Important Things To Remember:
- Part of healthy teenage development is testing boundaries. Part of healthy parenting is knowing when to enforce limitations.
- “Legal” substances are still illegal for teenagers. Marijuana and alcohol can be used recreationally in Washington, but only by adults who are 21 and over.
- Building a trusting, non-judgmental relationship with your teen makes it much more likely that they will seek out and value your advice.
If You Suspect That Your Teen Is Using Illegal Substances:
Check for signs of drug use. One site, DrugFree.org, has an excellent list of behavioral, environmental, social, and physical changes that a parent can watch out for.
Be assertive. Do not enable possible drug use by asking indirect or confusingly-worded questions. It’s okay to ask your teen, specifically, if they are using illegal substances, where they got them, or when their last use was.
If Your Teen Has Confirmed That They Are Using Illegal Substances:
Figure out why. This could be a topic you approach in family therapy or alone with your teen. Are they using substances to numb feelings, to be accepted by a peer group, to manage symptoms of PTSD, depression, or other mood disorders, to cure boredom? Although teenagers are more independent and can adequately handle many of life's basic issues and responsibilities, your teen might still need an adult’s help to get to the root of their drug problem. Help your teen get a clear understanding of how they began using illegal substances by identifying with them their triggers for drug use.
Ask if there are any downsides to using illegal substances. This is a great way to begin talking with your teen about changing their substance use behaviors because it highlights, in a non-judgemental way, the repercussions of substance use. Note that it is important for your teen to come up with these answers by themselves, otherwise you run the risk of sounding like a preachy anti-drug campaign instead of a parent who sees, hears, and values your teen’s individual experience.
Block their access to the illegal substances. This means locking liquor and medicine cabinets, getting rid of paraphernalia, suspending their allowance, and knowing who their friends and associates are.
Seek outside help. If like many parents the prospect of confronting your teen about their drug use is too daunting, or if you struggle with substance abuse yourself, it’s a good idea to seek outside support for yourself and your teen.
The Washington Recovery Helpline can provide you with a list of resources for parents and teens. Call 1-866-789-1511 or visit their website at www.warecoveryhelpline.org.
Another resource, 1-866-TEENLINK, is a confidential afterschool hotline for teens by teens. Visit the Teenlink Website at www.866teenlink.org.