As a parent, it is natural to worry about your teenager. And, like many parents, you may be afraid that your teen may try drugs, or worse, become dependent on drugs.
While you cannot control everything your teen does, you can take steps to help your child stay away from drugs. Start by learning all you can about drugs and drug use. Learn the signs of drug use so that you can be alert. Then use these tips to help prevent drug use in your teen.
First, learn about the different types of drugs that may be used. Older teens are more likely to use drugs than younger teens. Marijuana (pot) is still common. More and more teens are using prescription drugs.
WHY TEENS USE DRUGS
There are many reasons why teens might use drugs. Some common reasons include:
- To fit in. Social status is very important to teens. Your teen may do drugs in an attempt to fit in with friends or impress a new group of kids.
- To be social. Some teens use drugs because it lowers their inhibitions and makes them more comfortable socially.
- To deal with life changes. Change is not easy for anyone. Some teens turn to drugs to deal with situations such as moving, starting at a new school, puberty, or going through their parents' divorce.
- To ease pain and anxiety. Teens may use drugs to deal with problems with family, friends, school, mental health, or self-esteem.
TALKING WITH YOUR TEEN ABOUT DRUGS
It is not easy, but it is important to talk with your teen about drugs. It is one of the best ways to prevent teen drug use. Here are some tips:
- Do not make it one "big talk." Instead, have ongoing conversations about drugs with your teen. Use news stories, TV shows, or movies as a starting point for conversations.
- Do not lecture. Instead, ask open-ended questions like, "Why do you think those kids were using drugs?" or, "Have you ever been offered drugs?" Your teen may respond in a more positive way if you have a real conversation.
- Let your teen know how you feel. Make it clear to your teen that you do not approve of drug use.
- Give your teen time to talk and listen without interrupting. This will show that you care about your child's opinion.
- Spend some time every day talking about what is going on in your teen's life. This will make it easier to talk when tougher subjects come up, like alcohol, drugs, and sex.
HELP PREVENT DRUG USE
While there is no surefire way to make sure your teen never does drugs, you can take the following steps to help prevent it.
- Stay involved. Build a strong relationship with your teen and show support for their interests.
- Be a good role model. Your own behaviors send a direct message to your teen, whether you know it or not. Do not use drugs, and use prescription medicines only as directed. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
- Meet and get to know your teen's friends. If possible, meet their parents too. Encourage your teen to invite friends over so you can get to know them better. If you think a friend is a bad influence, do not hesitate to step in or encourage your child to make other friends.
- Set clear rules for your teen about drug use. This may include not riding in a car with kids who have been doing drugs and not staying at a party where anyone is doing drugs.
- Know what your teen is doing. Teens who are unsupervised are more likely to experiment with drugs. Keep tabs on where your teen is and who they are with. Ask your teen to check in with you at certain times of the day, such as after school.
- Encourage healthy activities. Hobbies, clubs, sports, and part-time jobs are all great ways to keep teens busy. By staying active, your teen will have less time to get involved with drug use.
KNOW THE SIGNS
There are many physical and behavioral signs that point to drug use. Learn them and be aware if your teen acts or looks different. The signs include:
- Slow or slurred speech (from using downers and depressants)
- Rapid, explosive speech (from using uppers)
- Bloodshot eyes
- Cough that does not go away
- Unusual odor on breath (from using inhalant drugs)
- Pupils that are extremely big (dilated) or extremely small (pinpoint)
- Rapid eye motion (nystagmus), a possible sign of PCP use
- Loss of appetite (occurs with amphetamine, methamphetamine, or cocaine use)
- Increased appetite (with marijuana use)
- Unsteady gait
You may notice changes in your teen's energy level, such as:
- Sluggishness, listlessness, or constant sleeping (from using opiate drugs, such as heroin or codeine, or when coming down off stimulant drugs)
- Hyperactivity (as seen with uppers such as cocaine and methamphetamine)
You also may notice changes in your teen's behavior:
- Poor grades in school and missing more school days
- Not taking part in usual activities
- Change in group of friends
- Secretive activities
- Lying or stealing
HOW TO GET HELP
If you think your teen is using drugs, start by talking with your family health care provider. Your provider can help treat your teen, or can refer you to a drug specialist or treatment center. You can also look for resources in your community or local hospitals. Look for a specialist who has experience working with teenagers.
Do not hesitate, get help right away. The sooner you get help, the less likely your teen's drug use will turn into drug abuse.
You can find more information at teens.drugabuse.gov.
Teenagers and drugs; Symptoms of drug use in teenagers; Drug abuse - teenagers; Substance abuse - teenagers
Breuner CC. Substance abuse. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 140.
National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens website. Parents: facts on teen drug use. teens.drugabuse.gov/parents. Accessed November 1, 2021.
Partnership to End Addiction website. Parent e-books & guides. drugfree.org/parent-e-books-guides/. Updated June 2020. Accessed November 1, 2021.
Review Date 7/19/2021
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.