Teenage Drug Abuse – A Guide for Parents & Educators

Addiction Resource > Teenage Drug Abuse – A Guide for Parents & Educators

Drug Abuse a Guide for Parents and Educators

Thanks to the scientific advances, now we know a lot more about drugs and how they impact our body. Unfortunately, drug abuse is also becoming more and more popular.

Teenagers and young adults are especially vulnerable to substance abuse and getting addicted. Early intervention by parents, family, and educators can go a long way. However, many parents get confused when they learn their kids are using drugs and have no clue how to proceed. If you or anyone close to you is having trouble with a struggling teen, this guide has everything you need to know.

Prevention is Better Than Cure

Normally, the reasons why teens get into drugs are common and noticeable. This gives you a chance to preempt the disastrous effects of substance abuse by taking certain precautionary measures.

Most kids start doing drugs because they can’t figure out how to fit in with other people around them. Drugs sound like a very convenient way out of social loneliness. Parents can play an important role by providing kids with proper and healthy company which shares mutual interests.

How can I keep my kid from doing drugs?

You can keep your kids from doing drugs by talking to them about drugs before they hit their teenage years. Kids who know that their parents disapprove of drugs are less likely to try them. Don’t leave any prescription medications out where your child has access to them. Set a good example (don’t smoke (or use electronic cigarettes) or drink around them).

two women talking

Prescription abuse is one of the biggest drug-related problems in the United States. Studies show that every one in five young adults experiments with prescription drugs at some point in their life. If you or any other member of your family is getting prescription drugs, make sure they are properly locked away and out of reach of your children. Also, keep track of all the drugs you take, and if you don’t need any pills, properly dispose of them as soon as you can.

Having any unguarded substance in your house that can be abused, is an invitation for your kids who may not realize the long-term consequences.

Some kids who feel they’re not getting the attention they deserve can also turn to drugs. Especially, children who are performing poorly in academics or are not outstanding in sports or artistic talents can suffer inferiority complex and end up doing drugs. So, if your job or business is keeping you busy, make sure you spare enough time to spend with your kids and the family.

The smartest thing that you can do as a parent is to tell your kids that you severely disapprove of the drugs before they hit their teenage years, as research shows that kids whose parents have done this are less likely to do drugs. Also, try to model the kind of behavior you expect to see from your kids, i.e. don’t smoke or drink in front of them.

Almost two million children between the ages of 12 and 17 do drugs. Only 150,000 of them get medical care. Your kid might suffer grave consequences if they don’t get assessed by a child psychiatrist, a pediatrician or a relevant health expert.

Spotting Addiction

Spotting addiction is extremely easy and can be done with the slightest attention. However, most parents and adults usually consider the signs a normal part of puberty and tend to ignore them. If you see any of these signs in your kid, consider them as a red flag:

  • Sudden withdrawal from their company and hanging out with a new group of friends
  • Frequently tired, depressed or angry without any apparent reason
  • Decline in academic performance
  • Sudden changes in eating habits and sleeping patterns
  • Carelessness with personal hygiene and grooming
  • Noticeable changes in physical appearance
  • Skipping school and loss of interest in previously liked activities
  • Drug use paraphernalia (syringes, pills, marijuana vaporizers or vaporizer pens, bongs, etc.)
  • Deteriorating relationships with friends and family

Why Drugs Are Especially Hard for Teens to Quit?

Addiction is defined as a chronic disease of the brain that forces the person to seek out a fix for their cravings (be it drugs, alcohol, or any other substance), despite realizing that it can be harmful. Usually, the first use is the person’s free choice, however, after repeated use the brain undergoes chemical changes which then force the person to use the drug over and over again, and in most cases in a higher quantity and/or potency.

Although using drugs at any age can lead to addiction, researchers confirm that substance abuse in early ages results in more serious, hard to reverse issues. Since the brain is still developing, the drugs have more powerful and more harmful effects. There are several other factors such as method of use, type, and quality of the drug, drug abuse history in the family etc., that determine how quickly and how badly a person can get addicted, however, age is one of the key factors and remains a strong indicator of problems ahead.

