Is your teen using drugs? 5 strategies for intervention.
The suspicion that your child is abusing drugs is unsettling for any parent. Most teens will try drugs or alcohol before their high school graduation, but one-time use can quickly lead to a habit. According to the National Institutes of Health, most adults who have a substance use disorder started using before they turned 18, and developed the disorder by age 20. If you think that your teen may be experimenting with drugs or alcohol, your mind may be racing with questions. You may feel overwhelmed and uncertain. Here are a few considerations as you begin to plan the next steps of how to intervene.
Know the warning signs
Although most teens who try drugs do not escalate to addiction, any drug use can be a clue to a pattern of risky behavior. Obvious changes in a teen’s behavior, appearance, personal habits, and overall health may present initial warning signs to substance use problems. You may notice physical signs like changes in appetite or eating habits, irregular sleeping patterns, or bloodshot eyes, or behavioral changes, like dishonesty, changes in friends, or isolation. Serious problems may escalate to problems at school or drug related crimes. There is no one-size-fits-all set of indicators for substance use problems, but parents can often connect behavioral and health changes to physical evidence to detect a problem.
Listen and stay calm
Your immediate reaction may be to yell and punish. However, based on what we know about the adolescent brain, an angry or aggressive reaction may not have much positive impact. It is best to approach any intervention calmly and with the goal of opening up lines of communication. Prepare some specific questions that address your child’s behavior and any warning signs that you have observed. Your teenager is likely not going to tell you the full truth about their drug use at the first conversation, but you raise the odds of honesty if you approach the initial conversation with compassion and willingness to listen rather than anger.
Don’t let it go
Addressing the warning signs of substance abuse is seldom an easy conversation, and your teen may respond by denying the problem or trying to end the conversation quickly. However, substance use disorder can have lifelong detrimental effects, and the time to intervene is as early as possible. If you suspect a problem, you should take steps to continue uncovering the facts, even if your teen does not admit to a habit. Monitor your teen’s behavior. Watch for signs of physical evidence like drug paraphernalia in their bedroom, school supplies, or laundry. Open the conversation again, with new questions based on what you observed.
Do not assume that you will be able to help your teenager by yourself. Build a trusted support network that will be able to help you with every step of the intervention process. Supportive family and friends will help you to stay strong as you investigate and intervene. Your family doctor can help with screening and referrals to additional help. Since addiction is a mental illness, it is impossible to recover through willpower alone. Your teen may need outpatient treatment, or you may need to consider inpatient rehab. Research proves that drug addiction in adolescents can be successfully treated. Your support network will help you to identify and follow through on the best options for your child.
Support ongoing recovery
Even with early intervention, treatment and recovery for substance use disorder can be a complex process. Mild substance use disorders can often be treated through full abstinence from drugs. However, just like with other chronic diseases, relapse is always a possibility. Relapse is not a sign that treatment failed. Instead, it means that additional treatment and ongoing support are necessary. Follow-up care and recovery support are important steps of the recovery process for most who face the challenges of addiction. The support of family members and peers is vital for a teen as they embark on lifelong strategies to stay healthy and drug-free.