Many teens experiment with drugs, putting their health and safety at risk — but teen drug abuse isn't inevitable. 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 may contribute to teen drug abuse, from insecurity and self-doubt to a desire for social acceptance. Teens often feel indestructible and may not consider the consequences of their actions, leading them to take potentially dangerous risks — such as abusing legal or illegal drugs.
Common risk factors for teen drug abuse include:
- A family history of substance abuse
- Low self-esteem
- Early aggressive behavior
- Feelings of social rejection
- Lack of parental supervision
- Drug availability
Consequences of teen drug abuse
Teen drug abuse can have a number of negative consequences, including:
- 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.
- Lack of motivation. Drug use may lead a teen to lose interest in or become indifferent about what happens at school or in other areas of his or her life.
- Concentration problems. Use of drugs, such as marijuana, may affect the parts of the brain that control memory, motivation, attention and learning — making it more difficult to learn and perform complex tasks.
- Serious health problems. In high doses, Ecstasy can interfere with the body's ability to regulate temperature and cause liver, kidney and heart failure. Use of methamphetamine can cause heart and neurological damage, psychotic behavior and aggression. Chronic use of inhalants can cause brain or nerve damage and harm the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys. In addition, abuse of prescription or over-the-counter medications can cause depression, respiratory distress, cardiac distress and seizures.
Talking about teen drug abuse
It can be difficult to talk to your teen about drug abuse. Start by choosing a comfortable time and setting. 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.
When you discuss teen drug abuse, you might:
- Ask your teen's views. Listen to your teen's opinions — which may differ from your own — and questions about drug use. Encourage your teen to talk by asking open-ended questions, such as "Tell me what you think about ... ."
- 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, Web sites or songs glamorize or trivialize drug use. Talk about what your teen has seen or heard.
- Plan specific ways to resist peer pressure. Brainstorm with your teen about how to respond to offers of drugs. Suggest that your teen try saying, "No thanks," or "I don't do drugs because it could get me kicked off the team." Your teen also might offer friends a socially acceptable alternative activity, such as watching a movie.
- 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 teen drug abuse will plant ideas in your teen's head. Conversations about drug abuse 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 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 abusing 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 may feel pressure to experiment, too. Get to know your teen's friends and their parents.
- Keep an eye on prescription drugs. Ask your doctor if any medications prescribed for your family have a potential for abuse. 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 medication during school hours, find out if it can be stored in the school's health office rather than in your teen's locker.
- Provide support. Offer praise and encouragement when your teen succeeds, whether at school or at home. A strong bond between you and your teen may 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:
- A sudden or extreme change in friends, eating habits, sleeping patterns, physical appearance or school performance
- Lost interest in favorite activities
- A hostile or uncooperative attitude
- Visits to pro-drug Web sites
- Secrecy about actions or possessions
- An unexplained disappearance of household money
- Empty drug or medicine containers 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. Be sure to enforce the consequences you've established so that your teen understands that using drugs will always result in a loss of privileges. 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.
Last Updated: 2010-03-05