Addiction and teens: What to do when addiction touches your teen

Parents may find it shocking to know that teens who drink are 50 times more likely to use cocaine than teens who never consume alcohol. Before you pull your son or daughter out of public school and lock them in the basement, be advised of some ways to prevent teen drug use before it starts, the warning signs of active drug use and the resources available to adolescents who may already be experimenting with substances.

Think Prevention

Teen drug use can often be prevented with open and honest communication between parent and child. Studies have shown that teenagers whose parents talk to them on a regular basis about the dangers of drug use are 42 percent less likely to use drugs than those whose parents remain silent.


Do YOUR Homework

Speaking to your teen about drug and alcohol use may seem uncomfortable and even impossible. Taking the time to do your homework and familiarize yourself with various drugs of abuse can greatly improve the outcome of these discussions. Be sure to research some of the dangers and consequences of doing drugs, and be prepared to share this information with your teen.

A great resource for concerned parents can be found at This website has information on popular drugs of abuse by teenagers today and lists the warning signs parents can look for in their child's behavior. This site also offers a free anti-drug newsletter for parents, aimed at raising awareness of the dangerous new drugs teens may be experimenting with.

Create an Atmosphere for Honesty

When focusing on prevention, remember to stay proactive and keep the lines of communication open between you and your teen. It is vital that you create a calm atmosphere in which your son or daughter feels comfortable approaching you honestly, without fear of judgment or punishment. They must feel they are able to ask questions, talk about peer pressure and discuss any struggles they may be going through at this difficult stage in life.

Recognize the Red Flags

Once the routine conversations have begun, it is imperative to stay vigilant of your teen's behavior and activity. Be aware of the tell-tale warning signs that may appear when your teen is using. Most teen's behavior changes rapidly once they start getting high. These changes often go unnoticed unless you know what to look for.

A dramatic drop in grades at school, changes in social group and increasingly secretive behavior all point to the fact that something (even if not drug use) is wrong in a teen's life. These red flags typically warrant investigation by a concerned parent or teacher.

Also, note that possession and frequent use of mouthwash and cologne may signal the fact that your teen may be attempting to cover up the smell of alcohol or marijuana. Eye drops are often used to remove the redness of the eyes caused by smoking pot.

A teenager who may be abusing drugs might also begin to borrow money frequently and even steal money or items of value from the house. Narcotics or controlled substances stored in the medicine cabinet - such as Valium, Xanax or Vicodin - may begin to come up missing, as well.

Perhaps the most noticeable warning sign is a dramatic change in the sleeping and eating habits of your son or daughter. Marijuana, for example - a drug that 2 out of 10 eighth graders have reportedly tried - causes the user to be extremely hungry. Sedatives such as Xanax produce slurred speech and extreme tiredness, often causing the user to sleep for longer periods than normal. Users of methamphetamines, on the other hand, don't sleep or eat for days and even weeks.


You've done your homework, had the conversations, stayed vigilant about the warning signs and know for sure your teen is getting high. What now? Perhaps the most important thing to remember as a parent is that you didn't cause it, and you can't fix it. Knowing this, it is time to seek professional help.

Crisis Intervention

The first line of defense is usually your family doctor. He or she may want to refer your teen to an addiction professional. An addiction counselor will be able to assess the severity of the problem and recommend the appropriate actions. The next step will depend on the severity of the problem and what drugs are being used.

For example, if your child is smoking cigarettes, a smoking cessation program and stop smoking aids like nicotine gum may be enough to overcome the addiction. If your child is smoking marijuana with friends on the weekends and demonstrates a desire to stop, perhaps the counselor will recommend individual counseling, outpatient meetings two or three nights a week and Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

If, however, your teen has been taking Xanax and drinking alcohol every day for an extended period of time, they may have to be hospitalized for 5 to 10 days in order to be medically stabilized before they undergo treatment at a drug rehab center.

Once the detoxification process is complete, a counselor may recommend they get into an inpatient treatment program. These programs, typically 28 to 90 days in duration, will educate the teen on the disease of addiction, provide individual and group therapy and place them in a controlled environment for an extended period of time to help them adjust to living sober.

Sounds Expensive

Many programs are state funded or subsidized by the government in order to make services affordable to those in need. In fact, some programs have free services for those who meet certain income requirements. For those fortunate enough to have medical insurance, hospitalization and residential treatment is usually included in the policy.

Where Do I Go From Here?

Perhaps the programs with the best results are Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous. These programs do not offer professional treatment, nor do they offer medical care. They do, however, provide help to those who want it and need it at no cost. The effectiveness of these programs has been attributed to the fact that they are run by the real professionals - people who have had the same problems as your teen and have found a way out by helping each other. Most successful inpatient programs generally recommend that the client attend NA and / or AA meetings after treatment.

Don't Ever Give Up

Do your homework. Arm your teen with the facts about the dangers of drug use. Let them know they can talk to you about anything. Know the warning signs and remain vigilant. If you suspect your teen is using drugs or alcohol, seek professional help. Most importantly, don't ever give up. You could be the only thing standing between your child and a life of addiction.

By Phill Roby