Here are a few items that can reduce your anxiety if you are worried that your kid may use or is using alcohol or illegal substances.
If you attend to the media, you may think that all kids are using, and that they will all end up with a serious addiction. The statistics on teen substance use do not say that. Most kids experiment, a sizable portion are drinking or drugging periodically, but the addicted kids are a small minority.
Teens are prone to substance use because of curiosity, cultural influences, and impulsivity. Because their brain is developing quickly, it can quickly develop into a lifelong problem.
Be preventative. Spend time with your kids. For example, recent research states that having dinner and doing homework with kids is predictor of kids not using substances. Spend non-structured time, and listen. Everyone wants to tell their story, given they have a person willing to listen without nagging, advice-giving and lecturing.
Is your kid at risk? The three biggest risk factors for teen substance use are trauma, divorce and mental illness. In these cases, professional assistance is highly recommended.
Assess your kids. An easy barometer is acceptable grades, participation in chores, social interests with peers, respect of the parents, and are they involved with substances. Although I believe it should be optional for teens, involvement in spirituality can be very powerful for teen development.
Don’t panic! Despite what others think, teens deeply need us more in this stage of their life. They are facing more challenges than any previous generation. Most kids need grounded, well adjusted parents to make it safely to adulthood. Best thing for an anxious parent is to address their own anxiety, before unknowingly making the kid responsible for that parental anxiety. For example, I have worked with many parents that grew up poor, overindulged their kids, and severely regretted it later.
And how not to panic! Get a consult and do not work alone! A family session with parents with a Certified Addictions Professional that works with teens (see resources at the end of this post) can really alleviate some of the anxiety. Other parents, extended family, church and school resources can be of invaluable assistance. Often parents find value for themselves to see a therapist. Understanding substance use and our own reactions to our kids is paramount to effective parenting in the substance use issue. Some parents will find NarAnon or AlAnon (see resources,) family support groups, very useful and comforting.
Check your own judgements at the door. The most important development task of a teen is freedom. They are supposed to push against us and take risks. Humans are healthy when they do not accept only one view, and when they take risks. Our biggest responsibility is to love our kids and help them become self-sufficient. Can we love them when they make mistakes? The challenge for parents is to recognize teen development, allow for freedom, growth and risks, and help them keep themselves safe.
Understand substance use. Often parents do not understand substance abuse, and make snap judgements and consequences. Kids are caught in a dilemma of feeling good by using with friends, and parents who send the message that using substances is horrible. Human beings are wired to seek to feel good and to avoid feeling bad. Substance use is often just a symptom of other emotional challenges.
Know signs and symptoms of using behavior. The simple ones are secrecy, isolation, change in friends and interests and unexplained mood swings or bizarre behavior. Know signs and symptoms of drugs of abuse (see NIHDrugsofAbuse .)
Keep your kid safe. The silver lining to finding out your kid is using is that you have an opportunity to remove driving privileges. You will sleep better at night. You have the right to forbid your child from being with a drug user. Secretly your kid could be relieved that someone drew a line in the sand.
Don’t be scared of drug screens. Not only do we use screens to detect drug use, but they help your teen. Many people do not use because they know they have a screen awaiting them (see resources for Drug Screens.)
Don’t be scared of treatment. Most therapists recommend starting with the lowest level of care which is outpatient counseling. The addictions therapist can recommend the best level of care for your kid. The next levels of care are intensive outpatient and residential treatment. Sometimes kids need residential treatment because they can not extract themselves from their using friends.
Resources (short list for Polk County Florida!)
Joe Martin, LMHC, CAP, 863-808-7416
Andy Quinn, LMHC, CAP, 863-683-9600
Rhett Brandt, Ph.D.,863-606-5922
Lifecare of Lakeland, Donna St. Rock, 863-937-9659
Dr. Curtis Cassidy 863-686-0800, late teens only
Dr. Chris Davenport, 863-646-9600, late teens only
Dr Mark Helm, 863-683-2600
Dr. Karen Teston, 863-647-8043
Target drug testing: 863-701-0777
Quest diagnostics: 866-697-8378
Polk county drug court: 863-534-4612
Self help groups: