As a parent, you invest a considerable amount of time in your child’s well-being. As children transition into young adulthood, you may encounter communications challenges that make it increasingly difficult to start conversations with your teen. However, teens who experiment with drug use and drinking are gambling with their long-term health. It’s essential for you to lay the groundwork to prevent teen substance use and help them avoid falling into self-destructive patterns from a young age.
Adolescence Is a Critical Time to Prevent Teen Substance Use
The earlier teens begin experimenting with drugs and alcohol, the higher the chances they will develop a substance misuse disorder later in life. Drugs change the pathways in the brain, which can lead to addiction and other behavioral health problems. As a parent or guardian, you can play a vital role in reducing the risk of a teen developing an addiction and the various issues that accompany it.
For teens and adults alike, risk of drug use increases sharply during times of stress or upheaval. For a teenager, vulnerable periods include moving, a divorce in their family or a transition to a new school. When children graduate from middle school to high school, they may face a bewildering new array of life challenges, including unfamiliar social and academic situations. For many students, this transition coincides with the time they initially get exposed to cigarette, drug or alcohol use.
Adolescence and Brain Development
During adolescence, a certain amount of risk-taking behavior is normal as teens begin to push their boundaries and learn to become more independent individuals. The desire to explore and experiment with new things is healthy, but it may also make teenagers more vulnerable when they encounter alcohol or drugs in social situations. We now know the rational, decision-making part of the brain does not fully mature until around age 25, which restricts a teen’s ability to display good judgment when confronted with peer pressure to try drugs or alcohol.
Because teens’ brains are still developing, using drugs in adolescence has a higher potential to disrupt brain function in areas that play essential roles in memory, learning, judgment and behavior. It’s not entirely surprising that teens who use alcohol and other drugs often have problems at home and school and develop mental health problems at greater rates.
What Can You Do to Prevent Teen Substance Use?
As a parent or other role model, you make a significant impact on your teen’s decision to use or not use alcohol and drugs. Preventing teen substance use begins with establishing a trusting relationship where your teen feels like he can talk to you about any topic, no matter how sensitive.
Ask your teen open-ended questions about what they did at school or sports practice, as well as what they think about topics that are in the local, national or global news. Listen to their answers respectfully and without interrupting. Though teens can be reluctant to open up at first, if you show a genuine interest in their activities and opinions, it will be obvious how much you care.
As part of your regular conversations, bring up the topic of tobacco, alcohol and drug use. Ask him if any of their friends are using drugs, or if anyone has ever offered him drugs or invited him to a party where drinking or drug use would be prevalent. Teach him about ways to politely, confidently say no if someone invites them to try drugs, cigarettes or alcohol.
You can also be a positive role model through your actions. Though it may not seem like your kids are paying attention to you, they watch and take note of the things you do. For example, if you regularly lecture your teen on the dangers of tobacco use, yet you remain a heavy smoker, your words will carry less weight.
Substance Use Prevention Begins at Home
It is never too early to bring up the topic of drug use with your teen. The conversations you have today can help him make healthier life choices in the future. At Spearhead Lodge, we understand the unique challenges of substance misuse in young men. If you suspect your teen needs help for a drinking or drug problem, don’t wait until it progresses further. Contact us today so we can help your child make a full recovery.