Adolescence is a period of rapid physiological change. From puberty onward, teens are learning to become adults while their brains and bodies continue to mature in preparation for the time when they’ll come of age and take responsibility for their own lives. When substance abuse is introduced during this delicate period, the damage can be catastrophic.
Among the many problems that teenage addiction can cause, perhaps the most important are the effects that substance abuse can have on the brain and body that are not yet fully developed. When drugs are introduced into the body, the production and levels of essential neurotransmitters and hormones are thrown off balance, causing the body to compensate accordingly.
The body is still balancing the natural levels of many of these hormones and chemicals, which means drug use would compound an already complicated issue. What’s more, it’s during the period of adolescence that individuals learn the life skills that are essential for survival. If a teenager doesn’t or is unable to learn the important skills adults need to survive, survival will be dubious at best.
FINDING DRUGS IN YOUR HOUSE: MAINTAINING THE FAMILY UNIT
Many parents fear the possibility of their children inadvertently developing an addiction to alcohol and drugs at an age when the devastation caused by developing a chemical dependence is compounded. And despite the fact that there are many parents across the country—and even the world—whose fears are realized when they discover some sign that their teenage child is using drugs, this scenario does not mean the battle against the disease of addiction has been lost. On the contrary, parents who discover evidence that a teenager is using drugs should be thankful that their child’s substance abuse did not continue in secret, growing more and more severe in the absence of treatment and support. While it’s a discovery that won’t be memorable in a pleasant sort of way, it’s the moment in which parents learn that a substance abuse problem exists and take action so that the teenage child can be directed toward recovery.
With the rates of substance abuse being so incredibly high both nationally and globally, it’s the worst nightmare of most parents that an adolescent or teenage child will show behavior that indicates substance abuse and physical dependency. This may mean that parents pay more and more attention to their teens’ behavior as they continue to age, looking for signs that would alert them to the presence of a problem so that the budding addiction can be swiftly dealt with before it becomes a lifelong issue.
When parents see some sign that makes them suspicious of substance abuse, the next step will often entail searching the teen’s bedroom and belongings for drugs, paraphernalia, and other physical evidence of substance abuse or dependency. If you find drugs in your house, either inadvertently or while snooping, you may wonder what the best course of action to take might be. If you have recently found drugs in your teen’s possession, here’s what you should do.
BE AN EDUCATED ENFORCER
Before the moment of finding drugs in your house, it’s crucial that you’ve educated yourself on the basics of substance abuse. It seems that most parents are either excessively paranoid about the possibility that their teen will abuse mind-altering substances while others assume it couldn’t happen to their children and don’t worry about it at all. Instead, take a stance that’s somewhere in the middle: Acknowledge that it’s possible, even if only remotely, and learn what to look for so that your innocent teen doesn’t get blamed for something he or she isn’t doing because you’re not quite sure what you should be looking for.
Use the internet as a resource and research teenage addiction and substance abuse. Learn about the common behaviors exhibited by teens when they’re experimenting or addicted to alcohol and drugs. Knowing more about this will mean you’ll be better prepared for the possibility of it happening and equipped with the knowledge of how the situation should best be handled.
RECRUIT OTHER PARENTS
As a parent, you might expect the first step to entail immediately confronting the teenage drug user, but the parent who discovers that their teenager has been using alcohol or drugs has homework to do first. Namely, the parents should get in contact with the parents of the teenager’s peer group, which is likely to consist of friends with whom the teenager has been experimenting with substance abuse. In fact, one or more of those peers has likely been providing the substance to the others or providing access to the substance.
It’s important to make sure that the other parents are aware of what’s going on because if the entire group of teens is partaking in substance abuse, then the entire group needs to be addressed. Even if you tell your teen to stop associating with a certain group of people, if they attend the same school it’s virtually impossible to ensure that the teen obliges. If all the other parents are aware of the situation, the parents can form a sort of coalition, agreeing on rules such as curfews, supervision, and so on. In short, the parents can collectively prevent situations in which the teens were abusing alcohol and drugs.
