10 Parenting Tips for Raising a Healthy Teen

Here’s some great advice for raising a healthy, happy teen, from Muir Wood:

Mom and teenage daughter talking

  1. Be an engaged and hands-on parent to your kids. Discuss your family values and expectations about alcohol and substance use. Empower your children with facts to make good choices. Ensure they know the effects of alcohol and drugs on brain development, the law, and social / physical risks.
  2. Remove easy access in your home. Put away and/or lock up alcohol and other drugs, including prescription medicines. Easy access = potential problems.
  3. Ensure your house is not used for parties while you are away. If you are gone from home for the evening or out of town, take measures to ensure your house isn’t used for parties with alcohol or substances. Communicate with your neighbors. Have someone check on your house. Have clear plans in place for your kids if they are not away with you.
  4. Do not allow your child to attend large or loosely supervised parties that are not alcohol/drug free and are not supervised by an adult.
    Ensure that a parent is present at larger gatherings and agrees to a no alcohol or substance use event before you allow your son/daughter to attend.
  5. Proactively communicate with your child’s friend’s parents. Call before your child goes out for the night or spends the night with a friend to confirm an adult will be home all night and that the kids will be supervised. If the kids are going out for the evening, confirm where they are going, how they are getting there, and who will be supervising them.
  6. Set and enforce check-in times, curfews and other safety rules. Having healthy boundaries creates healthy habits.
  7. Give your kids a safe way out or exit plan from risky situations. Establish a code or phrase only you and your child know about, and let them know it’s ok to ask for help when they need it.
  8. Give your child praise or even reward for good decision-making. Mirror back to your child the importance of knowing how to leave a difficult situation.
  9. You are your child’s role model; set a good example. They learn from you. Drink moderately and responsibly. Don’t serve alcohol at pre- homecoming, prom, graduation, or sports team parties, etc.
  10. You are the parent, not your child’s friend.

Parenting is rewarding and can also be challenging. Create trust and an attitude of understanding while maintaining a role as parental figure. Above all, talk with and listen to your child. Love them for who they are, but don’t be afraid to set high standards.

Alcohol Awareness – Help for Today, Hope For Tomorrow

teenage drinking alcohol

Help your teen know the dangers surrounding drinking alcohol (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

April is Alcohol Awareness Month which is an awareness campaign sponsored by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD).  For almost 30 years, this month-long event has worked to increase awareness about alcoholism and other alcohol related issues.   As it has for the past few years, this year’s campaign focuses on the issue of underage drinking and the consequences is causes for individuals, families, and communities as a whole.

The theme this year is “Help for Today, Hope for Tomorrow,” and the goal is to educate people across the country about how to prevent alcoholism before it starts and how to treat it once it happens.   Events will be occurring throughout the country to help achieve that goal.  To find more information on the national campaign or to find local groups that are participating visit the NCADD’s Alcohol Awareness Month page.

Here at Doorways, we consistently strive to provide teens and parents with the resources and services they need to overcome challenges like substance abuse.  We see firsthand the devastation that can be caused when alcohol and adolescents mix including risky behavior, traffic accidents, overdoses, violent behavior, suicidal thoughts, difficulties in school, and other behavioral problems.  To help mitigate the damage alcohol can do, we must all do our part to raise awareness of this wide-spread problem.

Information and awareness go hand in hand and, especially when it comes to topics like these, numbers can often speak louder than words.  To illustrate the problem of underage drinking, here are some of the alcohol+adolescent numbers that every parent and every teen need to know.

  • Alcohol is the number one drug of choice for America’s young people.
  • By age 10, 10% of our children have started drinking.
  • By age 13, that number more than triples, approaching 33%.
  • Alcohol is more likely to kill an adolescent than all illegal drugs combined.
  • One quarter of American children have firsthand experience with alcohol-use disorders within their own family.
  • Children of alcoholics may be as much as 10 times as likely to become alcoholics as their peers.
  • Each day, 7,000 kids in the United States under the age of 16 take their first drink.
  • Teenagers who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to become alcoholics than those that wait until they reach the legal drinking age of 21.
  • One quarter of American children have firsthand experience with alcohol-use disorders within their own family.
  • Binge drinking is common amongst teenagers who drink and 25% of students drank more than 5 drinks in a row within the past 30 days.
  • Close to 5 college student per day die from an alcohol related cause which is more than 1,700 each year.
  • College students also suffer around 600,000 alcohol-related injuries each year.
  • There are 100,000 alcohol-related sexual assaults or date rapes committed against college students each year.

