Teens and Drug and Alcohol Abuse: Help for Parents

What to do if Your Teen is Abusing Drugs or Alcohol

What should you do if your teen is abusing drugs or alcohol? That is a question I wish I had asked myself a lot sooner.

Addiction and Your Teen

I'm the mom of a teen drug addict. I had my suspicions before I found out the drug abuse was going on. I didn't act on them right away. What I didn't realize was that I was actually enabling my son to continue abusing drugs. Fortunately, we were able to get him into drug treatment eventually. However, the process involved so much heartache.

If you are suspecting that your adolescent is abusing drugs or abusing alcohol, the time to act is now. Don't look the other way, and don't enable the behavior. Knowing what to do just might save his or her life.

Signs of Drug Abuse or Alcohol Abuse in Teens

It's possible that your teenager has been acting strangely lately. The idea of drug abuse or alcohol abuse crossed your mind. However, you didn't really think too much of it. Now that you're considering it more, you're not even sure what to look for.

The following are some of the signs of drug abuse or alcohol abuse in adolescents:

  • Bloodshot or red eyes
  • Pupils that appear smaller or larger than usual
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Appetite changes, coupled with weight loss or weight gain
  • Not paying close attention to personal grooming habits

You may also notice these behavioral signs:

  • Evidence of skipping class
  • Losing interest in school and homework
  • Missing money or valuables at home
  • Becoming silent and withdrawn
  • Avoiding eye contact with you
  • Demanding that he or she has more privacy at home

If you noticed any of the above, there is a good chance your child is abusing drugs or alcohol.

Types of Drugs Teenagers Will Typically Abuse

Teenagers don't have access to a lot of substances for the purpose of abusing them. However, there are certain ones that are fairly easy for them to obtain. The types of drugs that teenagers will usually abuse include the following:

  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Over the counter medications
  • Inhalants (such as gasoline or paint thinner)
  • Prescription drugs (such as Adderall or Concerta)

They may also abuse any drug that might be easily found in your medicine cabinet. For example, if you have a prescription for an opiate pain reliever like Vicodin, your teen may abuse it.

Teenagers will often obtain substances from their other friends who use them.

Alcohol and marijuana are typically easy to come by at parties or even at friends' houses. They can walk into any drug store and purchase cough medicine or other over the counter drugs.

For teens who want to use drugs or alcohol, obtaining them usually isn't a big problem.

Addicted Teen

Signs of Addiction in Young People Parents Need to be Aware of

Drug abuse or alcohol abuse in teens is one thing. It's something entirely different once the abuse becomes an addiction. For teenagers, addiction is the logical result the longer the substance abuse continues. As a parent, it's important for you to be aware of the different signs of addiction in adolescents.

Signs of addiction among teenagers include:

  • Witnessing extreme personality and mood changes
  • Spending time with a different group of friends
  • Lacking in motivation to go to school or work
  • Feeling the need to use upon waking up in the morning
  • Unusual smells on clothing or on his or her breath

Have you noticed any of these with your teenager? If you have, it's likely that the abuse has progressed into a drug or alcohol addiction.

How to Behave and Not Enable Adolescent Addictive Behavior

As a parent, you certainly want your teen to be happy. You also want your adolescent to be safe. Sometimes, it can be hard to differentiate between the two. Many parents inadvertently enable their adolescents' addictive behavior. Most of the time, they don't mean to. It just happens.

Some of the ways that parents can enable include:

  • Providing a space that's safe for drug or alcohol use. This happens all the time. Parents end up believing that their son or daughter's substance abuse is OK as long as it happens at home. Drug or alcohol use among teens is never OK, and parents shouldn't allow it in their houses.
  • Giving teens money to spend on drugs or alcohol. They promise that they only need it one time, and that they'll never ask again. It might seem strange to you, but many parents give in when they're asked.
  • Failing to let police officers do their job. Parents tend to get anxious when their teens break the law and get arrested. Sometimes, it's best to let them go through that process. That way, they get to see the consequences of their actions.
  • Failing to get treatment themselves. Parents need to have someone to talk to about what they're going through. A support group like Al-Anon can be incredibly helpful for parents of addicted teenagers. It can also be helpful to talk with a counselor in a one on one setting.
  • Failing to talk about the addiction. Many parents are scared to bring up the alcohol or drug use with their teens. They believe that doing so will just drive them away, or make the problem much worse. This is a problem, and because of this, so many more teens are using today than ever.

Your teenager needs to know your stance on drug and alcohol abuse. Failing to make that known only sets him or her up to continue. As you know, that can be deadly.

You may have enabled your child in the past because you were scared. So many parents do. However, just because you've done it before, that doesn't mean it has to continue. You still have time to stop it, but you have to set clear boundaries. Let your teen know what behaviors you deem to be unacceptable. After you do, stick to what you say. It's so important for you to be consistent.

Tips for Parents of Addicted Adolescents

If you do have an addicted adolescent, this might be the first time you've faced this. It helps to have some tips so that you know what you should do. We'd like to offer you a few to assist you as you face this crisis with your teenager.

