How to Talk to Your Teen About Substance Use

As parents, we share a common goal of wanting what is best for our teenagers. We want them to be successful and capable of making good decisions as they get older.

A crucial part of the development process is engaging in conversations with them to teach, learn, and grow. Some of the conversations are easy, while others may be more difficult.

Substance use is a serious topic to discuss with your teen as it is a prominent part of the world we live in today. Whether your teen has engaged in substance use or not, it is valuable to talk about it in more detail and provide them with a general understanding of the topic.

Here are five great tips on how to talk to your teen about substance use.

Set Guidelines

The first step to talking to your teen about substance use is to set guidelines for the conversation. Establish rules and consequences for both you and your teen to follow. Help them understand that the conversations and guidelines apply to both of you.

Setting guidelines will limit negative feelings about the conversation and remove some of the pressures that the teen may feel. It will help keep the conversation moving in a positive direction.

Once you both agree to the guidelines, it is imperative that you abide by them, as this will help build trust.

Open Communication

Open communication is vital to building trust when talking with a teen about substance use. The teenager’s thoughts, concerns, and feelings are essential during this process.

When engaging in the conversation, allow the teen to ask questions and speak without being interrupted or corrected. Be responsive to show that you are actively listening.

Keeping communication open can encourage your teen to continue having future discussions with you about substance use if the need arises.

Focus on Safety and Values

When speaking with your teen, focus on safety and values surrounding substance use. Discuss the risks associated with substance use so they understand why it is important to make safe decisions.

Avoid making the conversation too personal so that your teen does not shut down. Speak with them from a more general standpoint so that they can discover their values and be open to further discussions.

Provide Reassurance

Make sure your teen knows and understands that you care about them and are here to support them. Reassure your teen that you love and value them.

Take time to discuss the positive attributes they have, such as talents, skills, or accomplishments. Maintain positivity about the teen throughout the conversation to help build their confidence in themself.

Be Honest

Honesty plays a key role when talking with your teen about substance use. At some point during the conversation, your teen may ask about your experiences with substance use. Be honest in your response. If you engaged in substance use, let your teen know. Share your story with them. This can provide additional reassurance knowing that you went through a similar situation.

How We Can Help

We understand that talking to your teen about substance use may not be easy. We have programs to help educate you on effective ways to speak with your teen! Throughout the year, we also offer training that you can take part in to learn how to talk to your teen about substance use.

If you are located in the Montgomery County, Maryland area, we have specific programs and services focused on helping teenagers.

Contact us today if you have any questions about our programs, are interested in signing up for training, or need help speaking with your teen about substance use.


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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