Teens who experiment with drugs put their health and safety at risk. You can help prevent teen drug abuse by talking to your teen about the consequences of using drugs and the importance of making healthy choices.
Why teens abuse drugs
Various factors can contribute to teen drug abuse, from insecurity to a desire for social acceptance. Teens often feel indestructible and might not consider the consequences of their actions, leading them to take dangerous risks — such as abusing legal or illegal drugs.
Common risk factors for teen drug abuse include:
- A family history of substance abuse
- A mental or behavioral health condition, such as depression, anxiety or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Early aggressive or impulsive behavior
- A history of traumatic events, such as experiencing a car accident or being a victim of abuse
- Low self-esteem or poor social coping skills
- Feelings of social rejection
- Lack of nurturing by parents or caregivers
- Academic failure
- Relationships with peers who abuse drugs
- Drug availability or belief that drug abuse is OK
Keep in mind that your teen's risk factors might change over time. Consider reviewing them once a year, such as around your teen's birthday.
Consequences of teen drug abuse
Negative consequences of teen drug abuse might include:
- Impaired driving. Driving under the influence of any drug can impair a driver's motor skills, reaction time and judgment — putting the driver, his or her passengers, and others on the road at risk.
- Sexual activity. Teens who abuse drugs are more likely to have poor judgment, which can result in unplanned and unsafe sex.
- Drug dependence. Teens who abuse drugs are at increased risk of serious drug use later in life.
- Concentration problems. Use of drugs, such as marijuana, might affect a teen's memory, motivation and ability to learn.
- Serious health problems. Ecstasy can cause liver damage and heart failure. High doses of or chronic use of methamphetamine can cause psychotic behavior. Chronic use of inhalants can harm the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys. Abuse of prescription or over-the-counter medications can cause respiratory distress and seizures.
Talking about teen drug abuse
It can be hard to talk to your teen about drug abuse. Start by choosing a comfortable time and setting when you're unlikely to be interrupted. If you're anxious, share your feelings with your teen. You might also consider sharing the responsibility with another nurturing adult in your teen's life.
Here are some tips for talking with your teen about drugs:
- Ask your teen's views. Avoid long, boring lectures. Instead, listen to your teen's opinions and questions about drug use. Observe your teen's nonverbal responses to see how he or she feels about the topic. Encourage your teen to talk by making statements instead of asking questions. For example, saying, "I'm curious about your point of view" might work better than "What do you think?"
- Discuss reasons not to abuse drugs. Avoid scare tactics. Emphasize how drug use can affect things important to your teen — such as sports, driving, health and appearance. Explain that even a teen can develop a drug problem.
- Consider media messages. Some television programs, movies, websites or songs glamorize or trivialize drug use. Talk about what your teen has seen or heard.
- Discuss ways to resist peer pressure. Brainstorm with your teen about how to turn down offers of drugs.
- Be ready to discuss your own drug use. Think ahead about how you'll respond if your teen asks about your own drug use. If you chose not to use drugs, explain why. If you did use drugs, share what the experience taught you.
Don't be afraid that talking about drug abuse will plant ideas in your teen's head. Conversations about drugs won't tempt your teen to try drugs. Instead, talking about drug abuse lets your teen know your views and understand what you expect of him or her.
Other preventive strategies
In addition to talking to your teen, consider other strategies to prevent teen drug abuse:
- Know your teen's activities. Pay attention to your teen's whereabouts. Find out what adult-supervised activities your teen is interested in and encourage him or her to get involved.
- Establish rules and consequences. Make it clear that you won't tolerate drug abuse. Rules might include leaving a party where drug abuse occurs and not riding in a car with a driver who's been using drugs. Agree on the consequences of breaking the rules ahead of time — and enforce them consistently.
- Know your teen's friends. If your teen's friends abuse drugs, your teen might feel pressure to experiment, too. Get to know your teen's friends and their parents.
- Keep an eye on prescription drugs. Take an inventory of all prescription and over-the-counter medications in your home and keep them out of easily accessible places — such as the medicine cabinet. If your teen needs to take prescription medication during school hours, it should be dispensed by the school nurse.
- Provide support. Offer praise and encouragement when your teen succeeds, whether at school or at home. A strong bond between you and your teen might help prevent your teen from abusing drugs.
- Set a good example. Don't abuse drugs yourself.
Recognizing the warning signs of teen drug abuse
Be aware of possible red flags, such as:
- Sudden or extreme change in friends, eating habits, sleeping patterns, physical appearance, coordination or school performance
- Loss of interest in hobbies or family activities
- Hostile or uncooperative attitude
- Secrecy about actions or possessions
- Stealing money or an unexplained need for money
- Medicine containers, despite a lack of illness, or drug paraphernalia in your teen's room
- An unusual chemical or medicine smell on your teen or in your teen's room
Seeking help for teen drug abuse
If you suspect that your teen is abusing drugs, talk to him or her. Avoid accusations. Instead, ask your teen what's going on in his or her life and encourage him or her to be honest.
If your teen admits to abusing drugs, let him or her know that you're disappointed. Enforce the consequences you've established and explain to your teen ways that he or she can help regain your lost trust, such as improving grades.
If you think your teen is involved in significant drug use, contact a doctor, counselor or other health care provider who specializes in drug problems.
Remember, it's never too soon to start talking to your teen about drug abuse. The conversations you have today can help your teen make healthy choices in the future.