Knowledge is power. Although drug use, abuse, or addiction is an individual matter, a big picture view of drug abuse today among adolescents, teens and young adults can help to put parents and guardians on notice of what drug-related pitfalls exist for our youngest members of society.
In view of the greater vulnerability the young population has to alcohol and other drugs, the more information parents have, the better equipped they can be to prevent youth drug abuse or intervene if any drug abuse occurs.
Fortunately for parents, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) includes a review of the drug practices of young individuals ranging from 12 to 17 years of age. The NSDUH is one of the most reliable and comprehensive sources of information about drug pattern uses in America today. Per the NSDUH 2013 results, the following are some highlights of the drug practices that were identified among 12 to 17 years old in our country:
- In this age group, 8.8 percent were current users of illicit drugs in general. This finding can be further broken down: 7.1 percent were current marijuana users, 1.7 percent were current non-prescribed users of prescription painkillers, 0.6 percent were current users of hallucinogens, 0.5 were current users of inhalants, 0.2 percent were current users of cocaine, and 0.1 percent were current users of heroin.
- In the 12 to 13 age group, one percent used marijuana, 0.9 percent used prescription pain relievers (non-prescribed), and 0.6 percent used inhalants.
- In the 14 to 15 year old group, 5.8 percent used marijuana, 1.8 percent used prescription pain relievers (non-prescribed), 0.4 percent used hallucinogens, and 0.6 percent used inhalants.
- In the 16 to 17 year old group, 14.2 percent used marijuana, 2.3 percent used prescription pain relievers (non-prescribed), 1.3 percent used hallucinogens, 0.3 percent used inhalants, and 0.4 percent used cocaine.
A closer look at these finding shows that with age, there is a growing trend not only toward drug use, but also toward exposure to different types of drugs. Note that the NSDUH only began to provide information about cocaine use in the 16 to 17 year old group, which likely means this is the age range of initiation into this addictive stimulant. Marijuana, on the other hand, would appear to be an easy access drug because it is present in the earliest age group of 12 to 13 year olds, and the number of young persons who use this drug only increases with age.
Know the Risk Factors
As the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) discusses, risk factors deal in probabilities, not absolutes. For parents, an awareness of risk factors for early drug abuse can be instrumental in prevention of drug abuse. According to NIDA, the following risk factors have been identified for drug engagement among youth:
- Deficits in parental supervision
- Aggressive behavior early in life
- Substance abuse among peers
- Availability of/access to drugs
According to Sean Clarkin, the Senior Vice President of Programming at the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, the following are additional important risk factors to consider:
- Genetic predisposition
- Family trauma (such as job loss and divorce)
- Mental health issues (such as ADHD and depression)
- Drug experimentation
As a rule of thumb, the more risk factors a young person is exposed to, the greater the possibility of succumbing to drug use. Risk factors are not static; different risks become more influential at different stages in a young person’s development. In addition, certain life events can dramatically increase the potency of risk factors. According to NIDA, research demonstrates that major transitions in a child’s life can place them at an increased risk of drug abuse.
For instance, children undergo a major shift each time they graduate from one school to another. There are changes in friends, peer attitudes, academics, authority, and the school environment itself. For children who have never been exposed to drugs, their first interaction with drugs will relate to their school life in some way. As a result of the pressures associated with school, children may engage in drug use for a host of reasons, including to cope with stress or to fit in with others.
To counteract these risk factors, NIDA encourages parents to develop “protective factors,” such as maintaining a strong parent-child bond and remaining actively engaged in the child’s life. Of course, this can be challenging when a growing child acts like pushing away a parent is part of the rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood. Parents are encouraged to engage in a loving push-back because being out of your growing child’s life could contribute to that child falling under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
Adolescents and teens socialize largely according to their age group, and for this reason, they get much of their information about drugs from their peers, who are likely quite misinformed themselves. The National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence makes helpful recommendations to parents on how to prevent children from initiating into drug use of any kind. The following are some highlights of the Council’s recommendations:
- You’re a parent, not a friend. Dismiss any concern about a negative reaction and talk to your child about the dangers of drug abuse. Make your zero-tolerance position clear. In the event a drug-related issue comes up with your child or anyone else in the environment, remain firm and grounded in your position.
- Know your child’s friends. Pay attention to those children with whom your child associates and learn more about them. Have some of the hangout time occur under your roof so you can best gauge the dynamic between the children and also build a trusting relationship with them.
- Build a rapport with other parents. Meet the parents of the children who associate with your child. In this way, a dialogue can open up around how to prevent drug abuse and other dangerous behaviors in the group. It will also set up a good relationship model for your child.
- Set clear rules. Creating specific rules about alcohol and other drug use will lay a foundation for parental control and support. Rules should comport with laws, such as no drinking under 21 years of age, no driving under the influence, and no getting in a car when someone is under the influence. Rules should also support values like to never encourage others to drink or do drugs.