It is everyone’s responsibility to work together to create a safe, secure alcoholism-free future for our adolescents.

 Related Articles:

Do You Know the Drugs of This Generation? Part 2

drug abuse teens

Make sure you know this information if you are a parent of a teen (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

When it comes to helping teens avoid illicit drugs, while knowledge is power for parents, not knowing can be dangerous for your teen.  As part of National Drug Facts Week, parents can test their drug IQ by taking the 2014 National Drug IQ Challenge and then read on to learn more about the drugs that belong to their teenager’s generation.  You can read part one of this series here.


Salvia, an herb native to Central and South America, is a drug you aren’t likely to have heard of, yet.  It can be ingested a variety of ways including chewing the leaves, smoking the dried leaves, or inhaling the vapors.  It is also called Sally-D and Maria Pastora and although it is not currently prohibited by federal law, it is considered to be a drug of concern by the DEA and may soon be classified as a schedule I drug like marijuana.


Odds are, no matter where you live, you know what Meth is, even if you only know about it because of the TV show “Breaking Bad”.   Meth is short for Methamphetamine and is a stimulant drug that can cause increased energy and alertness while also providing positive effects on mood.  Unfortunately, it also causes elevated heart rate, raised blood pressure, and other negative side effects.   Meth is also known as speed, tina, ice, crank, and glass.  It is a white powder that can be made into pills, dissolved in water, or smoked.   It is often made using very toxic ingredients including battery acid and antifreeze.

Using meth can cause mood swings, violent or aggressive behavior and even psychosis, paranoia, and delusions.  At first, using meth can increase sexual impulses and puts users at a higher risk for things like sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies.  Over time, meth can have the opposite effect on sex drive in addition to causing skin sores, severe weight loss, cognitive deficits, accelerated aging, and meth mouth where the person’s teeth become broken, rotten, stained, and/or fall out.


Spice is an herbal concoction that produces results similar to marijuana when smoked.  Often seen as a “natural” or “legal” alternative to marijuana, Spice can also contain mind-altering chemicals that produce unanticipated results.  Many teens believe the myth that Spice is natural and therefore is somehow safer to use than other drugs.  However, Spice users have experienced symptoms like rapid heart rate, vomiting, agitation, and hallucinations.  The truth is that because Spice can be made in different ways and using different chemicals it is difficult to identify the possible adverse reactions and long term affects of its use.  Spice was easy to buy in gas stations and head shops but now that it has been designated as an illegal substance by the Drug Enforcement Agency, it is harder for teens to obtain.  Spice is also called K2, skunk, and moon rocks and those who use it can become addicted.  Spice is second only to marijuana in use amongst high school students.


Do You Know the Drugs of This Generation? Part 1

Substance Abuse Teens

Any parent of teens should make sure they know this information about drugs (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

Each generation of teenagers has their own music, their own heroes, and unfortunately, their own drugs.  This can put parents at a disadvantage.  Today’s parents might be familiar with the drugs of their day like cocaine, marijuana, and heroin.  But would they know that the topics was drugs if they overheard their teenager talking to a friend about Molly, Adam, Tina, Sally-D, Scarface, or Juice?  Many would not which is one of the things the National Institute of Drug Abuse hopes to change with this year’s National Drug Facts Week.

For parents, knowledge is power in the war on drugs and not knowing can be dangerous for your teen.  Parents can test their drug IQ by taking the 2014 National Drug IQ Challenge and then read on to learn more about the drugs that belong to their teenager’s generation.

