Modeling good behavior is crucial in preventing drug and alcohol abuse by your teen. In this excerpt from The Marijuana Talk Kit (available for free at drugfree.org/MJTalkKit), Heather Senior, LCSW, Parent Support Network Manager at the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, provides some tips for parents who smoke or drink themselves.
If you use marijuana or drink alcohol ‒ whether in front of your teen or not ‒ you should anticipate that he is going to call you out on this (“But you smoke weed/drink alcohol!”).
Take the time to reflect on, and perhaps reevaluate, your own use ‒ especially if your teen is seeing you drink or smoke. You may want to consider the effect your behavior has on him. For instance, if you come home from a long, stressful day and the first thing you do is smoke a joint or pour yourself a drink, you may want to try modeling another behavior for your child (like going for a walk, working out, reading, stretching, deep breathing or something else that helps you unwind). Showing your teen that you need a substance to relieve stress, or use it as a coping skill, can send the wrong message.
Ask yourself why you drink and/or smoke, how often, what time of day and how much you use. These answers are going to affect your credibility with your teen, give you some insight into your own behavior and allow you to evaluate whether your substance use is in any way becoming a harmful and unhealthy coping mechanism.
These are questions only you can answer. Think about them in an honest manner, and reach out for help if you need it. (Consider calling the Partnership’s Parents Toll-Free Helpline at 1-855-DRUGFREE to talk to a trained parent specialist who can walk you through next steps.)
If you don’t feel comfortable talking about your substance use with your teen, you can put the focus back on him. You can say, “I’m glad you brought this topic up. I think it’s important that we talk about my use as well as yours and, I would like it if we started with your use, why do you feel the need to drink or smoke?”
Try asking your teen, “How does my use affect you? I’m curious, because who you are and how you are feeling is important to me.” This invites him to share and ask questions and promotes collaboration.
Consider also asking your teen, “How does knowing that I use pot or drink alcohol make you think differently about your own decisions?” Open-ended questions like these show curiosity, respect and understanding.
And lastly, be sure to express your love and caring about your child’s health, development and well-being.
For more tips on how to talk with your teen about marijuana, download our free Marijuana Talk Kit >
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. While mental health issues are important to address year round, highlighting these issues during May provides an opportunity to educate families about psychological disorders, reduce the stigma that surrounds mental illness and recognize the tens of millions of Americans affected by mental health disorders.
Many teens suffer from depression, anxiety, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder or some other mental illness. This puts them more at risk for developing a drug or alcohol problem.
Although not all teens with these disorders will develop a substance abuse problem, the chances are higher when they have difficulty regulating their thoughts and emotions. Therefore, parents with children with psychiatric conditions should be vigilant about the possibility of their teen using drugs or alcohol.
Unfortunately, many teens with a mental health disorder turn to alcohol or other drugs to self-medicate. In fact, the majority of adolescents and young adults battling substance abuse and dependence may have an undiagnosed, untreated mental illness.
When a child gets diagnosed with a mental health disorder, in addition to alcohol or drug abuse and dependence, he has “co-occurring disorders,” also known as a “dual diagnosis” or “co-morbidity.” When a child has co-occurring disorders, he needs treatment for each of his diagnoses.
Treating alcohol or other drug abuse and dependence/addiction alone does not help underlying mental disorders, and similarly, treating a depressive disorder alone will not treat addiction.
About half of Americans will meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health disorder sometime in their life, with first onset usually in childhood or adolescence.
If your child has been diagnosed with co-occurring disorders, you should find him a treatment program that specializes in treating co-occurring disorders or that can make referrals to services to help treat your child’s mental disorder while simultaneously getting treatment for alcohol or other drug abuse and dependence. Make sure to ask treatment providers whether their program is equipped to handle this.
If the treatment provider is unable to treat both the substance use disorder and the mental illness simultaneously, the treatment services should be integrated with the substance use disorder treatment provider and the mental illness treatment provider coordinating services and care.
When a child has co-occurring disorders, he needs help treating all of his illnesses.
We’re here to help. Call our toll-free Helpline at 1-855-DRUGFREE (1-855-378-4373) to speak to a trained professional. Our nationwide support service offers assistance to parents and other primary caregivers of children who want to talk to someone about their child’s drug use and drinking.
To learn other risk factors for substance abuse and to learn how to reduce the chances your child will develop a drug or alcohol problem, download 6 Parenting Practices.
With marijuana becoming more widely legalized and normalized across the country, teens are asking legitimate questions and pushing back against the notion that they shouldn’t use. Perhaps you’ve heard this one before:
Marijuana is a plant. It’s natural. How harmful could it be?
This question may stop you in your tracks. After all, marijuana is a plant. Often, it is natural. So how do you respond to your teen, and still seem reasonable and credible?
First, remember that use of any substances, including marijuana, is harmful for the still-developing teen brain. This conversation is an opportunity to express love and compassion for your teen, and also point out some other plants that – yes, are natural – but can also be harmful. Try saying something like this:
“Not all plants are necessarily good or healthy for you – think about heroin, or even poison ivy.” By saying this and pointing out other natural substances or plants that are dangerous, you’re helping your teen rethink his point by utilizing knowledge you already have on hand. You can then express compassion:
“I love you and care about you so much. Plant or not, natural or not, marijuana can impair your judgment and be harmful to you at this stage in your life. I want you to be the best, healthiest version of yourself and doing marijuana, or any drug, is dangerous at your age.”
You can also ask your teen what he meant when he asked about marijuana being harmful. You could say something like: “I heard you say ‘how harmful could it be?’ What did you mean by ‘harmful?’ What does that word mean to you?” By doing this, you’re getting your teen to create his own boundaries around marijuana use. These open-ended questions are catalysts that enable the conversation to keep moving forward, and encourage openness between you and your teen.
Want more? Download your free Marijuana Talk Kit now >