Adolescence can be a time during which young people may experiment with substance use. For some adolescents, experimentation can turn into dependence. For a parent or guardian of a teen, this can introduce feelings of fear, frustration, shame and guilt and navigating such a situation can be extremely challenging. To address teen substance abuse, there are four areas parents and guardians can focus on. These areas include: communication, accountability, healthy boundaries and planning. Below are more details about each of these areas.
- Talk openly with your teen about what is going on in their lives
- Provide a non-judgmental open line of communication with your teen
- Make it comfortable for your teen to come to you when they are experiencing difficulties
- Work with your teen to create a contract that describes specific expectations of them around substance use
- If your teen comes to you and expresses that they are in need of help with substance abuse, respond to their need in a supportive way, instead of having a knee jerk reaction
- Negative Example – “You are grounded from everything and you’re going to rehab.”
- Positive Example – “Thank you for sharing this with me. I’d like to consider us working with a professional to help with this situation.”
- Explain to your teen that you are grateful for their honesty, but there are consequences to their substance use. Example – “I’m grateful that you brought this information to me so I can be helpful to you in this situation and I want you to continue to come to me, but there has to be a consequence for your actions.”
- If your teen comes to you or if you find them abusing substances, there must be accountability for their actions
- Set clear and specific rules around substance use and enforce them, such as:
- It is not appropriate for you to use any substances
- You may not have substances in the home, or anywhere else
- I need to know where you are and who you are with at all times
- You are to be at home by 8:00 P.M. Mon-Fri. and 10:00 pm Sat-Sun.
- You can randomly drug test your teen if you suspect marijuana or other substance use
- You can breathalyze your teen if you suspect alcohol use
- Acknowledge when your teen is doing well and following the rules
- When speaking about substance use, do not allow yourself or your teen to engage in a yelling match. If this occurs, take a 15-minute break and revisit the conversation
- Do not allow your teen to turn the attention on you and take it off of substance use
- Do not get in a power struggle with your teen. Stick with the rules that were set forth and always refer back to the contract that was agreed upon by you and your teen
- Do not bargain with your teen about the rules that have been agreed upon
- Have a plan in place in case your teen comes to you with an issue around substances
- Example: Research adolescent treatment, such as Intensive Outpatient Programs and Alternative Peer Group programs
- Consult with a professional to determine what each level of care entails
- Reach out to treatment providers to learn about what they offer as far as adolescent treatment
To learn more about adolescent substance use treatment programs at The Lovett Center, please fill out this confidential form.
About the Author
John Shiflet, MSW Candidate
John is passionate about helping individuals in recovery earn an education and flourish in their lives and careers. He has been in the emerging field of collegiate recovery for nine years both as a student and a professional.
John graduated from Texas Tech University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Community, Family, and Addiction Services in December of 2012. In 2013, John became the director of the collegiate recovery community at University of Houston, Cougars in Recovery. John is currently in his third year as a part time graduate student in the Graduate College of Social Work at University of Houston, where he is studying clinical social work and serves on the UH Substance Abuse Advisory Committee. He is currently an intern at The Lovett Center, where he practices individual therapy with clients and co-facilitates process groups and skills groups.
Illustration: Jorde Matthews