Anabolic Steroids

Anabolic steroids are not a new drug but when parents think about the drugs that pose a danger to their children, it doesn’t always make the list.  Also known as “roids” and juice”, anabolic steroids are a prescription medication that can be used to treat legitimate medical conditions.  However, using them for performance enhancement or to bulk up is not a legitimate use and any use without a prescription is illegal.   Steroid abuse can cause serious health problems and they should never be used by teenagers unless prescribed for a medical condition.

Bath Salts

This is a new kind of drug produced using man-made chemicals that create a synthetic form of cathinone, which is a naturally occurring stimulant with similar affect to amphetamines.  The effects of taking bath salts can vary widely and range from intense joy and friendliness to paranoia, agitation, violence, and hallucinations.  There have already been instances of people dying from this drug.   Bath salts are a powdery substance and are sold with names like Bloom, Cloud Nine, Vanilla Sky, and Scarface.  They are usually labeled “not for human consumption” and may be sold as jewelry cleaner or plant food.   The law is racing to keep up with these new designer drugs so that they cannot be legally sold in stores.  Unfortunately, the nature of these drugs makes it very easy to change the chemical composition just enough to remain on the right side of the law.

MDMA (aka Ecstasy)

Parents are also likely to have heard of ecstasy but may not know that it is still used by today’s teens, although use is on the decline.  Also known as Molly, MDMA is another manmade chemical substance that has stimulant-like effects.  It is best known for making people feel like everyone is their friend and that they love everyone.   The primary danger of prolonged used of MDMA is brain damage but there is no conclusive evidence about the long term effects or long term prognosis for habitual users.

The Legalization of Marijuana: An Interview with Jan


The use and legalization of marijuana is a hotly debated topic these days. (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

How has the legalization of marijuana in states like Colorado impacted adolescents? 

What I hear from many adolescents  is now that it’s legalized in some states for medicinal purposes and for recreational purposes in two states, there is a perception that it’s safe to use and that there are  no real negative effects of this drug. Though certainly it’s not legalized for children and adolescents, there is still the perceived safety of using marijuana recreationally.

When do you think marijuana use is helpful?

It is definitely indicated for some disorders like chronic pain, glaucoma, and chemotherapy-induced nausea. I think it has its place. And not everyone who uses it is going to get addicted. But I do see the negative effects.

When do you think marijuana use is questionable?

There is very little evidence to support its use for insomnia and other mental health disorders.  In fact, the effect marijuana has on the brain can cause worse problems with anxiety and mood.  It can also be potentially addictive for a small percentage of people who use it. Psychologically, there can be a dependence on smoking pot daily and using it in social situations.

So, it can make symptoms worse for some people?

Yes, some people can have worse anxiety, panic attacks, and even psychotic symptoms like paranoia, delusions and even hallucinations from use.

Are there any dangers to using marijuana over a long period of time?

Chronic marijuana use can have long-term effects on the respiratory system and also decrease immune system function. It can cause difficulty with motivation or volition and memory.  And one of the most concerning things to me is that the rapid frontal lobe development in young adolescents (11-15) can really be impaired by cannabis use at that age.  It can cause potential deficits in brain function into later years and can impair memory and learning capabilities.

How widely is marijuana used by teens?

The latest youth risk survey in Arizona (2011) found that 25% of all 8-12 graders had used marijuana within 30 days of the study.  The incidence of use has  increased over the past 2 years.

It will be interesting to see statistically if the incidence of marijuana use increases as more states legalize it and allow for its recreational use.

What do you hear from parents and their thoughts on marijuana?

Some parents are concerned and some feel marijuana is “no big deal”.  They are more worried about “heavy drugs”.  They may be recreational or habitual users themselves and do not feel there are negative consequences for their teens using as well.

Marijuana has been indicated as a treatment for glaucoma, chronic pain and other conditions, why doesn’t it come in a form that indicates strength, such as a 200 mg tablet like Ibuprofen?

Marijuana is not federally approved. It’s still illegal to possess and sell marijuana according to the federal drug enforcement laws. It is the particular states that have legalized its use on a state by state basis.  The Federal Drug Administration has not tested it because it’s not federally regulated. Prescription, synthetic forms of marijuana are available for things like increasing appetite in people with AIDS.

How does marijuana use impact teens? 

