By Valorie Dassel, LCSW – January 7, 2020

Parenting in this era can be overwhelming. There are many opinions and parenting styles that can be argued. 

However, when we are facing drug and alcohol use among our teenagers, there must be an “all hands on deck” approach. It is a community issue that requires parents and adult mentors to communicate clearly with our teens while understanding both sides of the coin.

There are clearly reasons why our teens engage in risky behaviors, and it is important to acknowledge this while at the same time educating them on the severity of the risks. Visit websites such as drugfree.org and youthfirstinc.org to educate yourself on how to talk to your teen about drug and alcohol use. 

The following are some tips to guide substance use conversations with your teen:

  1. Ask your teen open-ended questions about the dangers of vaping, drinking and drug use. Use this conversation to guide discussion around the consequences about the things they care about in the “here and now.” Points to bring up include how substance use may affect their relationships and reputation. These are things they do not feel invincible about. They may do something that is embarrassing and have to deal with the social consequences at school on Monday morning. They may do something that they regret and consequently hurt a relationship or friendship. It is also helpful to aid in connecting their athletics and academics to substance abuse. If they are tired and hungover on the weekends, they will not feel like studying or practicing. 
  2. Be open with them about substance abuse issues in their family. According to the Genetics Science Learning Center of Utah, scientists estimate that a person’s genetics account for 40-60% of their risk of developing an addiction. Sharing family history and stories aids in the development of decision-making based on risks specific to them.
  3. In addition to genetics, individuals who suffer from mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, etc. are at a higher risk to abuse substances. The website dualdiagnosis.com is a good resource to help teens connect their emotional struggles to how they may self medicate with substance use.
  4. Clearly share your expectations and the consequences they will receive at home if they are found to be drinking, vaping, smoking or using drugs. It is important to create a relationship that allows the teen to share their struggles or experiences while also being aware of the consequences if caught using.

Get to know the parents of your teen’s friends. Share with them your values and that you do not approve of them drinking, smoking/vaping or using drugs. There are parents who mistakenly feel they are protecting teens by allowing them to drink or use substances under their supervision, as they feel it is a safer alternative.

Developmentally, teens are beginning to individuate from their parents, which gives them the sense that they can make their own decisions and act independently. Educate yourself and others that this concept inadvertently gives them permission to drink/vape/drug on their own.

Remember that we as parents can educate and guide, but our teens will be the ones who make the decisions. It is our responsibility to keep them as safe and as educated as possible.  Most importantly, be there when they fall and help them back up.