There are several other reasons for kids to keep using drugs, even when they want to quit. For example, teenagers usually do drugs in groups and end up doing criminal activities (like stealing) to get their fix. When one of the group members decides to quit, others can threaten them. Such threats are not only directed to the person themselves but also their family. Here’s a short, but very informative video by National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA):

How to Approach Your Child

Mother comforting sad daughter

After you notice that your kid is abusing drugs, you want to lend a hand, but it’s never easy to talk about something as sensitive and personal as drug or alcohol addiction. And when you finally do, chances are that you will put your kid on the spot. Most likely they will get angry and will try to either confront you in a hostile manner or avoid the conversation altogether. In both the cases, try to focus on the person and the consequences, and not their behavior.

How do I talk to my child about his or her addiction?

Depending on the situation, you might need to approach your kids differently, however here are some guidelines that can help you to get started on the right foot:

  • First of all, never talk to your child when they are drunk or high because they will most likely ignore what you are saying, or even worse, the situation can turn out badly if they get confrontational.
  • Anytime when your kid is clear-headed is fine to talk about their problem, but when they have a hangover the day after using drugs or alcohol and are remorseful is the ideal time. Also, it’s a good idea to take someone with you who understands your concern and is close to your kid also, e.g. the other parent, a friend, a relative, or even a health professional. Another thing you can do is to arrange the rendezvous at a neutral turf instead of your house, which might be your kid’s comfort zone.
  • No matter how bad their response is, remember it’s the drugs getting the better of them, so you shouldn’t lose your temper. Keep your calm and show them your concern in the best possible way. Whatever you say don’t blame or criticize them, criticize the drugs or alcohol.
  • You can start talking by mentioning the good old times before they got into drugs and how the life was much better, happier and healthier, and how you guys had a good time together and how things have changed since then. Stay positive and avoid saying negative things.
  • Don’t be surprised if your kid tries to deny the fact that they’re taking drugs or say that they don’t need your help. It’s a natural response. Try to be consistent but don’t be pushy. If they don’t listen to you, end your conversation on a high note and wait for another better time.

Taking Charge of the Situation

After coming to know that their child has become addicted to alcohol or drugs, a lot of people tend to lose it. But actually, it is time to take the bull by the horns and get into the driving seat. If you panic, things will only get worse because your child needs your help and support. So, if your child is flirting with drugs but hasn’t become addicted yet, the first thing is to talk to them, make them realize that it’s not just a problem but also a disease that can be lethal. Also, you have to encourage them that there is a way out and you will be with them all the way.

But if your child has already become an addict, it’s time for damage control. You need to make sure that they do not hurt themselves or get into any trouble with other people or the law.
  • Try to stay around them as much as you can without disturbing their privacy. If they have a driver’s license and drive under the influence, take away their driving privileges. This will be a major nuisance for the whole family but can prevent a fatal accident.
  • Listen to your kid’s opinion but beware that they might be afraid, even ashamed, and might not always tell the truth. Therefore, getting early professional help from someone who has experience dealing with such situations can be very helpful.

What To Do In Case Of An Overdose?

Mother holding hand in a hospital

A number of deaths from the drug overdose (OD) has been rising pretty quickly over the last few years in the United States. In fact, it has now become the biggest cause of accidental deaths in the country. Every single day, almost 30 people die because of a drug overdose and another 7000 end up in an emergency department.

The majority of deaths are young males who are at a three times higher risk of dying from an overdose than their female counterparts.

But what is an overdose?

In short, drug overdose, sometimes referred to as OD, “occurs when an excessive amount of a (prescription or illicit) drug, or a combination of drugs is consumed and overwhelms the body.”

Remember, ODs can be intentional or accidental. In the case of prescription drugs, an OD can occur when drugs are taken in quantities more than medically recommended. Some people can be more sensitive to some drugs and even a small amount – which may be well within the acceptable range of medical use – can prove to be toxic for them. However, in a case of street drugs or illicit drugs, an overdose occurs when a large amount of drug is consumed and the body fails to detoxify the drug quickly enough to avoid serious consequences.

So what should you do if you believe that your kid has taken too much?

Call 911 right away, especially if they have collapsed or are having trouble breathing. Try doing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in case he/she is having trouble breathing or breathing is dangerously weak. You can also call Poison Control at 800-222-1222 (available 24/7) and they will advise you what to do. Don’t try to induce vomiting, or force the person to eat or drink anything. Collect the leftover drug and give it to the doctor.

