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 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.”

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. 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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Kids and Sleep

boy and bear - sleep

Sleep is an essential part of your growing child’s health. When it comes to making sure your children are getting the proper amount of Z’s, there are some guidelines you can follow. Infants, on average, sleep 10 to 12 hours per night. Newborns and adolescents typically sleep eight to 10 hours. The recommended amount is about nine hours a night for teenagers, says Dr. Triebwasser.


When kids don’t get enough sleep, they will experience a lag, both physically and mentally, and often appear cranky. Their school performance and immune systems also may suffer. “People get sick when they don’t sleep as much,” says Dr. Triebwasser. “It’s hard to learn when your brain is not well-rested.” Like washing your hands to avoid germs, children need to develop proper sleep “hygiene.”

Parents should also be aware of sleep disorders like restless leg syndrome, when people move their legs excessively or sleep apnea, which happens when you have one or more pauses in breathing while you sleep, lasting from a few seconds to minutes. If your child experiences any abnormal sleeping patterns, discuss it with our physician.


For teenagers, the biggest interference with turning in “on time” is a lot of homework, video games, texting and social media, says Dr. Triebwasser. Since common sleep issues such as difficulty falling asleep or staying a sleep can result from poor sleep hygiene, teens should take several precautions:

  • Go to sleep at a reasonable time
  • Avoid late-night television
  • and snacks
  • Try not to over stimulate their brains right before bedtime

How can parents with younger children enforce healthy sleep habits?

  • Say good night, turn off the light, and leave the room
  • Put children to bed awake
  • Make naptime part of a routine


  • Hours of sleep per day that preschoolers need: 12
  • Hous of shut-eye teens need per night: 9
  • Minutes of quiet time suggested before bed: 30


Dr. Harvey S. Triebwasser
Dr. Harvey S. Triebwasser
CHOC Adolescent and Pediatric Specialist


Dr. Triebwasser is a longstanding member of the Society for Adolescent Medicine. He specializes in adolescents and pediatrics. He served his internship and residency at Cornell New York Hospital.

Dr. Triebwasser’s philosophy of care: “The most important thing to raising teenagers is love and limits.”

State University of New York – Downstate

Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine

More about Dr. Triebwasser

This article was featured in the Orange County Register on September 4, 2013 and was written by Shaleek Wilson.

View the full feature on Kids and Sleep