Encourage Your Teen to Participate in Activities

A lot of teens will start drinking or using drugs simply because they are bored. With nothing else to do, they often turn to substances because they offer something different and potentially exciting. Getting kids involved in extracurricular activities is one way to make sure they have something to do to fill their free time.

Healthy extracurricular activities are extremely beneficial for teenagers. Not only do they discourage drug and alcohol use, but they also:

  • Help them build skills.
  • Introduce them to more positive adult role models.
  • Help them learn about healthy risk-taking.
  • Teach them healthy coping mechanisms.
  • Teach them how to be leaders.

As a parent, it is important for you to identify any possible extracurricular activities your teen might enjoy. There are a range of them to choose from, such as:

  • Participating in organized sports.
  • Joining a book club.
  • Take a course online.
  • Starting a hobby, such as scrapbooking, photography or writing.
  • Volunteer at a local organization.
  • Spending time with an elderly loved one.
  • Tutoring other students.
  • Starting a babysitting business.

Most importantly, try to help your teen find activities that they truly enjoy. That will help them be open to the idea of adding more into their schedules and they will thrive in their new role.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

As you may know, there comes a time in your teen’s life when they may not be as willing to talk to you. There may be certain aspects of their life that they choose to keep private, and that can break down your communication.

As a parent, it is so critical for you to keep those lines of communication open. But this does not come without its challenges. Remember, you are going against the very nature of adolescence. But it can be done by doing the following:

Plan Time to Talk With Your Teen One-on-One – Your teen is much more likely to open up and confide in you if they know they have a safe place to do so. You do not want to have an agenda for these talks with your child. The goal is to listen to them talk about anything that is on their minds, and it should be done when the two of you are alone. Let your teen know that if they want your advice, all they need to do is ask. But avoid trying to fix their problem. You should also plan to follow up with them a few days later. That lets them know you are thinking about them and truly interested in their life.

Accept Your Teen’s Communication Style – Your teen should feel free to communicate with you in the way that feels the best to them. If you criticize how they communicate, it may cause them to shut down, which is what you want to avoid. If there is something you do not understand, ask them for clarification. Eventually, you can guide them and help them learn how to communicate more effectively. But for now, it is enough to simply listen and help them feel listened to.

Pay Attention to How You React – If you are a parent who is quick to react negatively to your teen, this will only make communication harder for both of you. Once your teen feels comfortable talking with you openly, you are likely to hear everything from the mundane to the intense. You do not want your teen to assume that you will overreact if they confide in you. That could drive a wedge between you if the problem is not corrected.

Get Involved in Your Teen’s Life

Every parent wants to have a strong bond with their teenager. The teenage years are when they start communicating more like adults, and it is possible to form something similar to friendship with your child. Getting involved in your teen’s life can go a long way, and there are five steps you can begin to take to facilitate the bond you want.

  • Talk with your teen. Ask them about their life, school, friends, or anything else that you know will be of interest. When your teen sees that you are truly invested and interested in their life, they will be more likely to open up to you.
  • Make sure to listen. As parents, we often feel secure in the fact that we know best. That can make it easy to talk at our teens without ever truly listening to what they have to say. Let your teen take control of the conversation and hang on their every word.
  • Make and keep rules for your home. Teens need to know what the acceptable behaviors are in your home. They need rules and they need to know that they are being enforced. If your teen does not have any boundaries, they can grow up feeling confused. They also may not understand the concept of consequences for their behaviors.
  • Spend time with your teen. Quality time together is one of the best ways to stay involved in your teen’s life. It can be so easy for teens to end up feeling forgotten or isolated from their family members. Making time together a regular priority sends the message that they are important to you.
  • Remember to be their parent. While you may want a friendship with your child, they need you to be a parent right now, more than anything. There is a delicate balance here. But your teen needs to feel safe and secure, and you are the only one that can meet that need. You may have to punish them at times for breaking the rules, but they will respect you for sticking to your word.

Help Them Fend Off Peer Pressure

Peer pressure is a very real problem that many teens face, and it is one of the main reasons they start drinking and using drugs. As your child’s parent, you can take a proactive approach in helping them to resist giving in to peer pressure. There are several ways to do this, such as:

  • Helping to build your child’s self-esteem and confidence – A teen who has low self-esteem is likely to do almost anything to fit in. You can build your child’s confidence by encouraging them to try new things and by persevering even when the going gets tough. It is also important for you to be a role model for good self-esteem and confidence.
  • Let your child know you are there to help – Tell your teen that some of their friends are likely to pressure them into drinking or trying drugs. You expect this to happen, and if it does, you are there to talk with them about it.
  • Give them practical ways to say no – A lot of teens will say yes simply because they do not know how to say no. Together, you can brainstorm ways to turn friends down who might want your teen to drink or use drugs. For example, if your teen is being pressured to smoke marijuana, they can learn to decline because the smell makes them sick.
  • Be your teen’s escape route – You should always be there if your teen needs a way out of a sticky situation, and speaking in code is completely acceptable. For example, perhaps your teen has been pressured into drinking. They can call you and ask a question like, “Did you feed the dog today?” and the two of you know that means your help is needed. You could request that your child come home immediately at that point.
  • Encourage lots of friendships – There is a chance that if your teen resists peer pressure, they will end up losing that friend, or group of friends. That can be quite painful, but it is a lot easier if they have other friendships in place.

