Ask any parent what they think about parenting and almost every single one of them will say it’s rewarding and their greatest accomplishment. But parenting is scary. You’re responsible for the safety and upbringing of another person — in addition to taking care of yourself. So it’s devastating when you find yourself in the insidious world of teen substance abuse.

teen substance abuse

How did we get here?

Where did I go wrong?

How can I fix it?

Finding out your teenager has a substance abuse problem is scary and stressful, but you’re not alone. According to a survey from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the number of new drug users in a year is about 2.8 million. That works out to be about 7,800 new drug users each day. More than half of those users are under the age of 18.

Teen Substance Abuse is Not a Phase

The teenage years are tumultuous to begin with, which is why parents are so quick to write off an uncharacteristic behavior as “a phase.” Teenagers naturally experiment; it’s how they figure out their place in the world. They experiment with identity, independence, and boundaries. Many teens also experiment with drugs and alcohol. Having been teenagers themselves, many parents will excuse drug use as experimentation… a natural phase for teenagers. But teen substance abuse is not a phase.

No one sets out to become an addict. It often starts out as fun social use, “experimentation,” or an intended one-off. Catching a teen substance abuse problem early on can save both you and your child a lot of stress, illness, money, heartache, and even death.

Tips for Parents Dealing with Teen Substance Abuse:

  • Keep Communication Open

    Finding out that your child is abusing drugs is enough to scare even the most steadfast parent. And that fear can quickly turn into anger and the instinct to lash out and punish your child. While remaining firm and austere in such a serious situation is crucial, it’s also important to hold onto empathy. Lashing out at your child may push them further into their destructive behavior and fuel their substance abuse problem.

    On the surface, you’ll see the symptoms of teen substance abuse. It’s a bit more difficult but very important to see the deeper issues. Substance abuse often stems from a variety of other struggles, including mental health issues or trialing family dynamics. Remaining empathetic and keeping your lines of communication open with your child leaves more room for them to seek help for these issues as well as their substance abuse problem.

  • Avoid Enabling Behaviors

    Parents want to do anything for their kids, especially when they’re lost or hurting. But there’s a fine line between supporting and enabling that parents are inclined to cross due to their own emotional turmoil when their child is struggling. Supporting is letting your child know you’re there for them. For example, utilizing empathy and keeping communication open, as mentioned above. Enabling is taking care of the person and allowing them to remain irresponsible for their destructive actions.

    Examples of enabling behaviors:

    • Making excuses for destructive behavior
    • Keeping secrets from others about an addiction
    • Making threats without any follow-through
    • Cleaning up after the addict
  • Set Boundaries

    Addiction is very much a self-diagnosed disease. Forcing someone to get treatment won’t work if that person doesn’t believe they need help or isn’t open to it. This gets a lot more convoluted when the person struggling is a teenager, as the teenager is dependent on the parent. If you aren’t forcing your child into treatment, isn’t the other option enabling?

    Setting boundaries is a healthy way to avoid enabling teen substance abuse while prompting your child to be responsible for their own actions.

    Boundaries are also very important during and after your child’s treatment. A good treatment facility will help the parents and family set healthy boundaries to facilitate the best chance for a successful long-term recovery.

  • Take Care of Yourself

    Addiction affects the whole family. It’s virtually impossible to watch your child struggle with such a toxic disease without taking on some of that struggle yourself. Addiction is a disease with behavioral symptoms that can actually cause your child to seem like a stranger. You may have faced vehement denial, lying, and manipulation where there was once sweetness and innocence. Unfortunately, you can’t separate an addict from these behaviors unless they are ready to accept help. But you can seek help and support for yourself so that you’re better able to understand and cope with the destruction that addiction brings.

    Getting help for yourself also means that you can be there for your child. Our addiction specialists are happy to answer questions and provide resources to help you better understand your child’s struggle as well as their treatment options.

If your loved one is ready to get help, our counselors are standing by 24/7 to offer resources and provide free assessments over the phone: 855-737-7363