As a parent of three teenagers, I worry about a lot of things. At the top of that list are the challenges they face as they begin making their own decisions.
Adolescents and young adults have a tremendous amount of stress in their lives. Schoolwork, sports, and part time jobs all add up. For some, drug and alcohol use can be seen as a way to cope with these life stressors, a way to fit in with peers, to feel older, or to satisfy curiosity.
Because of this, drug and alcohol abuse are among the items that I make a point to discuss with my kids. It’s important to understand what my teens’ risk factors are and to identify the protective factors I can put into place. These steps are critical as teen drug overdose deaths continue to rise across the U.S. and alcohol use can be a gateway to abuse other drugs. Further, the changes alcohol causes in the brain may have long-term effects.
As a nurse in the Drug and Poison Information Center, I have a particular interest in helping teens avoid drug and alcohol abuse. Here are a few suggestions for parents with teenagers:
Tips to Help Prevent Teen Drug & Alcohol Abuse
1. Know what teens are using
It’s important to be aware of the drugs teens are using and what they might be looking for at home. Opioid use, specifically heroin, has shown a threefold increase in teen drug overdoses from 1999 to 2015. Other commonly used drugs were natural and semisynthetic opioids, methadone, synthetic opioids, cocaine, benzodiazepines and psychostimulants.
Teens may have access to alcohol at parties or from older friends. It’s important to know who your teens are hanging out with. Many get alcohol from their homes. Keep yours locked up.
2. Dispose of unused and expired medications
If someone living in your home has had a surgery recently, it’s likely he or she was prescribed pain medications. It’s important to discard of them once they’re no longer needed, so that they’re not sitting around your house. Same goes for prescriptions that are expired. The best way to do this is through a DEA collection site, which are in every local community. Click here to find a site close to you.
3. Properly store current medications
If someone in your home is chronically ill or needs pain medication that is associated with abuse, it’s important keep it away from children and teens. In fact, storing all medication, including over-the-counter drugs, in a locked cabinet is a good idea for everyone, but especially important if someone is at high risk for drug abuse or suicide.
4. Know the risk factors and warning signs of suicide
It’s important to familiarize yourself with the risk factors and warning signs of suicide, so that you know what to look for. In 2015, the majority of drug overdose deaths were unintentional for both males and females ages 15-19 years. However, out of the overdose deaths that were intentional, about 21% of them were in females, as compared to 8.7% for males.
5. Talk to your teens about it
This is an obvious tip, but it’s important to mention because talking about drug and alcohol abuse routinely can make a huge impact. I like to check in with my kids to see what their stressors are and come up with solutions together. I will also review the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse and how quick and easy it is to become addicted and/or overdose. The National Institute on Drug Abuse is a great resource for talking to teens about these things.
6. Implement Protective factors
Protective factors can help reduce the effects of stressful life situations for anyone, including your teen. Some individual protective factors include good coping and problem solving skills. Appropriate engagement in school activities, peers, athletics, employment and culture can also make a difference, as long as those activities are balanced. Families can play a role by offering structure, limits, monitoring and predictability. Same with your teen’s peers and community members. They can help shape your teen’s positive norms as well as physical and psychological safety. Together, we can implement effective intervention strategies to help prevent underage drinking and drug abuse.