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The Parental Guide To Prevention Against Teen Drug Use

Teen drug and alcohol useThe risks of teen drug use are well documented. They include, among others, physical and mental health, accidents, death from overdose, addiction, and involvement in illegal activities.

As such, parents, teachers, and communities must take all necessary precautions to prevent teens from using drugs and alcohol. Strong family bonds, the encouragement of healthy behavior, and education - among others - are useful in protecting them from such abuse.

Further, a supportive family, admirable role models, and positive self-esteem can all play a vital role in helping teenagers understand the dangers of early drug use. They work by giving the adolescents the confidence they need to make better choices about their lives, the friends they spend time with, and how they use the resources available to them.

However, for families living in risky neighborhoods, teenagers are at greater risk of suffering from drug and alcohol abuse. One ideal solution for this situation lies in community programs - most of which are designed to provide teenagers with the life skills that will empower them to avoid drug use.

Since all children - including those in their preteen years - form opinions about substance abuse, it is imperative that you start early. Only by so doing will your kids learn all the skills they will need in their teens.

Alcohol, Drugs, And Teenagers

No age group is more affected negatively by drugs and alcohol than teenagers. In some ways, this might feel like it is an universal issue: for your family, friends, colleagues, and you. Although you might try, chances are that it is going to be hard to prevent your teenage children from falling into the wrong company and start taking drugs.

Across the country, drugs and alcohol have impacted lives either directly or indirectly. The evidence is clear in homes, families, towns, cities, communities, dorms, and schools.

Statistics show that 23+ million people aged above 12 are either addicted to drugs or alcohol. This addiction has affected millions more - from neighbors and friends to family members and parents.

For some, infrequent or one-time use of drugs/alcohol ends in tragedies such as overdose, alcohol poisoning, a fall or accident while under the influence, or even an arrest linked to drugs and alcohol.

These tragedies cost teens their reputation. In some instances, it even leads to the curtailing of their freedom especially if they end up crossing into the illegal aspect of things.

For others who don't use drugs and alcohol, it is highly likely that proximity to a teen that does might turn them into victims of crimes related to these substances.

In some instances, what may initially have started as recreational or occasional use might end up turning into a serious addiction. Most of these addictions present extraordinary health and safety concerns - with potentially tragic and grave concerns.

Consider the following:

First Instance of Substance Abuse

Teenagers smoking marijuanaThe brain of a teenager isn't fully developed. This means that when they use drugs and alcohol, their risk of future addiction goes up tenfold. In fact, young people below the age of 15 are five times more likely to become addicted or dependent on alcohol in comparison to those who first drink it after the age of 21. Research for drug and substance abuse and addiction finds similar results.

Family History

The choice to use drugs and alcohol is a personal choice. In most cases, however, it is usually influenced by environment - availability, family, and peers. Still, once a teenager uses these substances, their risk of dependence and alcoholism would be influenced by their genetic makeup.

Research shows that drug dependence and alcoholism are more than just moral issues. In fact, they are also not due to a general lack of willpower or a matter of choice. The human body responds to the effects of drugs and alcohol differently.

As a result, people with a family history of addiction are four times more likely to develop similar problems. This is especially so among those who use these substances in their teens.

Why Adolescence Matters

So, why is prevention against teen drug use so important? Why should you go out of your way to protect your children, inform them, and educate them on the danger of substance abuse?

As we noted above, early use increases your chances of becoming addicted. This happens because drugs alter how the brain works - which is why they usually lead to addiction and its resultant problems.

To this end, preventing teen drug use is crucial because it reduces these problems even before they happen. If you can prevent the young people in your life from the urge to experiment with and use harmful substances, you will eventually be able to protect them from the slow but sure addiction that often results from early use.

What most people don't understand, however, is that the risk of abusing drugs tends to increase during the times of transition in life. For adults, the loss of employment or a divorce might lead to serious drug use.

