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Teen Substance and Alcohol Abuse - What Parents Can Do

In a 2017 Monitoring the Future survey conducted by the NIH, stats showed a decline in the use of drugs among teens. But despite the lower levels, the rates are still concerning for vigilant parents. Almost 1 in 10 students in 10th grade use drugs other than marijuana. And 9.4 percent of 10th graders and 13.3 percent of students in 12th grade are using drugs.

There are various approaches that experts encourage parents to adopt to help their teen who might be battling with an addiction.

Here are methods that have proven successful that can help guide parents in what to do.

  1. Get help.

Figuring out if your teen has a drug or alcohol addiction can be a difficult task for a parent. Confronting a teenager about whether they have been drinking or taking drugs is an often unsuccessful. Turning to professional counselors and treatment centers is a recommended course of action.

Certain treatment centers will have programs in place to deal with teen addiction problems. And are well-equipped to identify students who need help. Not only that, but they are able to use therapy sessions to dig into possible underlying issues that could have caused the dependency.

The Recovery Village, a treatment center with a program for students, reports, "Students averaging 17 suspensions a year dropped down to just one suspension in their first year of participation in addiction treatment." For more information on their programs, go to

  1. Keep your teen active.

Twenty years ago, Iceland had one of the highest rates in Europe for alcohol and drug abuse among teens. Today, they report one of the lowest rates for alcohol and drug abuse. How did they achieve this? Officials pushed the idea of getting a rush from natural highs, for example, through sports and learning skills. School administration created afterschool classes that centered around martial arts, dance, and music.

Parents can adopt the idea implemented in Iceland with their teens by providing avenues for teens to focus and flourish. Even if a teen is hesitant at first, encourage participation in various skill-gaining classes. As their expertise grows, so will their confidence and the rush that comes with doing something they are good at.

The side benefit to signing up teens for afterschool classes is that parents will know where their teens are. Plus, who they are hanging out with.

  1. Monitor your teen's social circle.

Parents who have blind faith in their teens often do not realize the peer pressure aspect of drugs and alcohol.

In a study funded by NIDA, teens were more likely to run a yellow light if their friends were in the car with them. This type of behavior showcases teens’ behavioral tendencies when faced with peer pressure.

Rather than only expecting teens to stand strong and “just say no,” parents should also monitor their teen's peer group. If they see their teen is hanging out those who could be a bad influence, they should have frank discussions with their teen.

Avoid forbidding the teen from contacting the classmate or friend in question. As that could have the opposite result. But do ask questions that can help prompt the teen to examine their actions and help him or herself self-reflect. In a natural way, discuss what makes for a good friendship, and what makes for a toxic one.

  1. Look at underlying issues.

Teens may turn to alcohol and substance abuse as a form of stress relief from mental or emotional stress. Parents should take time to consider the emotional and mental state of their teen. And take steps to rectify issues that could be causing the alcohol or drug abuse.

Other causes not related to stress, but which could trigger emotional or mental instability include:

  • ADHD
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Other mental health issues

If a parent feels their child has a mental health issue that goes beyond stress related to school or friends, the parent should seek help. Ask the school for a list of mental health professionals or therapists in the area that they can call.

Some problems can escalate quickly. Parents should act with haste to get their teen the help needed.

Recovery from addiction is possible. Teens are resilient and have had less time to become fully entrenched into an addiction. Addressing the problem head-on can lead to a fast and full recovery, with the teen moving on to a full, rich life once recovered.