I know of young people who have sleep disturbances due to marijuana use, who have difficulty learning, who have dropped out of school because of lack of motivation. I’ve seen kids with severe psychotic episodes because of marijuana. Others have difficulty keeping a job and experience panic attacks.

As I said before, marijuana use changes the brain. It is lipophilic (“fat loving”) and it accumulates in the fatty white matter of the brain. Since the white matter is 60% of the total brain mass, it can take months for it to clear out of the brain after use is discontinued.  Even after stopping marijuana, you can have residual effects.

Why are teens using marijuana? 

They are using it because they are depressed, or anxious and want to calm down. They may use it to dull effects of past or current trauma. Others are using it because it’s cool or because they think it’s harmless. For many, their friends use it, they try it and like it, and it becomes a major part of their recreation or simply becomes a habit that’s hard to break.

What leads teens who use marijuana to come to Doorways? 

They are coming in because they are depressed, having panic attacks, problems with parents, feeling blah or unmotivated, etc.  the question becomes: Was it the depression (or other mental health issue) that lead to  the marijuana use or did the marijuana use make the depression symptoms worse? 

What is one thing about marijuana use and teens that you want parents to know?

I think parents need to know that marijuana can be harmful to an adolescent’s developing brain and that some of the mood or anxiety symptoms their kids are experiencing could actually be made worse by using it.

5 Signs Your Teen is Using Drugs

teens and drugs

Do you know how to tell if your teen is using drugs? (Photo Credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

If there is one thing that happens in all teens it’s that once in awhile they can be moody and rebellious and it can feel like their personality is shifting from one person to another.  This can make if difficult for parents to see the signs that something is wrong.  But many teenagers who are struggling with mental health issues, eating disorders, or substance abuse problems need their parents to see that they are struggling so that they can get the help they need.

When it comes to the use and abuse of drugs, it is crucial that parents are able to recognize that there is a problem, identify the problem, and get their teen the help they need to get clean and get their lives back on track.

Know when to be worried, what to look for, what questions to ask, and when to step in by reviewing these common signs of teenage drug use and abuse.

1.     New Friends or No Friends

If your teenager suddenly stops hanging out with the people they have always spent time with, it is time to pay attention.  If your teen starts hanging around with a completely new set of friends, it is time to ask questions.  If your teen goes from having lots of friends to spending more time alone, there may be something going on.

2.     Hating School

If your typical A or B student suddenly starts bringing home D’s and F’s or your teen starts complaining about how much they hate school all the time, you should pay attention and try to determine what is going on.  If your teen starts skipping school, dropping out of sports or other activities, or develops a negative attitude towards all things related to school, they may be struggling and need your help.

3.     Privacy!

If your generally laid back teenager suddenly becomes very angry when you put her laundry away, there may be cause for concern.  While many teenagers go through phases of needing additional privacy during these years, anger can be a sign that they are hiding something serious, like drugs.

4.     Secretive

Similar to the adoption of stricter concerns about privacy, when teens start using drugs they can become more secretive about their lives, their whereabouts, who they are talking to, etc.  If your previously open and friendly teenager starts offering ambiguous answers and giving primarily vague responses, it may be time to find out why.

5.     Money

Another change that teenagers often exhibit when they become involved with drugs is an increase in the amount of money they need.  If your teen seems to be borrowing money all the time or keeps asking if there are ways to earn money working around the house, you need to understand why.

All of these signs may indicate a problem with drug use or may be just a normal shift in your teen’s behavior.  The key to knowing when to worry and when to step back is looking for other things in their lives that might be influencing their change in behavior.  For example, a bunch of new friends would be normal for a teen that just joined a new club or started playing a sport.  Watching for the signs, asking lots of questions, and listening to your parental instincts are the best things you can do to keep your kids safe.

How to Help Keep Teens from Smoking

If you have a teen who smokes, read these tips on what you can do to help them stop. (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

If you have a teen who smokes, read these tips on what you can do to help them stop. (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

On November 21st people all across the country will take the Great American Smoke-out challenge and choose to spend an entire day smoke-free.  If you have ever been a smoker, you know just how hard it can be to go without smoking even for 24 hours.  This event, even for those families without smokers, offers a great opportunity to talk to your teenagers about smoking and to help them understand why the best way to stop smoking is to never start.  Here are some ways you can use the Great American Smoke-out as a teaching moment with your teens.