Among teenagers, these risky transitions include changing schools, moving to a new home, and the passing of a loved one, among others. As children advance from elementary school and through middle school, they tend to face new challenges in the altered academic and social situations. In most cases, it is during this time that teens are exposed to substances they can abuse - including but not limited to alcohol and cigarettes - for the very first time.

When they enroll in high school, these children might realize that drugs are more available than they previously imagined. This is because high schools are rife with drug use (among older teens) and social and athletic activities where recreational substance abuse is more of a norm than an exception.

In the same way, most of the behavior that is a normal aspect of teen development - such as the deep-seated desire to take greater risks or try something new - tends to increase the tendencies of adolescents to experiment with alcohol, drugs, and other harmful substances.

This is so much so that some teens end up giving in to their drug using friends so that they can share similar experiences. Others also think that the taking of drugs - like steroids - will improve their athletic performance or appearance or that the abuse of substances - such as MDMA (Molly or ecstasy) and alcohol 0 will make them less anxious when they are confronted by various social situations.

On the other hand, many teens have resorted to the use of prescription ADHD stimulants - like Adderall - to help them lose weight or concentrate while studying. Their developing decision-making skills and judgment might act as a hindrance to their ability to logically assess the risks that these drugs carry.

What is clear, however, is that the use of such substances at an early age disrupts the functioning of the brain in those areas that are critical for behavioral control, judgment, learning, memory, and motivation.

This is why it is not altogether surprising that adolescents who use substances often end up facing a wide variety of societal and family problems, health related issues (including but not limited to poor mental health), poor academic performance, and incarceration in the juvenile justice system.

Research-Based Prevention Programs

So, what is the role of research-based prevention programs in protecting young people against drug use and addiction? The mere fact that these programs are research-based goes to show that they are designed to rationally deal with the problems faced by drug-using teens.

Further, all of these programs are based on current scientific evidence. They are also tested rigorously before implementation. It is for these reasons, and more, that research-based prevention programs tend to yield such positive results.

In the same way, scientists and various institutions have developed a wide variety of programs for altering the balance between protective and risk factors for drug and alcohol abuse in communities, schools, and families.

Studies show that most research-based programs - including those described by the NIDA report on preventing drug use among adolescents and children - can reduce the early use of illicit drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.

These programs work by boosting the factors that protect teens against drug use. Additionally, they go a step further by reducing or eliminating the known risk factors for substance abuse.

Designed for different age groups and used in specific group and individual settings - such as homes and schools - research-based programs come in three forms:

  1. Universal Programs

    In an universal program, the protective and risk factors common to children within a given setting are dealt with.

  2. Selective Programs

    Selective programs are mostly targeted at groups of teens and children who face certain factors that place them at increased risk of substance abuse.

  3. Indicated Programs

    Indicated programs have been designed to help teenagers who have already started using alcohol and drugs.

When these research-based prevention programs are implemented properly in communities and schools, the use of illegal drugs, tobacco, and alcohol is diminished. The programs are useful in helping healthcare professionals, parents, and teachers shape the perceptions of young people under their charge about the risks substance use carries.

While many cultural and social factors affect the trends of drug abuse, young people can be taught that such abuse is harmful. When this happens, it is more likely than not that the trainees will reduce the level or use or avoid it altogether.

Prevention Better Than Cure

When all is said and done, prevention always works best where teen drug use is concerned. According to a research conducted by the University of Michigan in conjunction with the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), the incidence of cigarette smoking among adolescents is quickly coming to an all-time low since it peaked in 1975. However, the use of marijuana seems to have gone up over the past few years - especially as young people perceive its risks as less harmful.

To improve the chances of preventing drug use among teens, therefore, you need to understand that some factors contribute to such use. These factors include the desire for social and peer acceptance and insecurity.

Since most young people feel indestructible, it is highly likely that teens will not consider the long term consequences of their present actions. This leads some of them to take dangerous risks like abusing both illegal and legal drugs.

