February 26, 2020

Top 10 Mistakes Parents Make About Teenage Substance Abuse

Today’s teens face drug hazards that did not exist in the past. Teenage substance abuse has always been a concern for parents, but present dangers include:

  • The ongoing “opioid epidemic”
  • The over-prescription of benzodiazepines
  • The resurgence of heroin
  • Legalized marijuana
  • Stronger marijuana strains
  • Concentrated marijuana oil and wax
  • Synthetic marijuana
  • Designer drugs
  • Easy availability via the Internet

It’s no surprise that parents don’t know what they are supposed to do to protect their families from teenage substance abuse. To that end, here is a list of the “Top 10” mistakes parents make when trying to deal with teenage substance abuse.

And even better – here’s what YOU can do differently.

Mistake #1: Not Setting High Expectations

Unfortunately, too many parents avoid talking to their children about drugs and alcohol. Some don’t know what they are supposed to say. Others underestimate how much influence they actually have with their teenagers.

However, research shows that teenagers who know that their parents disapprove of drug use and underage drinking are less likely to do so.

Compared with teenagers who have permissive or neglectful parents, teens with authoritative parents who establish firm boundaries are:

  • 40% less likely to drink until they are intoxicated
  • 38% less likely to binge drink
  • 39% less likely to smoke cigarettes
  • 43% less likely to use marijuana

What can YOU do differently?

Talk to your children, and let them clearly know what you expect.

Mistake #2: Not Setting a Good Example

There is a flip side to that. Parents who actively drink irresponsibly or abuse drugs teach their kids by their behavior. In effect, they learn that substance abuse is acceptable.

Teenagers who live with a substance-abusing parent are at least twice as likely to do the same.

What can YOU do differently?

Follow your own rules. Drink responsibly and don’t do illicit drugs.

Mistake #3: Saying “My Kid’s Too Smart to Use Drugs”

Parents often look at their teenager’s good grades, and think that there is no danger of THEIR child ever abusing alcohol or drugs. But academic intelligence is not the same thing as MATURITY.

The part of the brain responsible for good judgment is not fully developed until the mid-20s. As a result, even “smart” kids can make extremely poor choices that put them at risk.

What can YOU do differently?

Stay realistic – and, therefore, aware – that your child is as vulnerable as any other.

Mistake #4: Thinking It’s “No Big Deal”

This mistake happens a lot with parents who “experimented” with drinking or drugs, when they were younger. They think that “all kids try it” and that since they themselves turned out all right, they aren’t too worried.

But here’s the thing – substance abuse is NOT an inevitable “rite of passage”. Even casual usage can progress to abuse and addiction. And even if it doesn’t, there are other dangers associated with underage substance use:

  • Car Accidents –Teens who start drinking at an early age are 7 times more likely to be in an alcohol-related crash.
  • Sexual Assault – 89% of victims report drinking before their assault
  • Violence – In acts of violence involving adolescents, over half of both victims and assailants used drugs, and/or alcohol beforehand.

What can YOU do differently?

It goes back to setting expectations and boundaries. Talking to your children reduces the likelihood that they will experiment. However, if they DO, you must clearly let them know that their behavior is unacceptable. Also, make sure to enforce consequences for their actions.

Mistake #5: Ignoring Family History

Some parents do everything right – talk to their children, set a good example, enforce boundaries, etc. But then they forget to take genetics into account. Substance abuse runs in families, and a person’s genes account for approximately 60% of their tendency to become addicted.

What can YOU do differently?

If there is a history of alcohol or drug abuse anywhere in your family, share that valuable information with your teenager. Let them know that they are at greater risk of developing a disorder, even with “casual” use.

Mistake #6: Ignoring Other Risk Factors

If your teen has any psychiatric or behavior problems, such as depression, ADHD, anxiety, or PTSD, you might naturally focus your attention on that condition.

But having any type of mental disorder actually increases the likelihood of substance abuse. And if not treated simultaneously, the ignored disorder can worsen the other and lead to relapse.

What can YOU do differently?

If your child has been diagnosed with either type of disorder—psychiatric or addictive—then you should immediately have them professionally evaluated for a dual diagnosis.

Mistake #7: Not Safeguarding Medications

If you are an involved parent, you probably monitor where your teenager goes and who they are with. But would it surprise you to know that one of the biggest drug dangers is your own home? After alcohol and marijuana, prescription medications are the substances most often abused by American teens.

  • 1 in 4 teens has misused a prescription drug.
  • 42% of teens who abuse prescription drugs got them from their home medicine cabinets.
  • 49% of parents do not restrict access to their medications.

What can YOU do differently?

ALWAYS keep your medications locked up, and regularly take inventory. Of special relevance, properly dispose of any unused or expired prescription drugs.

Mistake #8: Not Noticing Warning Signs

You see your teenager every day. But how often do you REALLY take notice? With your busy schedule and their penchant for privacy, it can be hard to keep track of everything going on in their life. Yet…if you don’t MAKE the time, you run the risk of missing tell-tale signs of substance use:

  • Smell on their clothes, hair, and breath
  • Red or dilated pupils
  • Slurred or confused speech
  • Lack of coordination
  • Mood swings
  • Changes in sleeping pattern
  • Dishonesty and secrecy
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Loss of interest in social withdrawal
  • Worsened grades

What can YOU do differently?

Take time every day to check in personally check in with your teenager, especially after they have been hanging out with their friends.

Mistake #9: Playing the “Blame Game”

When you discover that your teenager has been abusing drugs or alcohol, you are hurt and angry. And you want someone to BLAME. It has to be somebody’s fault—the other parent, the school, their friends…you.

But that kind of thinking is unproductive. Because when you waste time pointing fingers, you lose focus and nothing gets any better.

What can YOU do differently?

If you find yourself in this situation, keep in mind the “Three C’s”:

  • Nobody CAUSED the addiction—it’s a disease with many causal factors.
  • You can’t CONTROL the addiction—trying to control a disease will drive you crazy.
  • You can’t CURE the addiction—Addiction is an incurable disease that lasts a lifetime. However, just as with other chronic diseases like diabetes or hypertension, your teen can learn to safely manage their illness.
Instead of blaming anyone, concentrate on getting your teen the professional help they need.
Mistake #10: Putting Off Getting Professional Help

The knowledge your teenager is abusing alcohol or drugs makes you desperate. You yell, threaten, lecture, and ground them. In other words, you try to punish them into compliance.

Or… You freeze. You desperately hope that if you do nothing, maybe the problem will go away on its own.

But neither of those approaches is likely to succeed. Not only is addiction and incurable disease, it is also a progressive one. Unless there is a timely intervention and effective, evidence-based treatment, your teenager’s substance abuse will only get worse.

What can YOU do differently?

Teenage substance abuse and addiction is a problem that is too big for your family to face alone. If your child is in crisis, contact Teensavers Treatment Centers today. For over 35 years, Teensavers has been one of the most-trusted recovery programs in Orange County specializing in adolescent addiction.

By getting professional help for your child, you avoid THE biggest mistake made by other parents facing teenage substance abuse in their home.

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