Talking to teens about drugs

Not all drugs are created equal and neither is all drug use.

Drug use falls into 3 categories:

  • Experimentation (trying a new substance for the first time)
  • Drug use (using the substance occasionally however irregularly)
  • Drug abuse (using frequently, overlooking the consequences of drugs due to compulsion or extreme desire to continue using.)

Most teens experiment with substances at some point. However, of those who experiment, most will not go on to use or abuse drugs.

How to set boundaries with your teen about drug use:

When talking to your teens about drug use, it’s important that you can take a hard stance without becoming angry. You want to be clear and calm. Anger, shouting, and ranting harms the relationship you have with your teen and your teen’s self-concept. When teens have a bad relationship with their parents, drug use is more likely. Prioritize keeping the lines of communication open.

At the same time, be consequential and do not rescue your kids. Instead of giving them orders, let your teens know your thoughts on experimentation, use, and abuse of substances. Find fact-based articles about drugs to give to your teen. Provide straightforward and informative evidence. We love this collection of scientific articles from NIDA. Let them know about why people engage in drug use and the consequences of substance use. Girls in particular need to understand the effects of drug use during the first trimester of pregnancy. Also, let them know your limits with substance use and the consequences they may encounter if they cross your limits.

Parents have an obligation to take care of themselves, so make sure you communicate that to your teen. If drugs are found in the home, parents are an accessory to the crime. Let your teen know that if necessary, you will call the police and grant them permission to search the premises. Similarly, if your teen is drinking and driving, let your teen know you will simply phone the sheriff and give them the license plate number. Risking their and others’ lives on the highway is not something you are willing to participate in. Let your teens know about your limits with the law. We recommend you communicate very directly that all drug users must deal with the law on their own. Be clear you will not bale them out.

State these realities in a matter-of-fact and loving way. They need to know that you don’t want to live with the guilt of having them kill someone or hurt themselves. Statements about yourself and not being an accessory is more effective than lecturing your teen.

Signs of teen drug use:

  • Worsening school grades
  • Sudden friendship changes
  • Sometimes drug abusers have mood and attitude changes for no apparent reason
  • Know your stuff. Marijuana gives you red eyes, mushrooms expand your pupils, and opiates minimize your pupils or “pin” your eyes
  • Highs are often followed by depressive lows

What to do when you suspect drug use:

  • Remain calm
  • Talk it over with your teen
  • Talk to the school counselor
  • Find out if your teen’s friends + siblings are concerned. (this is not about them ratting out, your teen. it’s about seeing how destructive their behavior is)
  • Get profesional support.

Guidelines for finding professional care:

  • Find a therapist who has a busy schedule with many clients.
  • Seek out satisfied clients. Ask the therapist to give a list of clients you can talk to.
  • The therapist should be willing to give you a free 30 mins to talk
  • Does this therapist have a good life? Do they seem well-adjusted and happy?
  • Get professional recommendations from your school, hospitals, or any other professionals who work with teens.

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