Typical Risk Factors for Teenage Drug Abuse

In the same way, certain factors increase the risk of substance and alcohol abuse among teens. These factors include, but are not limited to:

  • Family history of heavy substance use
  • Behavioral and mental health conditions, such as ADHD, anxiety, and depression
  • Impulsive behavior
  • A history of such traumatic events as early abuse and involvement in vehicular accidents
  • Social rejection
  • Low self-esteem

In case the teen in your life is affected by any of the risk factors listed above, you need to be extra vigilant. Only by so doing will you be in a position to spot problem areas and work towards helping them overcome anything that might push them towards drug abuse.

Consequences of Drug Abuse among Teens

Teenagers who abuse alcohol and other substances are likely to suffer from the following negative consequences:

  1. Impaired Driving

    When a teenager drives under the influence of drugs, it is highly likely that their motor skills will be impaired. This puts them, their passengers, and any other person on the road at great risk of actual bodily injury.

  2. Sexual Activity

    The use of drugs among teenagers has been linked with impaired judgment. This might result in unsafe or unplanned sexual activity.

  3. Drug Dependence

    Drug-taking adolescents face a higher risk of serious substance addiction later on in their lives.

  4. Concentration Problems

    The use of such drugs as marijuana is known to affect the ability to learn, process, and memorize information among teens.

  5. Health Problems

    Ecstasy is linked to heart and liver failure. On the other hand, chronic use or high doses of methamphetamine causes psychotic behavior. Similarly, the use of inhalants harms the kidneys, liver, lungs, and heart.

Apart from the above, the abuse of over the counter and prescription medications causes seizures and respiratory distress. These health problems are clear both in teen and in adults who started using drugs early on in their lives.

What To Look Out For

As a parent, you might already be suspicious that your child is using or abusing drugs and alcohol. If you've noticed changes in how your teenage child is behaving or talking, the chances are that you should be worried.

In these situations, you should look for the following warning signs:

Physical Signs of Drug Abuse

Teen buying drugs
  1. Bloodshot eyes
  2. Bruises, accidents, or injuries that they can't or won't tell you about
  3. Changes in appetite
  4. Changes in sleep patterns
  5. Deterioration in physical appearance or personal grooming
  6. Frequent nose bleeding (it could be related to snorting drugs like cocaine and meth)
  7. Impaired coordination
  8. Pupils looking larger or smaller than normal
  9. Seizures where a history of epilepsy does not exist
  10. Slurred or incoherent speed
  11. Sudden weight gain or weight loss
  12. Tremors or shakes
  13. Unstable or impaired coordination
  14. Unusual smell on clothing, body, or breath

Behavioral Signs of Drug Abuse

  • Acting silent, isolated, or withdrawn
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Borrowing money or stealing it
  • Clashes with traditional family beliefs and values
  • Complaints from classmates, teachers, supervisors, or co-workers
  • Declining grades
  • Decreased motivation
  • Demanding more privacy
  • Drop in class attendance
  • Engaging in suspicious or secretive behavior
  • Frequently getting in trouble with schoolmates or teachers
  • Getting into frequent trouble, such as illicit activities, accidents, fights, and arguments
  • Locking doors
  • Loss of interest in or enthusiasm for extracurricular activities, exercise, sports, or hobbies
  • Missing valuables, money, prescription or over-the-counter drugs
  • Poor performance at work
  • Preoccupation with drug and alcohol-related lifestyle in posters, music, or clothing
  • Skipping class
  • Sudden changes in favorite hangouts, hobbies, friends, and relationships
  • Using air freshener, perfume, or incense to hide the smell of drugs and smoke
  • Using eye drops as a mask for dilated pupils and bloodshot eyes

Psychological Signs of Substance Abuse

  • Appearing fearful, anxious, withdrawn, or paranoid with no apparent reason
  • Appearing spaced out or lethargic
  • Confusing and unexplained changes in attitude and personality
  • Extended periods of unusual agitation and hyperactivity
  • Inability to focus
  • Lack of motivation
  • Sudden angry outbursts, irritability, mood changes, and laughing at nothing

Talking About Drug Abuse With Teens

In case you wish to talk to your teen about drug and alcohol abuse, look for a place or time when you are unlikely to get interrupted. Put all gadgets aside and let the conversation flow.