1.     If you Smoke, Try and Quit

Even if it is only for the day, trying to quit smoking can provide your teen with some invaluable insight.  In some ways, letting them experience the bonds of addiction vicariously through you may be the best thing you can do to encourage them not to smoke.  A person who has never smoked, which hopefully includes your teens, doesn’t really understand the power of this addiction and the barriers to quitting.  Take this opportunity to give your teen a first-hand look at just how hard it can be, just be sure you don’t sugarcoat any of the reality away.

2.     If You Know Someone Who Smokes, Ask for Help

If you are not a smoker, but you know someone who is, encourage them to participate in the Smoke-out and ask them to share their experience.  Getting the real deal from someone who isn’t your parent can make the message even stronger.  Ask the smoker you know to talk to your family about the realities of smoking including health concerns, the cost, and how many times they have tried to quit.

3.     Take a Stand

Although it may seem like your teenager never listens to you, you still need to tell them what they need to know.  This includes taking a stand against teenagers smoking.  If you are a smoker yourself, you may feel a little hypocritical telling your teenager not to smoke.  However, if you look back and wish you had never started smoking in the first place, which is the message you need to impart.

4.     Back Your Stand Up with Facts

Some teens choose to try that first cigarette as an act of rebellion; others because they want to be cool.  No matter the reason, teens often try smoking because they don’t understand that it is as dangerous as trying drugs.  While it is true that, unlike some drugs, smoking a single cigarette won’t kill you, it only takes that one cigarette to become addicted.   This is especially true for teens based on information from the Centers for Disease Control as their bodies are more sensitive to nicotine and they can become addicted more quickly.  As part of the Great Smoke-out, sit your teenager down and give them these facts from the CDC  about the reality of smoking.

  • Smoking causes cancer of the lungs, mouth, throat, and esophagus
  • Smoking causes heart disease and stroke
  • Smoking causes lung diseases including emphysema and chronic bronchitis
  • Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in this country
  • Each year, smoking is responsible for 1 out of every 5 deaths
  • On average, smokers die 10 years earlier than non-smokers

If you know someone who is trying to quit smoking, a great resource to refer him or her to is Arizona Smoker’s Helpline. They offer a vast array of free support and even smoking cessation medications.


Related articles



Parent Alert: What Drugs Teens are Doing Might Surprise You

'Spice' -- a designer synthetic cannabinoid.

‘Spice’ — a designer synthetic cannabinoid. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Keeping up with today’s teenagers is hard work.  You would think that with cell phones, Facebook, email, voicemail, and Twitter, parents would have an easier time that ever knowing what their teens like, who their friends are, and what they are up to on their own time.  Unfortunately, all this connectedness hasn’t really helped parents understand their teenagers any better than their parents understood them.  Teens are trendy, parents generally are not.  Teens are all about the next new thing, while parents move at a different pace.  This can be the source of those infamous parent-teen power struggles but it can also create a dangerous communication gap between what parents think kids are doing and what teens are actually doing.  There is no area where this problem is more serious than drug use.

For most of today’s parents, “drugs” means cocaine, heroin, marijuana, crack, and maybe ecstasy and meth.  These were the primary drugs of their youth and they understand them.  They know what to look out for, what the signs are, and when to get help.  What they may not know, is what the list would include if you asked their teenager.  To help parents understand the drug landscape of today, here are some of the drugs today’s teens are exposed to that may be new to parents.

Bath Salts

This synthetic drug which until recently was available to anyone over the counter, is unregulated, and can be deadly.  Although this drug is called bath salts, it has no relationship to anything you put in your bathtub.  It is a synthetic derivative of a stimulant called cathinone which affects the central nervous system.  Sold in foil packages, Bath Salts are sniffed, snorted, swallowed, smoked, and injected.  They are also known under a variety of street names like Bliss, Drone, Purple wave, White Knight, White Lightning, and Vanilla Sky.   Bath Salts mimic the effects of cocaine and were included in the recent federal ban on designer drugs.

