Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Parent’s Journey: Navigating Teen Substance Use

Realizing that your teen may be using drugs or alcohol is a scary realization for parents. Parents may feel bewildered by their child’s behavior. Many parents blame themselves or try to find reasons for their teen’s behavior. If only I had been home more after school. If only his father didn’t drink. If only she didn’t hang out with those kids. If only I didn’t live in this neighborhood.
Parents may also remember their own experimentation with alcohol and other drugs when they were teens. These experiences can lead parents to question whether they need to do anything at all. After all, they turned out all right! Some of today’s drugs are far more potent than the drugs of the
past. For example, the marijuana available to teens today is much stronger than the marijuana available in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Additionally with the Internet, cell phones and other electronic media, teens have far more access to information and each other. Social pressures to use alcohol and other
drugs are strong. Peer pressure often encourages teens to participate in heavy drinking that leads inevitably to “getting wasted.” Music, TV, and video games give the illusion that doing drugs and drinking alcohol is normal for teenagers. The average age for first marijuana use is 14. The average age for first alcohol use is 12. These frightening statistics give parents reasons to pay attention to the influences on their teens. We cannot always understand why our children make the choices they make nor understand what influences their
decisions. What we do know for sure is that the one key
element that influences successful intervention, treatment
and recovery for teenagers is parent and family involvement. It is very important for parents to move from shock to action. Parents have to intervene when they suspect alcohol and
other drug abuse. Adolescents can progress quickly from experimentation to dependency. There are concrete actions that you can take to begin the process of getting help for your teenager. What we do know for sure is that the one key element that influences successful intervention,treatment and recovery for teenagers is parent and family involvement.

Here are some steps you can take:
• Educate yourself. Understand this as a serious health issue versus a rite of passage or a moral issue. Get all the facts you can about alcohol and the substances your teen is using. There are many helpful websites as well as information at libraries and schools.
• Talk to the other adults who are responsible for your teen’s primary care. Make sure that you and other caregivers are on the same page so you can show your teen a united front.
• Utilize random drug screens – Administer random urine screens on your child without forewarning him/her. Drug test kits are available at many drug stores.
• Talk to your teen. When you talk, make sure you and your teen are both calm. It is very important that parents/caregivers emphasize that they
are coming from a perspective of concern, not blame.
• Talk to your teen when he is sober.
• Set clear limits with your teen. Let your teen know that you will not tolerate future substance use. Remove privileges that provide access to bad behavior, while increasing access to positive social activities. Restrict movement on weekends and afterschool. Take away car privileges and access to money. Pay attention to what is in your teen’s room. Restrict cell phone use and phone access. Monitor computer time
and keep computer access in an open area of your home, not in the bedroom. Follow-up with school personnel to ensure school attendance.
• Let your child know what choices you are willing and not willing to support.
• Be consistent with your expectations, guidelines and follow-through.
• Share information with and get support from others who work with your child. Does your teen have a counselor/therapist? A probation officer?
School counselor?
• Enlist the help of a friend or family member who may be in recovery.
• Contact Social Service agencies that can help.
• Contact your insurance company regarding coverage of treatment options.
• Identify someone whom you trust, like a counselor, close friend or pastor, who can be your support person as you and your family journey on the road to recovery.

Illinois Department of Human Services or the Illinois Federation of

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