Here's how to do it best:

  1. Ask

    Talking to teen about drugsStart by asking them about their views on drug and alcohol use. As far as possible, try not to lecture them. Instead, take the time to listen to their questions and opinions about the substances you are discussing.

    Go a step further and assure them that they can be honest while talking to you. As you talk, watch their body language so that you can better understand their true feelings about the topic.

  2. Discuss

    During the talk, discuss with them the main reasons why it is ill advised for them to use drugs and alcohol. Although most parents use scare tactics over such discussions, this is not the right way to go about it.

    Instead, you should emphasize how substance abuse will affect the things that are most important to them - such as their appearance, their relationships and friendships, driving, health, and sporting activities.

  3. Use Media

    Where possible, you might want to try using a wide variety of media to pass the message that drug and alcohol abuse is not acceptable. Teach them that some songs, websites, movies, and television programs either trivialize or glamorize substance use. Ask them about what they hear and see, then guide them along the right path.

  4. Peer Pressure

    You should also take the time to go a little deeper into peer pressure. Ask about the friends they have at school and away from the home environment. Find out if any of them have offered your teens drugs or alcohol, how they dealt with the situation, and whether they gave in.

    Then, provide them with actionable advice on how to refuse all drug offers.

  5. Tell Your Story

    Last but not least, if you've ever used drugs or alcohol, be open about it. This is crucial because your teenage son or daughter might ask whether you abused these substances in your time.

    On the other hand, if you've never used drugs, talk to them about the reasons behind your decision. If you used, let them know how it affected you and the lessons you learned from the experience.

Why Drug Prevention Matters For Teens

When you prevent teens from abusing alcohol and drugs, you will be helping to get them through one of the most vulnerable times of their lives. Documented research shows that people have a higher likelihood of becoming addicted if they abuse drugs from an early age.

The ultimate goal of prevention, to this end, is to postpone the first drink - at least until when your teenager's brain is fully developed for them to make more responsible decisions.

At Risk Teens

Statistically speaking, some adolescents are at a higher risk of abusing substances than their peers. Your understanding of at-risk teens will empower you to provide the preventative help to those who are going to need it the most.

The most common risk factors include adolescents who:

  1. Are in a period of transition

    In such periods, most teenagers will be introduced to new influences and pressures. Among the very young, you might find teens that are being encouraged to drink alcohol and do drugs simply to fit in with their older peers. New social circles might also introduce them to substance abuse.

  2. Suffer from poor mental health

    Mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression are likely to manifest themselves in children from an early age. In most cases, teens that face such issues have a higher likelihood of developing substance abuse problems.

  3. Lack positive adult influences

    Most of the teenagers coming from abusive or broken homes tend to be oblivious of the consequences and dangers of early drug abuse. In the same way, teenagers who grew up around caretakers or family members who abused drugs and drank alcohol are highly likely to continue with the cycle of substance use over the course of their lives.

The Importance Of Family Involvement

One of the biggest impacts on teen drug abuse comes from parental influence. More specifically, teenagers who grew up with parents averted to such abuse are likely to have been taught about the dangers of abuse and binge drinking. As such, there is a lower likelihood of them developing drug dependence. In this way, parents can instill the strong values that will cause their teens to be anti-addiction.

Consider the following:

  1. Leading by Example

    When you show your teenage children how appropriate substance abstinence or use looks like, they will be able to follow your example. For instance, you should never drive after you've drunk. You can also limit your use of alcohol.

    Always having a designated driver will teach your teens a powerful lesson - that it is never right to drive while under the influence of alcohol or any other substance. This lesson will carry on in their lives.

  2. Dispelling Misconceptions

    Secondly, you should understand that some teens think that everyone drinks. Others might be led to believe that not all drugs and associated substances are harmful. As a parent, you need to be aware of all of these common beliefs and debunk them for your teen.

