way to act and this is in a sensible and responsible manner, while trying to understand what the underlying causes are, and whether there are red flag issues.

In the majority parents hope and wish that their children will never, ever, attempt to take a sip of beer or inhale on a joint. The realities are that eight in ten children at least try these and other substances before they even graduate high school. This ‘testing’ is often as a part of exploring their adolescent-hood, but a small portion of teens break away from experimentation and into full-on abuse. Generally this is because of underlying problems and perceptions that they are unable to deal with positively on a mental or emotional level.

Some truly frightening research results tell us that as many as 50% of all teens have tested an illegal drug before graduation from high school. 80% have taken alcohol and 65% will smoke cigarettes. Still, this is no cause for alarm – no matter how alarming these percentages may seem. There is a clear distinction between substance users and substance abusers. These research percentages represent ‘users’! Substance use takes place without the disruption of everyday life, while abuse is what it is.

The answer to the difference between use and abuse lies not in the abuse of the substance of preference, but actually in the teen, and this is how we identify use as apposed to abuse. Catch the child smoking a joint after having finished a 7 page, A+ Grade Essay on DH Lawrence’s mother fixation, and they are more than likely just experimenting.

Abuse is the way a teen relates to what is gong on in their lives. They have an inability to express positive values and no matter how supportive a family situation is, emotional problems such as depression can still arise. Although in the majority of cases, substance abuse offers an escape from what the teen perceives to be an untenable situation. High risk factors such as poverty, antisocial peers, lack of familial support, low self-esteem, sexual or physical abuse, powerlessness, sub-par social conditions and other less than ideal factors contribute to the abuse. The good news is that 70% of teens in less than perfect social environments don’t become substance abusers, while they are actually at higher risk.

Parents need to help their teens grow a tough resistance to the presence of substances and their use or abuse. They can discuss this freely, but be comforted by the fact that trying a substance does not mean it is going to become part of their teens’ life. If parents focus on developing strong confidence and social skills in teens, as well as establishing boundaries, they can relax safe in the knowledge that they have equipped their teens should the need to experiment arise; to do so with responsibility and values.

Parents have an important role to play with regards to substance abuse and its prevention/intervention in teens. The strongest possible weapons in their arsenal in the fight against substance abuse are fostering healthy attitudes. The more supported, educated, loved and cared for children are, means they are already attending the very best substance abuse prevention program.

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