Depending upon the type of the drug used, you can do a few other things until help arrives. For example, when somebody overdoses stimulants, there are hardly any chances of death but it can dangerously increase their blood pressure, body temperature, and can cause an irregular heartbeat. A doctor can control blood pressure or pulse with medicinal aid or give them sedatives to calm their body down.

A sedative overdose can be more threatening, especially when mixed with alcohol as it can slow down the brain function and can easily suppress their ability to breathe. In this case, you should pump the chest and give them charcoal agent to reverse the effects of harmful materials in the stomach.

In a case of an opioid or painkiller overdose, the person may suffer from intense muscle spasms, their lips and nails might also turn blue. They might be falling asleep at times or in situations where it doesn’t make any sense, or will be slowing down and showing a lack of coordination. More serious signs include trouble breathing or changing color, this could be a sign that they are dying. In a case of opiate overdose, instant medical help must be sought. The doctor will administer naloxone, which is an opiate blocker to reverse the effects in a matter of minutes.

Where to Get Help?

Depending on your situation, you might need to get help from different sources. For example, in case of an emergency, you should call 911, but if you just want to find out whether your child is abusing drugs, you can take them to a doctor who will screen them for the signs of drug use and other related health conditions.

What Type of Drug Screening to Expect?

When you take your child to a doctor or addiction specialist, they will ask the child several questions about the use of drugs or alcohol and associated risk behaviors such as driving under the influence. The doctor might also ask for urine and/or blood drug test to identify what type of drugs are being abused. After that, they will assess and refer you to the type of treatment that’s best suited.

Finding the Right Treatment Center

Holding hands during therapy

Thanks to the Internet and the helplines set up by the government, finding nearest treatment facility is now very easy. You can dial 1-800-662-HELP or go to findtreatment.samhsa.gov to find the treatment centers in your area. However, you should try to choose the right center by making sure that they offer services for teens and young adults. Remember, the treatment locator on the government website also provides you this and other valuable information about every treatment facility. You can also do some basic research on the Internet about the center, go to their website and see what type of services they offer and what is their working structure. You may also consider other factors such as whether the center accepts your insurance, their timing, and fee structure.

There are several centers that offer outpatient treatment programs which allow your kid to stay in school at the same time and also get treated for their addictions. However, this option is ideal for kids who are willing to quit and have sufficient willpower. Other kids do better in inpatient facilities. Your doctor or addiction specialist will be better able to advise you on this.

Financing Your Child’s Treatment/Rehab

Parents trying to figure out how to pay the bills

Most insurances for children cover substance abuse treatment services and even pay for inpatient stays. When setting an appointment for a treatment center, ask them about the payment options and what insurance policies they accept.

The above-mentioned Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator also offers some insight into the payment information for different types of treatment services listed and also gives information on sliding scales fees. You can also call treatment helpline at 1-800-662-HELP or 1-800-487-TTY to ask about centers that offer low or no-cost treatment.

The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act enforces that co-pay deductibles and visit members are not restricted for mental health and substance abuse disorder so you may avail medical and surgical benefits. The Affordable Care Act builds on this law and adds the substance abuse disorder in the ten essential health benefits categories.

Support Groups for Teens – Good or Bad?

The latest researches show that peer support groups for teens can be helpful and play as a companion for the treatment. Self-help groups and other support groups can be effective in aiding your kid’s treatment as they recover from their addiction by adding a layer of community-level social support. If your child is an inpatient, they will most likely be offered good support group therapy as well, and you might not need to go through the hassle.

Remember that most good, reputable support groups are affiliated with Teen-Anon (TA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and Cocaine Anonymous (CA). These are based on a 12-step model that make sure that the group follows certain policies and procedures. Check the group’s official website and see if they focus on the teen programs and offer meetings in your area. You can also consult your local hospital or treatment center to find out about the meetings in your vicinity. Recovery high schools and private group services can also be good options.


This comprehensive guide on addicted young adults and teenagers can be a great resource for parents. You as a parent should consider it as a road map and follow the steps mentioned, but remember it will take more than that. You have to come up with your own strategies that are tailored to your kid’s situation. The best and most important piece of advice is to stay positive and stay motivated as there is nothing better than seeing your kid get clean and start living a healthy life once again. It is a lot of effort on your part, but at the end of the day, it is well worth it.