  3. Encouraging Open Communication

    Your teenage children need to feel comfortable enough to share anything they wish - including any questions they might have about alcohol and drug use. This will only happen if you open up the lines of communication about substance abuse. You should also tell them about your own stand while also showing them that this is not a taboo topic.

Drug Abuse Prevention

As we've mentioned before, most teenagers fall into the trap of drug and alcohol abuse because of the influence of their peers. The need to feel liked and accepted by their friends is quite natural among the young. However, there are many preventative measures you can take to protect your child against any substance abuse.

Here are some:

  1. Establish Guidelines

    One of the essential elements of preventing drug abuse revolves around setting realistic expectations. As a parent, you need to speak to your teenage children on the regular. During this communication sessions, make sure that they know what you find to be tolerable and what you won't stand.

    If they are aware of the fact that it would be disappointing for you if they tried drugs, they will feel more strongly about the topic - so much so that they will be able to avoid the pressure from their peers to drink alcohol or abuse drugs.

    Where possible, talk about the different types of drugs and their associated risks. When you do this, you will take the mystery right out of substance abuse. This will help to prevent them from trying any drug that they know or don't know about.

  2. Monitor

    According to NIDA, 29% of teens between grades 9 and 12 have reported getting exposed to drugs and/or alcohol while on school property. Additionally, 56% of adolescents find it easier to use prescription drugs than to take illegal substances. In the same way, around 40% of teens think that these prescription medications are safer to abuse then their illegal counterparts.

    As a direct result, even well-intentioned children can fall to the pressure from their peers. This means that you need to monitor them, know where they are, what they are doing, and who they are spending time with.

    Take the time to track their behavior even when you are not around. Do this through:

    • Phone calls
    • Getting home earlier than you'd said you would
    • Using your neighbors to look out for any visitors whenever you are away from home
    • Monitoring the levels of the prescription medications in your home (if any)
    • Looking for any weird changes in their friend groups and habits
  3. Discuss Drug Consequences

    A great way to get your teen to avoid drug and alcohol abuse out of their own volition is to ensure that they know and understand the consequences that every action carries. In case, for instance, they break the rules you've set, enforce your guidelines.

    You should also let them know what happens when they take drugs. Typical consequences include:

    • Harsh legal penalties for using drugs or being found in their possession
    • Physical health problems, some of which are long lasting
    • Mental health issues, including brain damage
    • Strained friendships and relationships
    • Higher risk of contracting such blood-borne diseases as hepatitis and HIV
    • Financial instability
    • Poor academic performance

    The better your teen understand the risks associated with early drug and alcohol abuse, the less likely the chances that they will end up engaging in substance use.

    If you catch them in the act or discover that they have abused these substances, you should not enforce punishment for the undesirable behavior. Instead, take the alternative approach and reward them for their willingness and readiness to engage in behavior that is socially appropriate and desirable.

Last but not least, the onus is not entirely up to you as a parent to prevent teen drug use. The prevention should happen in concert with your efforts, as well as those from educators, teachers, and other community figures.

Preventive measures to stop the threat of drug abuse do not have to be saddled entirely by parents. In concert with parental efforts, teachers and educators, as well as community figures, can play a huge role in making entire communities safer for our developing youth.

Extra Prevention Tips against Teen Drug Use

Use the extra tips below to bolster your preventative steps:

  • Teach them to say no and not be afraid to do so
  • Show them how to avoid negative pressure from their peers
  • Connect with them, and teach them to connect with other responsible adults
  • Lead them in ways they can enjoy life while spending their time and resources on things they love
  • Establish family rules about drugs and alcohol
  • Educate them about alcohol and drugs
  • Play the role model by setting a positive example they can emulate


Drug and alcohol use among teens has always been on the rise - especially among those who are at greatest risk. The best solution to this problem, of course, should be multifaceted. Even better, you need to take all steps and options open to you to prevent teen drug abuse before it starts. Do this today and enjoy the benefits of watching your child flourish both in their schooling career and future professional and personal lives.

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