Avoid Keeping Alcohol in the House

A lot of parents falsely believe that if they let their teens and their teens’ friends drink at their home, it is safer for them. This way of thinking also promotes the idea that teens will develop a healthier attitude about alcohol in general. But this is not the case at all.

You may have always thought that if you are too strict about drinking at home, your teen will rebel when they leave home. Again, this is false information. As a parent, it is your job to not only model proper behaviors, but to set the right expectations for your child.

Kathleen Meyers, PhD and Senior Scientist states, “Adolescence is a time of growth and great potential but it is also a time of risk-taking and experimentation with drugs and alcohol, which can quickly get out of hand. At no other time in human development is the risk for developing a substance use disorder so high. As parents help their children navigate the often tricky waters of this developmental period, especially regarding substance use and its potentially devastating consequences, being armed with accurate information is their best line of defense. Our goal through this collaboration, and the development of this tool and others like it, is to provide critical, research-based information to parents about the realities, liabilities and potential consequences of adolescent substance use.”

Your teen is relying on you to know what to do in every area of their life. It is up to you to set the standard as far as what is acceptable in your home, and that standard should be no drugs or alcohol. Period.

Form Relationships With Your Teen’s Friends

If your teen has friends that you do not know, you should invest time and energy into getting to know them as much as possible. Whenever possible, invite them to use your home to get together. Welcome them when they arrive and learn their names. You can also spend time with the group and learn about their interests and hobbies.

Be involved with your kids’ friends as much as you can. If they plan on going to the mall, offer to give them a ride. This will help you learn how they talk with each other, their likes and dislikes and – really – what kind of influences they are.

You may also want to take this one step further by learning more about your teen’s friends’ parents too. Get to know them, if at all possible. You could invite them over for dinner and during your conversation, you can learn more about their values and share your own.

Addiction Bloggers to Follow

Last Call is a blog that offers information about both drug and alcohol addiction and abuse. It is full of informative information that parents will find to be very useful.

Cathy Taughinbaugh is an excellent blogger who understands teen addiction. Having dealt with it herself, she is there to offer hope and encouragement to parents. This blog is very valuable for any parent who is facing this problem currently.

Online Support is Available

Getting online support can be important for parents who may have trouble attending in person meetings. These websites offer help to parents who need it during this time.

  • Learn2Cope offers meetings in person all over the country. They also have an online forum where parents can go to ask questions and get support.
  • Friends and Family of Addicts Support Group offers a supportive community for parents of addicted teens. Anyone can join in on the discussion and get help.
  • MD Junction offers an online support group for parents of addicts as well. Their group has filled with informative questions and articles that can be so helpful.

Addiction Information and Resources to Consider

It's so important for you to get as much information as you can about your child's addiction. Educating yourself is the key to bringing about the change you want to see. To do this, you must do your research on addiction. The more you learn, the more prepared you will be for what lies ahead.

You can also find a lot of great information on addiction at This is a government site that is dedicated to substance abuse education. You'll find it to be very informative.

About the Imagine Program – Our Teen Addiction and Mental Health Treatment Center in Nampa, Idaho

Therapy can work wonders in the life of a teen who is battling with substance abuse or mental health issues. Our Imagine Program was specifically designed to provide the necessary support to teens and their families as they go through the healing process.

When a teen is troubled because of addiction or mental health issues like depression, parents can feel lost. They want to help their child, but they may not know where to turn. We want to be a helpful resource that parents and teens can call upon to start recovering.

Our program is located in Nampa, Idaho, and we work with young people between the ages of 12 and 17. We offer many different types of therapy, based solely on what the child needs at that time. Our crisis intervention services are there to offer support to parents, and we regularly offer psychiatric evaluations to make sure our clients are improving.

Imagine by Northpoint is an outpatient day treatment program. Our clients live at home and participate in the program around six hours a day, five days per week. It is quite intensive, but our teens and their families receive exceptional support to help them reach their goals.

Know the Process of Seeking Help for Your Teen's Addiction

If you have an addicted teen in your home, please know that you can get help. The first thing you should do is try to have a conversation with your teen. If that doesn't seem to do any good, it's time to take the next step.

Consider utilizing intervention services. An intervention can be a very effective tool that you can use to your advantage. During an intervention, you will invite your child's friends and family members to participate. You'll meet with an interventionist who will explain the process to you in detail. You'll talk about the addiction, and you'll be advised on what to say during the meeting.

Please know that you may have to lay down some hard, fast rules. You may have to take away some things that your child loves. If your teen is older, you may even have to threaten to make him or her move out of your home. The advice you'll be given is only for your teenager's good. Please take the advice, and stay consistent. Doing so will only help your child see the need to get drug treatment or alcohol treatment.

At Northpoint Washington, we want to help you. We know how you feel, and we know you're desperate for a solution to this problem.

Do you have a drug or alcohol addicted teen? Are you in need of intervention services or advice? Please contact us today.