What to Do If You Suspect Your Teen Is Struggling with Substance Use

It’s Thursday morning, the kids are at school, and you just finished the laundry. You go into your teenager’s room to start putting away their clothes. You open their drawer and you find an odd container that you didn’t expect to see. You are curious, so you take a look, and find that it is a prescription that you know is not for your child because a different name is written on the label.

You sit on the bed staring at the container confused, concerned, and wondering, “What should I do?”

Take a Moment

If you suspect your teen is struggling with substance use, take a moment before talking with your teen, or accusing them, to think about the conversation you are going to have. Allot yourself some time to think through the questions you have, as well as the approach you will take. Coming at your teenager too strong and making an accusation could drive them away from being willing to sit down and discuss things with you. Remember, just because you think your teen is struggling with substance use does not fully guarantee that’s what’s going on.

Have the Conversation

One of the hardest things to do when you suspect your teen is struggling with substance use is to sit down and have the conversation. Though it is hard, it is a necessity to move forward and help your teen with the struggle. Find a good time, where both you and your teen can sit down distraction free. Have both of you commit to removing your phone and any other electronic devices to ensure the focus is on the conversation. You will have a lot of questions for your teen, but the important thing to do during the conversation is to actively listen to what they are saying. Also, when engaging in the conversation, do not pass blame to the teen, but rather be supportive about how you are there for them and are willing to help.

Be Prepared for Counter Questions

Teenagers are very inquisitive, so expect for them to ask questions too. Be prepared on how you will answer these, but most importantly, just be honest. During the conversation, you may be asked, “Haven’t you tried drugs before?” Depending on your situation or history, this could be a tough question to answer. Be open and honest, but also continue to emphasize what you want for your teen while focusing less on you and more on them. Provide your teen with your reasoning while also sharing why it is never a good idea to be involved with substance use.

Expect Angry Feedback

When you suspect your teen of substance use, the conversation is not an easy one to have. Think about your teenager too, and how they feel having this conversation with you. If the teen is feeling like they are being accused, they may begin to lash out, say hurtful things, or even try to bait you into having an angry response as well. Focus on the love you have for your child, more than the angry, hurtful comments they may make. Remain calm during this feedback and continue to show your child love.

Set Goals

No matter what direction the conversation goes, when you are coming to the end of it, setting a goal is very important to move forward helping your teen with substance use. For the first conversation, one small, simple goal should be established between you and your teen. Maybe that is scheduling your next conversation to discuss things further or planning something that you both can do together to reconnect. Establishing a small, simple goal, can then lead to bigger goals in the future because this situation is a process, not just a one-time conversation.

We understand that the conversation may not be easy, but by having one, you are taking the first steps to helping your teen with their substance use. Our team is also here to help you!

If you need assistance or help in any way, view our Get Help page or Contact Us directly and we will help answer any questions you may have!

How Environment Can Affect Risk of Substance Use in Teens

The environment a teenager engages with regularly can strongly influence their decisions. Home, community, work, school, social halls, and a friend’s house are just a few of the environments where teens interact with during a typical week.

If a teen’s environment has substances readily available or easy to access, it can increase their risk of engaging in substance use. This not only affects their immediate future, but it may have long-term consequences as well. Let’s explore some of these environmental factors in more detail.

Home Life

One of the most significant influences in life is our home. We look up to our parents, siblings, and family members for guidance and direction. A nurturing home life with established rules and consequences can be a source of protection from substance use. However, growing up in a stressful environment can have a negative impact.

In a home setting with limited structure or affection between parents and teenagers, teens can be more easily influenced by friends and peers outside of the home and engage in substance use.

They are also at greater risk of substance use if they have witnessed or experienced traumatic events in the home setting such as domestic violence, forms of abuse, or substance use by parents, relatives, or siblings.

Friends and Peers

As a child approaches and begins their teenage years, peer influence becomes a stronger environmental risk factor for substance use.

Teenagers want to feel like they belong to a group, so they will do things to fit in. If the friends they spend time with engage in substance use, that teenager is more likely to engage in similar behaviors, too.

If the teenager chooses to spend time with friends and peers who do not engage in substance use, they are less likely to become misuse or overuse substances due to the positive environment.

Friends and peers can be a powerful support system, but they can also be influential in risky behaviors. It’s crucial for teens to choose a positive social environment that results in a positive outcome.

School Environment

The school environment influences the risk of substance use as well. This influence extends beyond the social aspect of school.

The stress of academics or the fear of failure can contribute to a teenager’s choice to engage in substance use. Academic failure can also signal that a teen has already started using or misusing substances.

Watch for these signs of stress or a drop in academic performance. If these signs are present, reach out to the teen to discuss the situation and determine what help they may need.

Additional Environmental Factors

Other environmental factors can play a role when it comes to the risk of substance use, too. Social media has a significant influence on people of all ages, especially teenagers. Ads, social media posts, or pictures can be found on various social media sites and influence others to engage in substance use.

Traditional media such as music videos, television shows, or commercials can also influence teenagers to use substances. These settings sometimes glorify substance use and misuse and make a teenager or adult appear invincible, which is far from the truth. Monitor what your teenager is watching and engage in conversation to make sure they understand the difference between reality and fiction.

If you live in the Montgomery County, Maryland area and need to discuss substance use or learn ways to help your teenager, please Contact Us and we will reach out as soon as possible to help.

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