Most parents don’t want to face the possibility that their son or daughter might be abusing drugs or alcohol. And so they don’t face it…until things get so bad that they can no longer ignore the facts.
This is tragic, because early detection is key to preventing teen substance use from blossoming into full-blown addiction and leading to life-altering health and legal consequences.
Here’s what to watch out for to catch teen drug or alcohol abuse early, and what to do if you discover that your child is affected.
Early Warning Signs of Teen Substance Abuse
Teens are known for being moody, emotional and secretive – all of which can be, but aren’t necessarily, warning signs of substance abuse. Your years of raising your child has given you a sense of what is normal for your son or daughter. Listen to your instincts if they’re telling you that something is out of the ordinary.
Here are some warning signs to look out for that can tip you off to a potential substance abuse problem:
- Unusual changes in attitude
- Increased secrecy
- Deception, suspicious excuses or outright lying
- Unexplained tardiness and/or absences from school
- Withdrawing from participation at school and/or at home
- Declining performance at school and in extracurricular activities
- Losing interest in hobbies
- Changes in peer groups and abandoning long-time friendships
- Difficulty staying focused
- Anxiety, paranoia, irritability
- Fidgeting, hyperactivity
- Lethargy and abnormal sleepiness
- Unexplained changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- Significant weight gain or loss
- An increased need for money
- Getting into fights and relationship conflicts
- Unexplained (or poorly explained) injuries
The challenging aspect of looking for the warning signs of addiction is that they may manifest as very small incidents that are easy to pass off as normal teenage behavior. They may escalate gradually, and not be apparent all at once.
This is why paying attention to your gut feelings as a parent is so important, as well as seeking help even if you’re not 100 percent certain your child is involved in substance abuse.
If You Worry Your Teen May Be at Risk
If you don’t think your teen is abusing substances yet, but worry that he or she is at risk for doing so in the future, you can refer your teen to the Half of Us website. Half of Us is an awareness campaign that speaks to teens using messaging that ties directly to their specific feelings and experiences.
Sponsored by mtvU and the Jed Foundation, Half of Us spreads awareness about issues that can lead to substance use and addiction, including:
- Bipolar disorder
- Body image issues
- LGBTQ issues
- Anxiety disorders
- Money problems
- Digital drama
- Abuse – physical or verbal
Other risk factors that may make a teen more susceptible to addiction can include:
- Family history of substance abuse
- Past or ongoing abuse or bullying
- Seeing family members consume drugs or alcohol (as normal behavior)
What Parents Can Do Now to Prevent Substance Abuse in Teens
Additionally, here are some measures you can take now to create an environment where substance use is less likely to occur:
- Talk to your kids about the risk of substance abuse.
- Cultivate a mutually respectful relationship with your teen.
- Be aware of and genuinely interested in your teen’s life, activities and relationships.
- Limit exposure to media that portrays substance use in a way that looks cool or normal, and talk to your kids about what they see in movies, TV and online.
- Model healthy behavior with the choice you make in your own life.
What to Do Next if Your Teen Is Abusing Drugs or Alcohol
If your child is abusing drugs or alcohol, early intervention is key to helping them get their life back on track. Thankfully, you don’t have to do this alone: You can get help from a professional interventionist. In fact, your chances of success are much, much higher with the help of a professional.
To begin with, a professional interventionist can help answer questions the family has, such as:
- How severe is the substance abuse? Has it become an addiction?
- Will my teen need to go to rehab?
- If so, what type of drug or alcohol treatment program would be best for my teen in particular?
- What will intervention and treatment cost?
- Will our insurance cover rehab expenses? How much?
How to Stage an Intervention for Teen Drug Addiction or Alcoholism
Teens are notorious for keeping their problems to themselves and discounting the advice of authority figures. Teens want help, but at the same time are reluctant to admit that they need it. This is why it’s so helpful to have the help of a trained professional who understands adolescent psychology, and who is an expert in addiction intervention specifically.
As part of the intervention process, a professional interventionist will:
- Talk to the family ahead of time – without the teen present – to agree on a plan and make sure everyone is on the same page.
- Train the family on what they can do to help increase the chances that the intervention will be successful.
- Educate everyone on what to say during the intervention – and just as importantly, what NOT to say.
- Lead the intervention, keeping everyone focused on topics that are most likely to help the teen agree to change his or her behavior.
- Help family members find the best way to get ongoing support for themselves as they deal with the challenges of addiction in the family.
Intervention Help for Families
Substance abuse and addiction can lead to devastating consequences in the lives of addicts. Families can’t help but be hurt as well, and it’s especially tragic when addiction affects the lives of people who are essentially still just getting started in life.
Statistics have shown that most addicts begin abusing substances in their adolescent years. For this reason, the teenage years are the most important time to intervene and address issues of mental health, behavior problems and other emotional and psychological challenges that often lead to substance abuse. Ensuring that these problems are addressed at this point will save them – and you – from additional suffering in the future.
If you suspect that your child might be using drugs or alcohol, contact us right away. We can refer you to highly qualified professional interventionists in your area who can provide the support you need to prevent your teen’s life from being pulled off course by addiction.