If you are a parent, it is essential you talk to your children about alcohol and drug abuse. Most parents need to open an on-going dialog with their children at least two years before they think they should. National surveys indicate between 90 percent to 95 percent of all high school seniors had used or abused alcohol and 60 percent to 65 percent had tried marijuana. Many students had also used even more dangerous drugs. Many of these children began experimenting with these substances before age 13 and most of them starting seeing or hearing about other kids doing drugs at least two years prior to their choice to use drugs themselves. In addition, most children age ten or older will have some ideas about drugs. Usually children will have seen them on TV or movies and many of them will have overheard conversations about drugs or will have heard other kids in school talking about drugs.

Parents have tremendous ability to influence their children's decision to use drugs and alcohol. Research shows that some of the most important things you can do to help prevent your children from using drugs and alcohol is to help teach them as many healthy coping skills as possible, help give them as healthy and stable of a life as possible, protect them form abuse, explain to them the risks of using these substances, and model good behaviors yourself.

It is important to explain the potential risks, especially long-term risks, of even experimenting with many of these substances. Also, be a good role model yourself. A Parent's habits and attitudes towards drugs and alcohol affect a child's behavior. Children notice when and why their parents drink, as well as what they do when they are drinking. Children also watch how a parent copes with anger, stress, depression, frustration, rejection, and failure. They also watch what a parent does to "cut loose", rebel, and/or de-stress. Even though drinking in front of your children is not inherently bad, drinking too much or being risky while drinking is (such as drinking and driving).

There is no way to predict which teenagers will develop alcohol and other drug-related problems, but those most at risk are those who have a family history of alcohol or substance abuse, or have a history of abuse (physical, sexual, emotional or neglect). Teach your children self-discipline, the importance of individual responsibility, and a clear sense of right and wrong. Protect them from harm, abuse or neglect and research clearly shows that children who get this type of care are the least likely to use drugs and alcohol.

Identifying Substance Abuse By Your Child

A sudden or continued fall in grades usually indicates there is a problem of some sort. A drastic or continued change in friends, suspensions from school, drastic changes in behaviors or unusual or erratic behaviors also usually indicates a problem of some sort. In today's environment a parent cannot afford to assume that it couldn't be drug or alcohol related. It may not be, but then again it could be. Remember, any child, regardless of gender, past history, race, ethnic background, religious background, or socioeconomic status, is susceptible to the lure of drug or alcohol abuse, and most teenagers who abuse substances do so without their parent's knowledge. You do not have to over react but just keep an open mind to all the possibilities. Don't be naïve. Having a healthy sense of paranoia, without overreacting when it comes to your kids is usually the most effective strategy. Here are some other signs to watch out for:

  • Sudden changes in friends (dropping friends for new ones);

  • Missing homework assignments;

  • Coming late to class;

  • Dropping out of after school activities;

  • Skipping school;

  • Wanting to quit school;

  • Getting kicked out of or suspended from school;

  • Missing work, if they have a job;

  • Getting fired, if they have a job;

  • Staying out late at night;

  • Mental slowness, spacey, foggy headed, or sedated responses;

  • Disorientation;

  • Sleeping excessively;

  • Excessive moodiness;

  • Excessive energy at time;

  • Excessive laughing over very silly things;

  • Dilated pupils;

  • Constricted pupils;

  • Smelling like alcohol or smoke;

  • Smoke-stained teeth;

  • Burn holes in clothes;

  • Dirty clothes;

  • Smell of alcohol;

  • Friends getting in trouble for doing drugs;

  • Staying over friend's house frequently;

  • Meeting up with friends for very short periods of time;

  • Seeming to act differently after having been with friends;

  • Stealing or never having any money;

  • Having excessive amounts of money, or never seeming to need money.

No single item on this list means that a teen has started using drugs or alcohol. However, these are some signs to look out for. It is also important to keep in touch with their school performance in a more active manner then just reviewing grade reports. Grade reports can be falsified, usually quite easily, and by the time they indicate there is a problem, the problem could be serious. So keep in touch with your child's teachers.

Getting Help for Your Child

There are usually many complex issues that lead to substance use. Research shows that discipline alone is not very effective. Also, parents having "a talk" after a problem has been discovered is usually too little too late. Adolescent substance abuse should be treated very seriously, these days, as many other problems can easily develop from even infrequent use. For most drug related or alcohol related issues you can take your teenager to a therapist who specializes in treating adolescent substance abuse. At the Counseling Corner we have specialists highly trained in treating adolescent substance abuse. For more serious problems an inpatient hospitalization or drug treatment facility may be needed. Early intervention is the key to success. If you wait too long the problem is likely to get much worse and become much harder to treat.