When it comes to drugs, we like to think it’s the other kids who are using, and not our own. But according to recent studies, one out of every five teens is abusing alcohol or drugs on a regular basis. Even high school students who aren’t presently using are telling researchers that they get offered prescription narcotics at least twice a day!
As parents, we are left asking, “why?” Why has substance abuse increased among teens? Why are even the straight-A, star-athlete, church-going teens not only experimenting, but using drugs on a regular basis? The answer points to a culture that fosters anxiety while promoting symptom relief for teenagers and adults alike. From movies to music, drug use is often promoted as an acceptable method of coping with the stresses of life. The evidence is seen in the growing debate surrounding marijuana. Today, the use of recreational weed is common at every level of society and that includes teens. And the issue is not going away. More and more states are feeling pressure to legalize drugs like marijuana, stripping parents of their ability to forbid pot use because it’s “illegal.”
Drugs are also increasingly easy to obtain. According to a Center for Disease Control and Prevention study, only 15 percent of frequent prescription drug abusers get their drugs from dealers or strangers. More than half of those studied said they got their drugs―including pain relievers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone―from friends and relatives. CDC researcher Dr. Leonard Paulozzi said the overall prevalence of nonmedical use of prescription opioid painkillers is at a level of about 12 million cases per year―or one in 20 people ages 12 years and older.
In a world that increasingly embraces drug use, and makes illegal and legal substances readily available, moms and dads need to understand that this issue will come up in their child’s life. I strongly urge parents to regularly discuss drug and substance abuse with their teens to tackle these issues head on.
Address Your Own Fears
Many parents are petrified to talk to their kids about drugs. Often it’s because parents are afraid that their worst fears will be realized—they will find out that their kids are using drugs. But just think about that for a moment. If your kids are using drugs, do you really want to remain in the dark? Denial will not make the issue go away and you can’t help them if you don’t know what’s going on. So let go of your fears, and begin an honest and open dialogue with them.
Or perhaps you’re hesitant to bring up substance abuse because you have a history with drugs, and you are afraid to share that with your son or daughter. I understand. Parents are often reluctant to volunteer that kind of information to their kids in fear that acknowledging mistakes will give kids the license to repeat their past. But that is simply not the case. Admitting why mom and dad know what they’re talking about actually adds credibility and weight to your words. You can relate to your son’s struggles with marijuana. You can understand your daughter’s temptation to take a Xanax. Don’t glorify your past, but rather, share your mistakes and regrets. Your history with drugs can help your teens avoid the same mistakes and pave the way for regular, open and honest communication.
But many parents are fearful about the topic because they don’t want to engage in an argument about the morality of using of drugs. Yes, marijuana is an herb. Yes, it’s been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. Yes, many people want to legalize it. And yes, many successful and prominent people in society openly admit to smoking pot. But these are not the arguments that matter. What’s important is your son or daughter’s relationship to drugs. Always bring the discussion back to that personal level. The fact is, all drugs are addictive and can be destructive. Explain that you care for your teen, and don’t want them to be held captive by any substance. Narcotics are designed to dull our senses and trick our minds into feeling a certain way. Drugs don’t improve our lives—they only temporarily mask symptoms, offering no help for the real issues of life. Their purpose is simply to alter our emotions, and eventually they hold us prisoner. Many teens have told me that after using drugs for awhile, it got to the point where they needed those “crutches” to go to school, to deal with their family, or to simply relax. As you talk to your teens about drugs, consider what you are modeling as a parent. What would your teen say if you needed a couple of beers for breakfast before going to work? Or what if you needed to pop a pill in order to sit down at the dinner table and relax? Model healthy ways to handle stress and the issues of life, coming from a place of practicing what you’re teaching
In order to teach, you have to know something about your subject. If you want to have a productive discussion with your teen about drugs, it helps to know something about what’s out there. Don’t come at them with emotionally charged rants or arguments, such as “You’ll wind up on the streets with no teeth!” or “This is only a gateway drug!” Chances are your teen will simply tune you out. But if you prepare a bit and bring your teen logical reasons and facts about substance abuse, it’s far likelier your child will listen.
So off the top of your head, what would you say is the number one drug abused by teenagers today? Marijuana? Nicotine? In reality, prescription drugs are more common than both of these! Narcotics like Vicodin, Oxycontin, Ativan, Valium, Ambien, Adderall, and even Ritalin are popular medications being used recreationally among today’s adolescents. There is a huge market for sedatives, painkillers, and anti-depressants, so keep a tight lid on your medicine cabinet and realize that those bottles on the shelf can be just as damaging as the dealers on the street corner.
Next to prescription drugs, Marijuana is the second most common drug abused by teens. And you can’t turn on the television, listen to music, or read the newspaper without seeing prominent people coming out in support of widespread legalization of this drug. As pot use becomes more common, teens who’ve never tried it may start to think, “Well, it can’t be too bad if that person is promoting it!” Parents, it’s not enough anymore to say, “It’s illegal!” We need to learn how to engage in a conversation about the real dangers of marijuana in an intelligent way. We need to discuss the negative emotional, psychological, and physical affects of this and other drugs.
Another growing trend in narcotics is designer drugs. These are fairly common substances that have had their chemical structure altered in order to create a new product. These drugs are often sold in powder form, including LSD, PCP, Ecstasy, and Ketamine.
This list of drugs and narcotics is not an exhaustive collection by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s a crash course for the uninformed on what’s being offered, pushed, and abused in our culture. The more you know about what is out there, the better prepared you will be to have an honest and open conversation with your teen.
Look For the True Cause
If you’ve discovered that your teen has a problem with drugs or you’ve caught them experimenting with harmful substances, your next question might be, “How did this happen?” Kids usually start experimenting with drugs out of curiosity and a desire to fit in. They want to try what their friends are trying and they have a great need to belong. And the drug community offers one of the most inclusive memberships around.
Some kids experiment because they are seeking relief from anxiety or emotional pain. In essence they are self-medicating or using drugs or alcohol to cope with the stress they are feeling. Sadly, other kids experiment with drugs to tempt their fate. Teens with serious emotional and psychological problems turn to dangerous concoctions or massive doses of drugs as a form of “Russian Roulette.” They reason, “If I die, then so be it.”
If you’ve discovered your teen abusing drugs, take some time to figure out why. Is it to connect? If so, you can help by providing your teen with meaningful connections and relationships outside of the drug culture. Is it because they are dealing with tough issues? That’s the time to talk to a counselor, pastor, or youth minister to help your child work through the problems causing them pain. Is it because using drugs helps your child feel normal? If that’s the case, talk to trained counselors or therapists about constructive ways your teen can find hope and a sense of stability in their lives.
Now’s the time to talk to your teen about drugs. Remind your teens that you are on their team and that you are there to walk alongside them through the pressure and pain of adolescence. Every conversation you have with them provides another layer of prevention that will protect them from a drug-pushing culture and keep them safe from damaging addictions.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids. He and Jan live in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, their dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy. His past involvement as a youth pastor and Young Life area director and his experience living with more than 2,700 teens at Heartlight has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.
You can find out more about Heartlight at www.HeartlightMinistries.org. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.
For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our Parenting Today’s Teens website at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org. It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Here you will also find a radio station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast or download the podcast of the most recent programs.