Now more than ever, amidst remote learning, lockdowns and pandemic unpredictability, parents have growing concerns about their children’s mental health. Though data is still scarce, evidence thus far suggests a significant uptick in mental health and addiction related issues among all age groups, including teens. During this time, teens may be increasingly turning to drugs and alcohol to cope with their isolation, boredom and stress that has resulting from the pandemic.
It is not unusual for teenagers to experiment with alcohol, marijuana, and even harder drugs. The majority of teens who experiment do not end up becoming addicted, but a small percentage do. Those at greater risk of developing an addiction include teenagers who have a family history of alcohol or drug addiction, a personal history of mental health issues, a history of experiencing trauma such as sexual or physical abuse, have low self-esteem or self-worth, and who live in an environment with easy access to drugs and alcohol.
Parents and teenagers should be mindful that experimentation can develop into a substance dependence and drug addiction. This is especially dangerous for teenagers and young adults because drug use can cause long-term cognitive and behavioral effects, as the human brain continues to develop into young adulthood. Furthermore, teenagers who use drugs are at an increased risk of developing a drug addiction when they are adults.
Why Does My Child Use Drugs?
Children use drugs for various reasons. Teenagers are usually exposed to drugs and alcohol via their social group or by their caregivers or relatives who may have alcohol, prescription medication, or other drugs around the home. Teenagers usually start off by experimenting with alcohol or drugs due to social pressure and to be accepted by their peers. Some teenagers start using drugs as a means to self-medicate due to a variety of issues such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, trauma, grief, poor relationships, domestic conflicts, or problems making friends and feeling lonely and isolated. Some teens also use drugs as means to enhance performance or concentration when it comes to academic goals or extracurricular activities and the general pressures and stress that may result from being a teenager.
What Are The Signs of Drug Use?
Aside from prevention, early recognition is the best way to mitigate a substance dependence from progressing. The earlier you become aware of your child’s drug use the earlier you can have an intervention with them and get them the substance abuse treatment they need. As such, it is important to know the signs of alcohol and drug use. While every individual teenager is different and all alcohol and drugs may display themselves in various ways, there are some common indicators to be mindful of. Some signs of drug use may include:
None of these signs in and of themselves necessarily mean that your child is using drugs, and many of these signs may be occurring for a variety of reasons that do not involve substances. Nonetheless, these are signs of drug and alcohol use that all parents should be mindful of. Isolated events can be treated as such, but when symptoms persist it may be necessary to take further steps in order to safeguard your child’s wellbeing. Parents know their child better than anyone else, so always be mindful of your intuitive instinct.
Even before you may recognize a problem exists, it is important to have open lines of communication with your child, including on topics of mental health and substance use. Check in on them from time to time to see how they are feeling and coping with life. Being a teenager is hard, and being a teenager during this time of increased isolation is even more challenging. The pandemic has created a good opportunity for children and parents to connect more intimately and have an open dialogue if one did not already exist.
What Do I Do If My Teenager is Using Drugs?
Once you become aware of possible alcohol or drug use, it is important to talk with your child about it. Instead of lecturing them, focus on listening to them and understanding them. The best way to communicate with your teen about their drug use is to be compassionate. Don’t overreact or lash out, but rather demonstrate love and support. Have a discussion with them about the dangers of drug use and long-term impacts (there are many free resources online that discuss the negative effects of alcohol and drug use. Yes, even marijuana).
If your child is unable to stop their alcohol or drug use or unwilling to stop, it is important to set boundaries and establish ground rules. Let them know that you love them and that you’re concerned about them, and that you would like for them to speak with a professional. When it comes to encouraging them to see a mental health professional, it may be helpful to not focus on the substance use itself, but rather to encourage them to talk to somebody about their general life stress. If they are unwilling to talk to a mental health professional, some form of an intervention may be needed.
There are various forms of substance abuse treatment available. Try to find an addiction professional in your area who specializes in treating teenage drug and alcohol use. For example, you may want to do an online search for an addiction therapist near me or teenage drug treatment near me. Various mental health professionals may be adept at treating teenage drug use including addiction psychiatrists, psychologists, as well as other types of therapists who specialize in substance abuse. If you are having a difficult time finding help, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for free and confidential assistance.
In order to better understand your options when it comes to an intervention, alcohol and drug treatment options and navigating addiction recovery all-together, please read “My Loved One Has An Addiction, What Do I Do? – A Guide to Help You Navigate Recovery.”
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