Although it is not usually the topic of discussion with friends and family, many parents in Vermont struggle with understanding and accepting that their child may have a drug problem. People may shrug off potential signs of addiction in adolescence due to it being “a party phase”, it being “something young people do” or them “being at that age” where drugs are often being introduced and experimented with. Although this is a normalized way of dealing with substance use in young people, it is a way for adults to distance themselves from getting involved in a more serious matter. The truth hurts and is more psychologically important to discuss. It is reported that 90% of addictions begin in adolescence and 90% of underage drinking is binge drinking (PatnershiptoEndAddiction). Partnership to End Addiction explains that “during adolescence, the brain goes through many changes and is not fully developed until the person reaches their mid-20s. This means that substance use can damage a teen’s brain in the long term, potentially causing learning difficulties and health problems in adulthood”. So what can a parent do to prevent detrimental changes in their child’s body and mind?

Try understanding the logistics of the substance use, where they obtain the drug, who they partake in drug use with, and why they may be using. When starting the conversation with your child, remember to remain calm and nonjudgemental.  They may react in anger and denial and you need to be prepared to face that. Partnership to End Addiction says “one of the most important things you can do is to set clear limits about the behavior you do and do not want to see. A combination of appropriate consequences along with positive reinforcement can help encourage the behavior change you’d like to see”. When you layout rules and consequences, be very clear and make sure your child understands the limits you’ve set before there’s an opportunity to do something wrong (PartnershiptoEndAddiction). Rules create a concrete way to let your child understand what’s expected of them and to learn self-control (PartnershiptoEndAddiction). These will show your child that you care about them and his or her safety and that consequences are ways of helping, not hurting them (PartnershiptoEndAddiction). A firm consequence, such as getting grounded or having to give up a fun privilege, is a reminder of what not to do in the future.

One great way to do this is to actually write out your expectations for one another (being home before curfew, getting a ride home from a party if things get out of hand), and to jointly sign off on them.

Monitoring Teen Behavior:

Partnership to End Addiction recommends monitoring your child’s behavior and keeping a closer eye and communicating regularly about their whereabouts, friends, and more. Some ways they encourage you to do so are:

  • Find subtle ways to “drop-in” while his or her friends are at your house.
  • Ask questions before they leave the house. Find out where they’re going, who will be there, and what they’ll be doing.
  • Check-in while they’re out. Call to say hello and include a reminder of your expectations for each other.
  • Ask questions (without interrogating) to gauge their sobriety and truthfulness when they get home. Make eye contact, and notice any smells in their hair or on clothing.
  • Reach out to other parents in an effort to jointly keep an eye on each other’s kids.

When you suspect or confirm your child’s drug use, “it’s useful to keep records of everything that concerns you over time – the date, time, where it occurred, what was found, and changes over time. Your child may try to convince you that things didn’t happen the way you remember, or that the things you found are not what you think they are. In the event it becomes necessary to seek outside help, your notes will provide valuable information” (PartnershiptoEndAddiction). They recommend writing the following:

  • When did drug use begin?
  • How did it start? / How did they get it?
  • Did it progress to other substances?
  • Who are your child’s friends? And their parents?
  • Who is in your child’s online social network?
  • Who are frequent contacts on their phone? If you cannot look on their phone, look at the monthly bill and note unfamiliar numbers.
  • Note occasions when they come home late and who they’re hanging out with.
  • Track the number of prescription pills in your home.
  • Was anything suspicious found in their room or among their belongings?
  • Any drug-related terms or slang in text messages or other communications?

Remember to stay calm, cool, and collected for your child; they are easily influenced and triggered. The more you can clearly communicate your concerns, the more they will be willing to have the conversation. For more information on starting discussions and understanding adolescent substance abuse, please visit Partnership to End Addiction.

If you are in need of immediate assistance, call River Rock Treatment at 888-308-2624 or learn more about what we treat.

You may also find this post helpful: Learn how to talk to a loved one with about addiction

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