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As you read in the previous article Teens and Substance Abuse, Part 1, we discussed why teens are at risk for substance abuse, statistics regarding teens and substances, the changes seen in teens who use substances, and how substance use can lead to abuse. We also talked about marijuana and why it is as addictive as any other drug.

In this article, we’re going to discuss how to address teenage substance abuse, treatment options, and educational options for teens with abuse issues.

If you suspect your teen is using drugs, here are some steps to take to begin to tackle the issue:

  • Don’t beat yourself up. You are not a bad parent. Drug use happens in all kinds of families. No family is immune, so don’t take your teen’s behavior personally.
  • Be prepared to have several heart-to-heart conversations with your teen. Tell your teen that are aware of their behavior and that you would like to work with them to resolve the issue.
  • Don’t have the conversation while your teen is under the influence; this will get you nowhere. Wait until you and your child are calm; your kid will be more receptive at this time.
  • Your kid will tell you all kinds of things: they aren’t using; their drug use is none of your business; you are a terrible parent for snooping through their stuff; and that you can’t stop your child from using.
  • Your teen may try to tell you that they don’t have a problem. If so, ask them the following questions:
    • Does your mood change when you use drugs and after the drugs wear off?
    • Does life seem better when you use? If not, why do you keep doing it?
    • Are you able to cut back? If so, what happens (withdrawal symptoms)?
    • Do you lie about your use? Do you steal to afford drugs?
  • Create a plan of consequences for when your teen uses. Tell your kid that they are old enough to make decisions and control their behavior. If they want freedom and independence then they need to prove they are worthy. Create a contract that lists the freedoms they want and that they will be granted if the child refrains from drug use and related negative behaviors.
  • Money, phones, and opportunity help teens access drugs. Include limits to these in the plan. If your kid demonstrates good behavior, then allow more access to the phone. If chores are completed as agreed upon, pay an allowance.
  • Avoid tough love and yelling. This invokes feelings of shame and can push your teen away…and right into more drug use. Tell them how their drug use makes you feel, how it impacts siblings/the family, the effects drugs have on the body, can lead to poor grades and a dimmer future, etc. Explaining these things in a rational manner provides insight into why you don’t condone your teen’s drug use. Ask about the kid’s goals and explain how drug use impedes achieving goals.
  • Help your child find an engaging activity to replace drug use. Encourage exercise since this is a natural antidepressant and stress-reliever. Exercise triggers dopamine, a chemical in the brain, that makes people feel pleasure. The pleasure center of the brain is then rewarded without drug use.
  • Seek professional help. This can include guidance from the child’s pediatrician, a psychologist, a school administrator, or other parents who may have encountered the same situation. There are many types of teen rehab treatment centers from outpatient to partial hospitalization to residential. There are also counseling options such as individual, group, and family. See

for more info.

  • In terms of education for teens in recovery, there are wilderness therapy programs, recovery high schools, nurturing or therapeutic boarding schools, and sober dorms at colleges.
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