Adolescence is a time in our lives when we’re naturally curious and eager to explore the world in new and exciting ways. However, the brains of teens and even young adults are not fully developed enough at this stage to make rational, informed decisions and lack mechanisms to curb the impulse for risk taking behavior. The latest research shows that our brains are not fully developed until our early to mid- 20s.
When you put that together with the fact that adolescence is also a time we are pushing boundaries, you can begin to understand why drug and alcohol experimentation often begins in the teen years. To compound the situation, we now have evidence indicating that the use of alcohol, prescription and/or illicit drugs by teenagers retards the normal development of impulse control and the development of healthy life skills – often delaying brain development well into adulthood. So what may start as curious experimentation can lead to more drug use by hindering the brain’s ability to make sound rational decisions. And this is how many young people begin heading down the road to addiction.
What Can Parents Do to Lessen the Risks?
Simply telling your kids to “just say no” to drugs and alcohol doesn’t work. All that is likely to get from your teenager is an eye roll and a prompt exit from the room! However, there are some other things we parents can do that I’ve seen work over the years and are also supported by research to help reduce the risk factors. By far the most important thing you can to do to help your teenager avoid drug abuse is to have a healthy parental bond and be willing to talk about the dangers of drug and alcohol use even if it makes you uncomfortable.
10 tips on how to have a good relationship with your teen or young adult, and help prevent drug use:
Spend honest, quality time doing things they enjoy – this makes them feel loved and strengthens your bond
Listen to what they say and really hear them before responding – request time to think about what they’ve said if necessary, especially when making decisions that affect them
Respect differences of opinion – be willing to “agree to disagree” now and then
Have the courage and technical skills to monitor your child’s online activity and social media – way too much inappropriate information is easily accessible
Take the time to get to know their friends – peer pressure is a powerful influence at this age and now includes social media “friends” as well
Set a good example and be honest with yourself about the quality of your role modeling
Get educated on the risks of drug and alcohol use today so you can talk about it intelligently with your child
Focus on the positive benefits of a drug-free life
Set clear, respectful and firm boundaries around drug and alcohol use in your home
And don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and consult with a professional if you think your teen may already be using drugs and/or alcohol - early intervention is key to recovery
There is an almost endless availability of illicit drugs today, and so many of them are being laced with potentially lethal additives that can kill even in small doses. Last year alone over 75,000 people overdosed and died in the United States from drug use, and most of them were in the 35-44 year old age group. Thus we find ourselves in the midst of an epidemic that I feel is a public health crisis and needs to be addressed on a number of levels before it gets better. I believe that prevention is a big part of a long-term solution.
Learning that teenage drug use hinders brain development and often opens the door to developing full-blown addiction can be a bit overwhelming at first. However, the good news is that we can make it a point to educate our teenagers about the pitfalls of using drugs before they start. This empowers our children to make their own healthy choices about drug use and build strong coping mechanisms for a successful life.
What If My Teen or Young Adult Is Already Using Drugs?
As I mentioned above, early intervention is key for those who are already using drugs. With the proper treatment, recovery from addiction is possible so please don’t hesitate to contact a professional for help.
If you have any questions or would like to learn more about the help that is available, I offer a free 20-minute phone consultation. Please call 678-316-3991 or visit my website for more information.