According to the 2013 Monitoring the Future survey, by the 12th grade nearly one-third of teens have used an illicit drug, and almost half have consumed alcohol. Teen alcohol and other drug use is commonplace, and parents who suspect their son or daughter is using need to take a closer look. Even if addiction is not in the picture, teens who experiment with alcohol and other drugs can experience severe and lasting consequences—accidents, unintentional overdoses, violence, sexual trauma, and legal issues.
Physical and behavioral signs of drinking or other drug use can be subtle or obvious:
In some cases, warning signs might be self-evident, such as possession of drug paraphernalia. In other cases, a combination of seemingly unrelated incidents over a short period of time might indicate trouble, such as disobeying curfew, having a car accident, or stealing money.
Early detection of drinking or other drug use gives families the opportunity to take a closer look, find answers, and get help. If parents have concerns, they can take action by talking with a professional who can help them determine whether their child's behavior warrants a drug and alcohol assessment.
If parents haven't talked with their children yet about drinking and other drug use, they can begin today by setting clear limits and communicating their expectations regularly, focusing on concerns about overall health and safety. If parents don't want their children to use alcohol until they reach the legal drinking age of 21, they can say so. Parents also benefit from knowing where their kids are going and who they are hanging out with and by knowing the parents of their children's friends.
While the physical and behavioral signs of drug use discussed above are intended as general guidelines to help parents recognize potential problems, parents have another equally important indicator: parental intuition. If parental instincts indicate something is wrong, it probably is. At that point, it's time to ask their child, "What's going on?"
If parents discover alcohol or other drug use by their child, they don't need to go it alone. Many people can help parents intervene, including a family doctor, a school counselor, or an addiction counselor.
If addiction treatment is needed, parents should know their options and ask questions:
Studies show recovery from addiction is stronger and more effective when family members are educated and involved, but the social stigma of addiction often prevents families from acknowledging that a problem may exist—and from getting help when needed. Blame and shame are typically involved. It's important for parents to realize they can't control their child's addiction, but they can take responsibility for their own health and happiness. They can love their son or daughter and, at the same time, dislike his or her behaviors. For help and support, parents can turn to professionals or find a local Al-Anon meeting. They will find practical tools to empower their family's journey on the path of recovery.