Teens & drugs: What’s changed?

We’re seeing drug abuse increase in middle and high schools and it’s a reflection of an evolving culture of isolation.  In a good article recently published in Psychology Today, What Makes Teens Happier, Jean M Twenge Ph.D. compares to the correlation between happiness and various activities.  Of course, there are many other factors; drug potency and availability, pressure on teens, hyper-parenting, etc. Dr. Madeline Levine provides more depth in the society aspect in a couple of great parenting books. For this blog, however, I’ll focus on the “Now what?”

When should parents worry? There are clearly different degrees of danger and urgency.  That said, any teenage illicit drug use carries risks (overdose, addiction, reliance, behavioral, legal, etc.) and warrants parental involvement. Social use can quickly turn to coping. Adolescents are learning how to deal with relationships, failures, loss, and all of life’s punches. They need to learn from difficult experiences (not avoid them).  Remember, their brains are rapidly developing!

Having ongoing, open dialog, with your teenager is the first step. Have a firm stance but show compassion for their struggles and mistakes.

If your teen can’t stop on his/her own or if you see warning signs of deeper issues, rehab facilities offer the environment for change that needs to occur. I recently asked a friend, Eddie Fischer, who is in long term recovery and is also an advocate for adolescents, what changes have to happen.

First, surrendering to the fact that (s)he has lost control. It’s not “just” weed. Many people never get past this step. Just think about how hard it is to admit that you don’t have control.

Second, it takes a change of heart; recognizing that life’s meaning comes from places like faith, relationships, love, and service, which ultimately transform pain into purpose. It’s learning that being high isn’t the only way to feel better and turning to another for help after a bad day instead of struggling in isolation.

So, what can you do as a parent?

  1. Show your children Unconditional Love: Remember that addiction isn’t a character flaw, it’s a disease. This means showing compassion, not being a pushover.
  2. Get help: Many parents fear doing anything that will interrupt their child’s education and they fear the shame that comes along with the stigma of addiction. I’m a parent and I really get this. Unfortunately, if you’re at this point, your child’s life may be at stake. Maybe not today, but a year (or ten years) from now.
  3. Include therapy: This is hard! There is a lot of stuff to work out for your teen, you, and even others in your family. This is a disease that impacts the whole family.
  4. United parents (guardians): Use the EAR (Empathy, Assertiveness with feelings, Respect) technique. This may be the heaviest cross you ever carry together. Shift away from blame and towards understanding of each other.
  5. NEVER give up. There is hope, even when it doesn’t feel like it. MANY others get through this.


Chris Guzniczak

Licensed Professional Counselor Intern

Under Supervision of Tiffany Smith LPC-S, LMFT-S, NCC

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