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Teenage Alcohol and Drug Use- What is a Parent to do?

Posted by on in Drug Addiction
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According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, "Illicit drug use in America has been increasing. In 2012, an estimated 23.9 million Americans aged 12 or older—or 9.2 percent of the population—had used an illicit drug or abused a psychotherapeutic medication (such as a pain reliever, stimulant, or tranquilizer) in the past month."

Ouch, right? Those numbers make an even more painful impact when the alcohol or drug user they are talking about is your very own sweet baby girl or boy. As our children enter the teen years and adulthood they are faced with more access to alcohol and drugs than ever before. I was recently driving with my 60 year old friend through the small town he grew up in he told me stories of his teen years. "I was too drunk to be driving one night," he said, "so the cop just carried me in the house and had my friend drive my car home." Not exactly the world we live in now.


So what do you do when you find out your teen has regularly been using alcohol or marijuana?

  • Do not over react.

Parents tend to believe they have to make a big stand to scare teens. Teens are not easily scared, not away from drugs. Especially not marijuana or alcohol. Remember Dare to Keep Kids Off Drugs? It is not around anymore. Why? Because scare tactics (the programs primary focus) does not work; teens are invincible, right? Therefore, keep it simple. Explain your family rules, your expectations and a consequence such as staying in a weekend and a shorter curfew for a few weeks. A giant punishment loses the intended effect and alienates you from your teen.

  • Do not under react.

Everyone is absolutely not "doing it." It is a big deal. Breaking the law is a big deal. Do not be intimidated by a conversation or expectation. Remember parents who expect nothing from their child get exactly that, nothing. My adult, addicted clients ALWAYS say I wish my parents had tried to stop me.

  • Some drugs are worse then others.

Sorry folks but as a Licensed Addiction Counselor I am here to tell you, if your kid smokes pot they are likely experimenting (see above: Do not under react). However if your kid is or has smoked meth,  snorted cocaine, taken Oxycontin or tried heroin you are officially in a separate category. These drugs release such an intoxicating, euphoric high (related to dopamine) that kids will not easily be able to identify that they are on dangerous ground until it is to late. The truth is these drugs travel in a more dangerous, risk taking circle and you need to put the brakes on fast and furious before you lose control. Limit their alone time to 10 minutes, review friends and start making cuts, go see a licensed Addiction Counselor together as soon as possible. Do not wait around to see if this is a phase or a fluke. Certain drugs should raise your parental red flags: Meth, Crystal, Crack, Cocaine, Oxycodone, Oxycotin, Acid, Heroin, Special K, GHB, MDMA, Ecstasy X.

  • Listen to them, teach them through role play.

Bring on the cheese. This will feel cheesy and so awkward but who cares! This is your kid, right. How exactly is your child supposed to know how to turn down drugs without being taught? Kids (nor adults) have a natural ability to just say no to people they like and not feel lousy. Ask them how the alcohol or marijuana is offered. Have your child offer you a drink or hit and teach them refusal skills. "I don't do that when I drive." "I am chillin out tonight, no thanks." "I am keepin it clean for our next game (sports minded)." When your kid laughs, which they will, ask them to tell you what would not sound lame to their friends.

Lastly remember this: aproximately 90% of adult addicts, that I see in my practice, started drinking or using drugs in a habit forming way under age 18. Almost all of those adults report their parents did little to no education or interventions around substance use with them. See the correlation! Parents you do matter, even in the teen years. Do not pour your heart and soul into a child just to take a back seat to their life come age


Stay open, present and aware. You are your child's biggest educator on how to navigate around the disease of addiction that effects millions of Americans.

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