The Council strongly encourages parents to understand that they play an instrumental role in keeping their children off drugs. As the Council notes, research has found that in the 13 to 17 year age group, two out of three teens say that the main reason they avoid drugs is that they would not want to lose their parents’ respect. Further, studies show that children who are not regularly monitored by parents are four times more likely to use alcohol or other drugs. These research findings make clear that active parental involvement in a child’s life is one of the main ways to prevent drug abuse.
Appreciate the Threat
According to a survey sponsored by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, many parents do not appreciate the threat alcohol and other drugs pose to their children. The survey found that almost six in 10 parents with children ages 12 to 24 were not concerned that their child would use alcohol or drugs. However, a parental sense of security regarding drug use is not supported by drug use statistics among young persons. According to available data, about 50 percent of young people will use an illegal drug and an even higher percentage will consume alcohol. It is not possible to predict which young people will become drug-dependent, but it is certain that some will.
Research shows that more than 60 percent of parents have experimented with drugs, which can be a factor that keeps them from appreciating the threat substance abuse poses to their children. It is important for parents to keep in mind that even if they did not develop a drug abuse problem, there is no guarantee their child will not.
When Faced with a Child’s Drug Abuse
According to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, if you are concerned that your child is using alcohol or drugs, take action. Being concerned doesn’t mean you must have evidence, you can simply have an intuitive hunch. It is never too early to intervene, even if your child seems to only be experimenting. It’s impossible to know where experimental drug use will lead. In addition, experimental use can cause accidents, legal problems and serious health complications.
Some parents will feel they need to find some evidence to support their concerns before taking any action. In other words, they will not feel secure about acting on intuition alone (although gut instinct is a powerful tool in the drug detection process).
The Partnership provides some helpful guidance on how to follow up on your concerns:
- Make observations. Consider if there have been any changes in your child’s demeanor, appearance, attitude, personal habits, performance in school, friend set, level of interest in extracurricular activities and other aspects of his or her character or lifestyle.
- Keep track. Make a note (mental or in writing) of times when your child breaks rules or acts out of character. If there are prescription drugs and/or alcohol in the house, monitor the volume or take measures to set these intoxicants out of your child’s reach.
- Search for drugs/paraphernalia. Parents may be divided on whether or not they should look through their child’s private spaces. If the decision is made to do so, some non-obvious places to check include over-the-counter medicine bottles and packages, makeup cases, candy wrappers, between cracks in assembled furniture and in the corners of bed sheets.
- Talk with household members. Learn if any other members of the household, such as a spouse, partner, older sibling, or grandparent, has any impressions to share. Get everyone on the same page, present a united front, and work as a team to detect and address any drug abuse.
There are two types of intervention: informal and formal. During an informal intervention, the parent and child have a conversation. Since the parent is the one initiating this 2conversation, it is best to be prepared (such as following the advice above) and be in a receptive and cooperative frame of mind. Being angry can quickly shut down the most well-intended conversation about drug use. The stages of this conversation can include the parent stating observations, asking questions, listening to the answers and then discussing next steps collaboratively with the child.
A formal intervention is a well-organized meeting usually involving the parent, the child’s loved ones and the child. This type of intervention usually occurs when the child has developed drug dependence or addiction. The parent and loved ones can lead the intervention or decide to hire a professional interventionist. A qualified interventionist can organize the intervention, guide the family about the pre-intervention process, and serve as the moderator during the intervention. A standard practice is for the interventionist to present the substance abuser with next steps, such as admission to a rehab, which should already be set up in advance of the intervention meeting.
Many interventions with children are not directed toward getting the child into a formal rehab program. To help prevent that need from arising, parents will need to honor any promises they made and follow up on any promises the child made. The Partnership advises that one thing parents and children can do is co-draft and sign a contract that clearly lays out commitments and consequences if they are not upheld.
In the event the child’s drug use continues, or stops and then resumes, the parent may want to seek help from others (seeking treatment at rehab is an option as well). Parents are seldom alone in such a situation, and there is likely to be community support. As The Partnership discusses, the following individuals may be able to assist you as you help your child:
- A school counselor, therapist, or addiction counselor
- A sports coach, or a respected teacher or school administrator
- A family doctor
- The family’s religious counselor, if any
- A trusted adult relative or family friend
It may take a constellation of individuals working in concert to help a young person to quit using drugs and make lifestyle changes supportive of abstinence. The Partnership urges parents to set aside any fears about stigma or exposing a private family to others because the goal should never be to hide a young person’s drug abuse but to help end it. A team approach will also show the young person that there are numerous people who care and are willing to help. When young people realize there are several stakeholders in their recovery process, they may have even more incentive to make the necessary changes to stop the drug use.
Rehab International can help to connect you to an array of rehab centers specializing in the treatment of adolescents, teens and young adults. We can help you find the right treatment option in the right location for you or your loved one. Call us to learn more.