If your teenager goes to the same school as his group of friends that are abusing substances, you will need to be creative and resourceful to help ensure that he or she does not fall back into the substance abuse trap. If all the other parents are aware of the situation, the parents can form a sort of coalition, agreeing on rules such as curfews, supervision, and so on. In short, the parents can collectively prevent situations in which the teens were abusing alcohol and drugs.
THINK BEFORE YOU ACT
If you find an alcohol or drug stash in your teen’s bedroom, try to refrain from letting your emotions get the best of you. Immediately confronting the teen with your anger, outrage, and tears is one of the worst things you could do. This kind of discovery is going to make you volatile, even unpredictable, and would likely cause you to say things before you’ve really thought about them.
For example, you don’t want to immediately throw your teen out of the house and then realize later that night that you’ve made a momentous, colossal mistake. Take some time, even a day or two, to collect yourself and strategize about how you want to handle the situation. You’re upset about this situation because you love your teen and you’re scared of this situation and what it could lead to, so find the best way to convey those thoughts and feelings to your teen.
PREPARE YOURSELF FOR THE DISCUSSION
It’s probably hard not to think of this as a confrontation, but try not to. When you approach your teen with your discovery, it’s to have a discussion, not a confrontation. By being understanding and empathetic, your teen will be more likely to participate in the conversation and make it an exchange rather than it being you berating him or her. This is essential if you hope to learn the circumstances that led to his or her substance abuse so that you can set rules that will prevent those circumstances from encouraging substance abuse going forward.
Additionally, it’s equally important that you prepare for the discussion by doing some research. Look up statistics about the drug or substance you now know your teen has been using, such as addiction rates, health risks, side effects, and so on. Inform your teen what it is that he or she is risking or possibly sacrificing by continuing to experiment with and abuse alcohol and drugs. If you feel the problem is severe, you might even consult your child’s pediatrician or doctor about outpatient treatment or a program specifically for adolescents and teens.
OUTLINE THE RULES
Once your teen is aware that you’ve done your research and know what you’re talking about, make sure that he or she is also aware that this type of behavior cannot and will not be tolerated moving forward. Discuss your rules, then explain to your child why you’re setting these rules and why they’re important. Explain that it’s not your desire to make your child’s life difficult or unpleasant, but rather to guide them toward adulthood while ensuring their safety and health. Rules might not be fun, but they’re set with love. Just as important as the rules are the consequences for breaking them, which should also be clearly outlined to your teen. After the rules and consequences have been discussed, it’s the duty of the parents to enforce the rules. Otherwise, this will all have been for nothing.
TREAT THE CONTRIBUTORS
Oftentimes teens will engage in substance abuse for one or more of many reasons, such as to fit in with peers, boredom, self-medicating due to anxiety or depression, and so on. As a parent, be aware that when a teenager engages in substance abuse, there is almost always a cause or contributor that led the teen to engage in that behavior. If the teen was simply bored and had too much free time, find constructive, productive ways for the teen to spend their time that offers fulfillment and keeps him or her out of trouble.
If the issue is that the teen chose to treat anxiety, depression, or some other mental or emotional condition with intoxication, the best action to take would be to find the teen a therapist or counselor, especially one that specializes in teenage substance abuse and addiction. If the issue was the teen’s peer group, therapy or counseling would also be effective in addition to encouraging the teenager to participate or engage with the family in activities that fortify the familial bond and, particularly, strengthen the teen’s relationship with his or her parents.
ENCOURAGE OPENNESS AND SHOW SUPPORT
Finally, make sure that you encourage your teen to maintain open communication with you as his or her parent. Tell them that addiction is not an easy disease from which to recover with difficulties expected over the course of the process. Encourage your teen to come to talk to you and confide in you, express his or her thoughts and feelings, and fears. Be supportive of your teen throughout the entire process. If necessary, encourage and allow him or her to participate in twelve-step programs and support groups, especially those intended specifically for adolescents and teens, as these have proven to be a great resource for those with the desire to abstain from substance abuse.
If you or someone you love is addicted to alcohol or drugs, the Palm Beach Institute can help. Our knowledgeable specialists have helped numerous addicts begin the journey of recovery by matching them with the programs that meet their individual needs and we can help you, too. Call us today at (877) 663-0170.