Alcohol & Drug Abuse in Teens

As adolescents become more independent, parents often worry about their teens making healthy decisions, including staying away from drugs and alcohol. In honor of National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week, we spoke to Dr. Harvey Triebwasser, director of adolescent medicine at CHOC Children’s, and Dr. Alfonso Bustamante, a CHOC psychologist, about what parents can do to prevent alcohol and drug abuse in teens.

Warning Signs

The most common misconception among parents is the belief that “my kid would never do drugs,” says Bustamante.

Parents play a crucial role in identifying possible warning signs of substance abuse in their child. But, outward appearance, school performance, or even extra-curricular activities are not necessarily indicators of drugs and alcohol abuse. Instead, parents should be aware of extreme changes in their teen’s mood, sleep patterns, and eating habits. Since these can also be signs of adolescent development, look for drastic changes, rather than minor shifts in habit.

Teens may abuse alcohol and drugs for a variety of reasons, says Triebwasser, including:

  • Negative peer pressure
  • Family tensions
  • Access to cash, alcohol and drugs
  • Trauma
  • Pressure to perform at school, in the home, or in extra-curricular activities

Parents who are mindful of these potential triggers can be proactive in preventing their teens from turning to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Abuse Prevention

Parents must verbalize rules and expectations, including consequences for breaking rules. Quality communication is the key to building trust in the home, says Triebwasser.

They should also model the behavior they expect from their children, adds Bustamante. If a teen sees adults in their home abusing alcohol or drugs, they are more likely to experiment with substances themselves, he says.

Adults should also properly store and dispose of prescription medications. Behind alcohol and marijuana, prescription and over-the-counter drugs are the most commonly abused substances by Americans ages 14 and older, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

Getting Help

A wide range of health services are available to teens at CHOC, provided my male and female physicians who specialize in adolescents.

Psychologists can also be part of the healthcare team, and address the needs of the whole family.

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