Is Substance Abuse Victimizing your Teen?

Perhaps it all started with one sip or one puff. Then come the reasonings:

  • The other kids do it as well and they look so cool.
  • I couldn’t say no to my friends.
  • They said that Ecstasy is a great way to party.
  • I thought I could stop and get out anytime I wanted.

Sadly, substance abuse is growing into a major problem for teens. Teens are trying a whole list of substances – tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and even progressing on to more dangerous stuff like cocaine and heroin.

Based on findings from the 1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, young people ranging from 16 to 20 comprise a whopping 36.3 percent of current illicit drug users. What’s more, there are over 1 million teens aged 12 to 17 that can be considered dependent on illicit drugs and close to a million dependent on alcohol. There are also over 10 million young people ages 12 to 20 that drink alcohol with almost half considered to be binge drinkers.

This is every parent’s nightmare – to see their healthy and dynamic child being held in the grips of substance abuse. Substance abuse results in increased vulnerability and risk for teenagers. Not only are their mental and emotional health impaired, it also makes them more prone to be involved in risky behaviors. These include being involved in traffic accidents (some resulting in death), risky sexual behaviors (i.e. sex without protection, having sex at an early age), and delinquent behavior at home and in school and involvement in criminal acts.

Knowing the signs of substance abuse

Parents must be vigilant to the changes taking place in the lives of our teens. We may sometimes make the mistake of thinking that the changes in behavior are just part of a phase. We also may be too busy with our own lives, so that we don’t notice these signs in our teens. Changes in the behavior of your teen may point to substance abuse, especially if the behavior seems more than a phase and lasts for weeks or is sudden and extreme:

–          Sudden decline in school performance, reports of truancy or delinquency

–          Discipline issues at school

–          Changes in overall attitude, temper outbursts that are unusual

–          Extreme reactions, flare-ups, unexpected aggression to the point of being physically or verbally abusive to others

–          Disinterest in activities and hobbies that he had previously enjoyed and regularly indulged in, withdrawal from family and other social activities

–          Avoids bringing friends over; changes in circle of friends

–          Nervousness and secretiveness (although being secretive can also mark a teenager’s desire for increased privacy)

–          Being extremely sensitive to inquiries about where he’s been and what he’s been doing

–          Decline in hygiene and grooming habits

–          Tends to wear sunglasses, even at occasions and places where they’re not called for

–          Declining concentration and forgetfulness

–          Change in wardrobe, especially the tendency to wear long-sleeved shirts (even during warm or hot weather)

–          May start asking you for money for “projects” or may start borrowing money from siblings and friends

–          Items in the home that mysteriously get “lost”

–          Breaking the curfew

–          Having drug-related paraphernalia on their person (such as pipes, needles, syringes and so on)

Getting help for Substance Abuse

It is important to recognize the signs and to act quickly. The longer the teen uses these substances, the more difficult it will be to break free from them. One way to get help is to work with a substance abuse counselor. Substance abuse counseling sessions will help the teen identify and recognize the fact that there is indeed abuse. Then the counselor will lead the teen to the realization of consequences of the substance abuse and provide a path to finding alternatives to it.

Parents may also need to get family counseling as they struggle to deal with their teen. Substance abuse counseling can provide parents with crucial tools to help them support their teens during this difficult time. Even when teens are unable or unwilling to attend counseling, couples counseling can help parents control their reactions as well as apply intervention measures and strategies to help the teen break free from the substance abuse.

To help you during this time, you need a therapist who understands what you’re going through and who has extensive experience dealing with troubled teens. Triston Morgan is one such therapist. He has spent years helping Utah teens combat addiction. This includes acting as a therapist in Utah in rehabilitation clinics, wilderness therapy programs, community therapy centers and residential programs. Triston is also a licensed marriage and family therapist and holds his practice in Provo, Utah.

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