There are certain milestones in a child’s life that parents tend to be excited about: first steps, the first day of school, first date. There are others that scare us immensely, yet we know need to happen: first driver’s license, first heartbreak, first failure. And there are others that we cross our fingers and hope never come, namely the first time doing drugs. This fear can be especially acute in families where substance abuse runs rampant. Despite our trepidation about it happening, though, few of us feel fully equipped to prevent the problem. Based on our experience with drug-addicted teens, we recommend the following tips to try and prevent drug addiction in your teen or child.
Build the Foundation
Form a close relationship with your child before substances come into the picture. Try to support everything healthy and positive that your child does — whether that be earning good grades, winning at a game, or making a new friend. The earlier you can instill the sense that positive behaviors lead to positive attention, the better. This helps them avoid seeking attention through negative behaviors down the road.
Start the Conversations Early
Talk to your child about drugs before you think he’ll ever actually deal with them. This means, start the conversation before age 10. Explain your values and expectations around substance use. Are some drugs acceptable? Is there an age at which you’ll let your child experiment with alcohol or another substance? Depending on your comfort level and your child’s development, you may want to share your own experiences. Did you struggle with addiction? Ever participate in alcohol or marijuana rehab?
Don’t Make Assumptions
There’s no such thing as an immunity to addiction. It cuts across all socio-economic, political, race, and religious lines. It truly doesn’t discriminate. Given that the underlying cause of addiction is biochemical, it can happen to anyone. Inaccurately believing it can’t happen to your family may wind up being a huge mistake.
Connect With Your Child’s Friends
Encourage your child to bring friends to the house and make sure they feel welcomed. Get to know who your child is hanging out with and build a rapport with them. Not only does this help safeguard against people you feel uncomfortable around, but it also opens the door to communication. Often, a parent finds out about drug or alcohol use from a concerned friend.
Make Connections With Other Parents
To piggyback off the need to know your child’s friends, it’s important to know those friends’ parents as well. This allows you to set common rules and expectations around substance use; it also gives you open communication when your child announces a party or overnight at the other kids’ house. Will there be parental supervision?
Provide Them With Easy Outs
Teens don’t want to be embarrassed or singled out, which is what makes saying no so difficult. So help them devise effective ways to avoid the embarrassment of saying no to drugs or alcohol. Teach them excuses, such as “I can’t get high because I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow and they’ll be doing a urine test” or “My parents make me take drug tests so I can’t.” Some families institute coded phrases. For instance, when your teen is uncomfortable, she might call you to check in and say, “But I’m not ready to go home yet” to let you know she’s in an awkward situation. This type of coded language conveys to friends that you are forcing her to go home, allowing her to save face as she wriggles out of the situation.
No matter how much it may seem otherwise, as a parent, you are the strongest influence on your adolescent’s behavior. Keep in mind that addiction is a medical issue, which is why alcohol, drug, and marijuana addiction treatment has a medical basis. If at any point you suspect your child is involved with drugs, seek help. There is a variety of help available, including therapists, marijuana rehab, and alcohol treatment centers.