Teen Substance Abuse:  How Not to Be an Enabling Parent

Teen Substance Abuse

Parents of teens have a lot more to worry about these days than they would have a few decades ago.  Today, teen substance abuse seems almost normal and even expected to some degree.

But, that doesn’t mean it’s okay.

Adolescents are naturally curious and tend toward risk-taking behavior.  They are also vulnerable and susceptible to peer pressure and the examples set by their favorite celebrities, family members, and friends.  Social media, movies, and music often promote substance abuse as the best way to be popular and have fun.

But, a parent can’t control everything and everyone our teens come into contact with daily.  So, what are some things a parent can do to help their teens stay clean and sober? Here are a few suggestions for not being an enabling parent.

Know the Dangers and Effects of Teen Substance Abuse

Do you know how drugs and alcohol affect an adolescent’s brain?  The repercussions of teen substance abuse can cause permanent damage to their brain.  This damage can manifest as decreased cognitive abilities leading to failing grades and inability to stay gainfully employed.

Addictive substances produce euphoria by flooding the brain with dopamine, which controls feelings of pleasure and pain.  After repeated use of the substance, the person’s brain is no longer capable of producing dopamine and creates cravings for more of the substance.  The absence of dopamine can cause depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, mood swings, and more.

Teens are more at risk for damage to the brain because their brain is not fully developed.  A fully developed brain contains a fatty substance called myelin. Myelin insulates brain cells (neurons), helping messages to travel, like electricity.  But, a teen’s brain does not contain enough of the protective myelin, making them more susceptible to the effects of drugs or alcohol.

Don’t Be a Hypocrite:  Set an Example of Sobriety

Many parents are guilty of having several prescription medications in the medicine cabinet.  Usually these meds consist of sleep aids, anxiety meds, depression meds, and maybe several different painkillers.  If you teens sees that you can’t get through the day without a combination of prescription drugs, what message do you think they get?  It’s not effective to tell them not to do something you yourself are doing daily. Although you aren’t taking them with the intention to get high, the message you’re sending is that pills are a necessary part of life.

If you or your spouse drink alcohol, keep it to a minimum and don’t drink in front of your teen.  It’s also a good idea to keep the substances locked away just as a precaution. It’s no secret that a teenager is curious and can be tempted to experiment with your alcoholic beverages if they are easily accessible.

Be an Active Part of Your Teen’s Life

Many teens turn to drugs or alcohol because they are bored or looking for some fun.  Usually, these kids get home from school and spend several hours alone until their parents get off work.  If liquor or prescriptions medications are available, they may decide to try some just for the heck of it.  Parent’s can prevent this behavior by finding ways for their teen to be in some type of after-school program where they can socialize with people their age.

You can also spend family time with your adolescent child doing things each of you enjoy.  When your child sees that everyone can have a great time without being high, it reinforces their ability to resist drugs or alcohol.

Know who your child’s friends are and get to know the friends’ parents.  In this way, you have some back-up and support if the teens are not home on time.  Teenagers are well-known for telling parents that they will be at a specific friend’s house, but in reality, they are somewhere else altogether.  If you know the parents of the teen in question, you can feel more comfortable about calling to check.

Most parents don’t intend to set a bad example for their child.  But, in a society that accepts social drinking as the focal point of many activities, it’s not hard to become part of that scenario. We often forget that we lead by example.

Teen substance abuse is at record proportions today.  The number of overdoses and deaths is staggering. More than 4,235 teens died from drug overdoses in one year, according to NIDA for Teens.

If you would like more information about teen substance abuse, contact us at Awakenings today.

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