By: Chris Anderson Psy.D

For most parents the only thing worse than talking to their teens about alcohol and drugs, is the sex talk. Comparatively, this should be a lot easier and we will try to help give you some tips and pointers. Nonetheless, having this talk is vitally important. Substance use is at its peak between 15 and 25 years old and this is the time when youth are most susceptible to developing lasting patterns for their use and at the highest risk for developing an addiction. Chemical use during these formative years also has a serious impact on their developing brains and bodies.

The dangers of chemical use in teens is well document and drives home the importance of talking with them. It is natural and appropriate for teens to want to begin to experiment and try out the roles of adulthood. This often includes the use of alcohol and drugs. Because adolescents is a time of great change, it is also a time of great stress. Just as many adults use chemicals to cope with stress, teens are at risk for using substances to cope with their stress. Here are some startling facts about the impact of chemicals on teen development. Alcohol abuse slows bone and muscle growth, can impair nonverbal abstract reasoning, perceptual motor skills, and reduce the ability to learn new information. Regular marijuana use can affect attention, memory and learning. Teens who abuse substances regular tend to less adaptive social skills, coping skills, and are more likely to develop addiction.

Taking to Teens

The importance of talking to your teenager about alcohol and drugs is obvious. Before you start the conversation, it might not be a bad idea to get some facts and figures about alcohol and drugs. You don’t need to give your child a seminar about what they are and how they work, but it will help to have some knowledge. Fifteen minutes on Google should arm you with basic knowledge about the different drugs and what they do. Now let’s look at some ways to help the conversation along and have the message have the most impact. The number one factor that will facilitate this discussion, is having an existing relationship with your child, meaning you talk about things regularly and check in with them about stuff. If you struggle to do even this, having a talk about alcohol and drugs will be even tougher. If you need to build the relationship, start now. The conversation about drugs and alcohol is not a one-time discussion, so you will have a number of opportunities to bring it up over time. Even though teens don’t really show it, they still want to know that they are important to you.

Research points to two main things that will inhibit and delay your teen from using alcohol and drugs: a strong supportive relationship with a parent, and parental disapproval of teen substance use. In short, have a solid relationship with your kids and let them know you do not approve of alcohol and drug use. Most teens would never admit it, but like all kids they seek the approval of their parents. If your kids are close to you and they know you do not endorse chemical use, this will be a big deterrent for their using. They simply don’t want to let you down or have you be disappointed in them.

Now let’s discuss some other talking points. It is much better to invite dialogue than it is to lecture. Consider asking your kids what they know about drugs and alcohol and why they think other teens use them. This can be a lead in to share some of the facts that you learned. Most kids hear things from other kids and assume it to be accurate. Use the discussion to debunk myths and share factual information. At some point you will also want to talk about reasons not to use chemicals, but avoid scare tactics. You could appeal to their wisdom and let them know they are too smart to need a crutch like chemicals and that doing something stupid while on alcohol or drugs could hurt their reputation with friends. Without scare tactics, it is important they understand legal consequences in addition to parental consequences for chemical use. If there is a family member with addiction issues, it is important that they understand that an immediate family member with an issue put them at higher risk, but even extended family puts them at higher risk relative to friends with no family history. Genetics is powerful in addiction and make teens 4-5 times more likely to develop an addiction if it runs in their family. You might also consider sharing your own experience with chemical use. You can share with them how it was a mistake for you and the consequences you experienced. If they express concern about peer pressure, help them rehearse some catch phrases to rebuff offers such as, “I can’t or I will get kicked off the sports team”, or “my parents will kill me.”

Lastly, there are some actions and behavioral steps you can take as well to ensure your teens are getting the right message. Your best action to deter your kids is role modeling. Talk is cheap; actions speak louder than words. If you model abuse of chemicals, don’t be shocked if your kids end up doing the same. Don’t glamorize your drinking experiences in funny ways, or run the risk of your kids seeing it as no big deal. Don’t drink and drive, or drive with someone who has been. If you are having a party, make sure people are being responsible and take keys away as needed.

If you want to learn more techniques for talking to your teen or dealing with substance abuse issues, please call us now at 763-416-4167, or request an appointment on our website: WWW.IPC-MN.COM so we can sit down with you and complete thorough assessment and help you develop a plan of action that will work for you. Life is too short to be unhappy. Find the peace of mind you deserve.

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