2C-E or Europa

This is your teenager’s version of Ecstasy and is a popular party drug.  Effects are similar to those experienced when taking ecstasy and often include vivid hallucinations.

K2 and Spice

According to the CDC, marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug amongst teens.  K2 and Spice are believed in be in second place.  These synthetic drugs are made from a mixture of legal herbs that is laced with a synthetic cannabinoid and mimic the effects of marijuana.  However, with K2 and Spice, the drug is more potent, remains in the body longer, and doesn’t show up in urine-based drug testing.   Until the recent federal ban on these and other designer drugs, K2 and Spice could be legally purchased in many states and over the internet.

Pharming, Pilz, and Trail Mix

While not drugs, these terms, which describe the casual and often social use of prescription medication should be on every parents radar.  Pilz is the teen term for any prescription medication taken for recreational use.  Pharming means gathering and using “pilz” stolen from their homes and the homes of others.  Trail Mix is something that may be found at parties and social events and is a combination of “pilz”.


Related articles

Let’s Make April Alcohol Free

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, and this year the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency (NCADD) has chosen underage drinking as the focus for the annual awareness campaign.  This is a pervasive problem that can have catastrophic, life-long consequences for our nation’s youth.  The statistics are shocking and show that our children are using alcohol early and abusing it long before the leave for college.  The good news is that the percentage of teenagers using and abusing doesn’t seem to be increasing.  The bad news is that it doesn’t seem to be declining either.  With nothing less than the lives and futures of our children at stake, we as a society cannot continue to shrug it off or sweep it under the rug.

The Facts

  • By age 10, 10% of our children have started drinking.
  • By age 13, that number more than triples, approaching 33%.
  • Teens that drank before they were 15 are 5 times more likely to have a problem with alcohol dependence in the last year than those who waited until they were old enough to drink legally.
  • In 2006, almost 30% of American teens between the ages of 12 and 20 report drinking during the past month, with 20% binge drinking and 6% drinking heavily.
  • Binge drinking is common amongst teenagers who drink and 25% of students drank more than 5 drinks in a row within the past 30 days.
  • College students suffer around 600,000 alcohol-related injuries each year and alcohol-related injuries claim the lives of 1,700 college students each year.
  • There are 100,000 alcohol-related sexual assaults or date rapes committed against college students each year.
  • Children of alcoholics may be as much as 10 times more likely to become alcoholics as their peers.

The Dangers

  • Statistics show that underage drinking increases a person’s risk of having an alcohol problem later in life.
  • Alcohol abuse increases the risk factor for developing cancer of the mouth, larynx, and esophagus as well as liver disease.
  • Underage drinking is one of the main causes of death from injuries which is the leading cause of death for Americans under 21.
  • Each year, underage drinking and alcohol-related injuries take the lives of 5,000 people, 38% are car accidents, 32% from homicide, and 6% from suicide.
  • Teenagers are more likely to participate in risky sexual activity when alcohol is involved which results in unplanned and unprotected sex, sex with multiple partners, date rape, unplanned pregnancy, and the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.

Prevention Tips for Parents and Teens

  1. Parents – Talk to your teens about the dangers of alcohol. Help them understand the consequences and why it is illegal for people to drink before they are 21.
  2. Teens – Don’t be afraid to say no.  Don’t let someone else make your decisions for you.
  3. Parents – Be a good role model and set a good example.  Your teen is more likely to listen to you if you are practicing what you preach.
  4. Teens – Talk to your parents.  Ask questions and make sure you understand the real dangers of drinking.
  5. Parents & Teens – Agree on how you will both handle situations that arise where your teen is present at an event where other teens are drinking alcohol.  By agreeing ahead of time, teens won’t need to be afraid that their parents will freak out, call the police, and ground them until college, and parents will understand how critical their reaction is to maintaining the lines of communication.

Go Alcohol Free

As part of the awareness campaign, NCADD is inviting all Americans to engage in an alcohol-free weekend from April 6 to April 8, 2012 to help spread awareness about alcohol abuse and underage drinking.  For more information about Alcohol Awareness Month, visit NCADD’s website.


