Teen Drug Use

In a 2012 study sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), over 45,000 high school students were surveyed at 395 public and private schools. The results were unsettling to say the least. When 12th graders were asked what they’ve used in the last 30 days, 41.5% reported drinking alcohol, while 25.2% reported use of illicit drugs. The figures were 11% and 7.7% for 8th graders, respectively. The numbers also pointed out that – over the last 20 years – while alcohol use has been on the decline, illicit drug use is on the rise. Other factors are now at work in 2012: a shocking escalation in prescription drug abuse, legalization of cannabis, and the introduction of synthetic and “legal” drugs such as “bath salts.” The climate for our youth is a stacked deck, wherein the dealers take the form of their peers, the media, and other figures of authority.

In another article we cover how you would talk to your kids about drugs, starting at a young age. Preemptive discussion is by far the best approach. When a child is educated and makes the conscious decision to avoid drugs and alcohol, you have empowered that individual to take a path that is free of chemical interference. However, you would by no means rest on your laurels. You would keep a running conversation on the subject, because the child will most certainly encounter new situations and new offers, not to mention all the pains and emotions of growing up.

But let’s say you were late for the meeting and just caught your teenager in possession of drugs or alcohol. What then should be done? The following is a guide for your use in such a scenario:


First and foremost, open up the communication channel on the matter. Getting angry is not likely to work. That is because if you respond with anger, a teenager’s response is to shut down the communication. They may lash back, or they may “agree” with you while not listening at all. This is not to say that you shouldn’t speak the truth; drug and alcohol abuse can result in death, whether through traffic accidents, poisoning, overdose or other incident. The answer would be a middle path, speaking the truth, but with understanding for the teenager’s predicament. The first questions you’d want to get answered would be what drugs they are doing, in what quantities and how often. Are they doing these with friends? They may not want to “rat” on their friends, so you might not get any names immediately. Is anyone driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol? This opening conversation may take some work.


Teenagers get involved with drugs for a number of reasons. These can range from boredom to the desire to numb the effects of trauma. Peer pressure, “being cool”, social media, easy access to drugs, personal or familial problems, parties and sex associated with drug and alcohol use, experimentation, alienation – all these and more can be at the root of teen drug use. When you are talking about the subject with your child, you are bringing these things to the surface. The teenager may not have a conscious understanding of why they are doing it. They may be utterly ignorant on the subject, which brings us to the next step…


A large percentage of teenagers who get involved with drugs or alcohol are oblivious to the dangers and realities of what these chemicals are, and what they do to the body and mind. Ask any addict and they will tell you that if they knew then what they know now, they would never have swallowed that first pill or taken that first hit. More tragic is the addict who cannot tell their story because drugs or alcohol took their life. Education of our youth is the most important step in the equation. 

Likewise, many parents are not educated on all the drugs now available to their children. You being educated will go a long way towards resolution of the problem.

We live in an audio-visual age, where our children are bombarded with an endless stream of messages and images. Any message with the truth about drugs must be alive, vivid and captivating. We have provided links below to educational websites that serve to inform youth in a language they can easily understand. These contain chilling interviews with former users telling their stories, how they got started with drugs and the resultant wreckage. Equally effective are the detailed videos about individual drugs, how they are made, what gets added to them, and what they do to the body and mind.

When we educate instead of preach, we enable the child or teenager to make up his or her own mind.


Once you have established that drugs do not represent the solution to their problems – and only make them worse – what then? The answer is that you must fill the vacuum. This is where you really dig in to help your child solve his or her problems. If they feel intimidated by their peers, you could coach them in a role-playing format to boost their confidence. Suppose it’s boyfriend or girlfriend problems, it may the job of the other parent – or trusted ally – to step in and offer some advice. Perhaps they have trouble with schoolwork. Some tutoring may be in order. Problems could run deeper than you imagined, and you may need to enlist the help of a pastor or counselor. Your child may simply have no direction in life, in which case you’d want to help them formulate goals and start working towards them.

The number of problems and their solutions are limitless. The point is that chemical escape will only exacerbate whatever the child or teenager is experiencing.

Other Factors

There are two other key factors which can come into play:

Some parents are drug users, addicts or alcoholics themselves, which can made for an impossible situation when trying to educate their child. They are the role model, so how can they expect the child or teenager will do anything else but emulate the parent’s actions? It can be life-shattering for the parent. The course of action to take would be for another trusted relative, friend or professional to help both parties individually. The mother or father will have to own up and decide if they really want their child to walk down that road. The parent may need real rehabilitation, while the child or teenager may need communication and education, or – depending on the severity of drug use – may need rehabilitation as well.

The next factor is far more insidious than most would think. This is where the parent has authorized or condoned prescription psychotropic drugs for the child. These include antidepressants, Adderall, Ritalin, Focalin and a slew of others. They all have a myriad of side effects – mental and physical – including increased heart rate, high blood pressure, pupil dilation, panic attacks, disturbed sleep patterns, erratic behavior, hallucination, suicidal thoughts and actions, and violent outbursts. These drugs commonly create dependency and addiction, and pulling a person off them without a precise and gradual tapering off procedure can be catastrophic. There are medical practitioners who are versed in this process, and there are also centers that specialize in withdrawal and rehabilitation from these drugs, so consult with a professional when addressing this situation.


Through the steps of communication, knowing the causes, effective education, and being alert for specific factors, we can win the real war on drugs – the one that starts with our youth!