Adolescent Substance Abuse: What Parents Need to Know


No matter what statistics you look at, it’s clear that substance abuse by adolescents is a major public health concern.  Although recent years have seen the percent of adolescents who are abusing substances level off, there are some disturbing trends in which teenagers are using and how early they are starting to use.  When you consider that 90% of adults with substance abuse problems started using before they turned 18 and 50% of those adults started before age 15, the trend towards younger and younger adolescents experimenting and becoming regular users becomes even more important.

To many adults, the experimentation with drugs and alcohol that occurs during the adolescent years seems like a normal part of growing up.  But using drugs and drinking alcohol aren’t just inappropriate because they are breaking the rules, they can result in very serious consequences to both their future and their health.

During this phase, teens can have a hard time forming cause and effect connections between choices they make today and the long term consequences of those choices.  Substance use can further lower inhibitions resulting in a string of bad choices.  From the increased risk of being involved in a motor vehicle accident to the increased likelihood of developing a lifelong addiction, substance abuse during adolescence is life threatening and needs to be treated accordingly.


According to the current Monitoring the Future Survey as reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

  • The daily use of marijuana increased in 3 of the 4 high school grades year over year and was the highest it has been since the early 80’s amongst those in the senior class.
  • Marijuana use has surpassed cigarette smoking amongst the seniors.
  • Although cigarette smoking has been declining in recent years, those declines have stalled amongst high school students indicating that smoking may soon be on the rise again.
  • While marijuana is the drug of choice for high school students, prescription drugs and the abuse of over the counter medication are now number two in 12th graders.  Although non-medical use of drugs like Vicodin and Adderall has not increased in recent years, usage statistics remain high.
  • Ecstasy, which had seen years of decreasing use, increased last year in 8th graders.
  • Overall, alcohol use has continued to decline year over year.


Risk Factors

While there is no way to determine which adolescents will try drugs and alcohol or which will become addicted to one of these substances, there are some risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing a serious drug or alcohol problem.  These factors include:

  • Being part of a family with a history of substance abuse problems
  • Being depressed
  • Having low self esteem or feeling as though they do not fit in anywhere
  • Drug availability in the community
  • Learning disabilities and mental health conditions
  • Poor academic performance
  • Being part of an unhealthy social group


Warning Signs

There are several warning signs that parents can use to determine if their teenager is in danger.  As many of these signs can also point to problems other than alcohol or drug abuse, it is important to discuss any concerns with a medical practitioner to rule out physical causes.

There are several physical signs like unexplained fatigue, ongoing health complaints, bloodshot eyes, glazed over gaze, and a cough that lasts for weeks and won’t go away.   From an emotional standpoint, adolescents who exhibit sudden changes in personality, rapid mood swings,  increasingly irresponsible behavior, and general lack of interest, especially in things that they were previously interested in should be evaluated.  Other warning signs include starting fights with family members, breaking rules, dressing differently, withdrawing from friends and family, swapping current friends for a different group of friends, skipping school, and requiring significant disciplinary action on a regular basis.


How to Help

There is no question that one of the most effective tools parents have in preventing their teens from abusing drugs and alcohol is the relationship they have and are able to maintain with their teenager.  Parents should initiate discussions on the dangers of substance abuse, be honest, open, and invite their teen to participate.  Parents need to provide a good role model for teenagers to follow by exhibiting responsible behavior, communicating often, and raising issues as soon as they develop in a calm and supportive way.

Research has shown that parents are in fact the “Anti-Drug” and are the main deterrent against experimenting with drugs and alcohol during adolescence.    The key is building a solid relationship that encourages open communication.  Remain a visible presence in their daily lives by being involved, supporting them in their interests, and attending their activities like games, plays, and concerts.  Be clear, consistent, and fair in setting rules and expectations.  Overly harsh and restrictive rules often have the same result as no rules at all, an increased risk of substance abuse.  Overall, remain an active and interested participant in their lives and be available when they need advice, support, or help as they navigate the challenges of adolescence.