Preventing Teen Drug Use and the War on Drugs in Your Home

preventing teen drug use

Preventing Teen Drug Use and the War on Drugs in Your Home

Nancy Reagan rolled out her “Just Say No” campaign, which was followed by the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program in the 80s. Although their efforts in preventing teen drug use were well-intentioned, their abstinence models have been criticized for oversimplifying the problem and being unrealistic. As drugs have become more widely available in high schools and used socially at parties, it is important for parents to recognize why their teen might be inclined to “say yes” and if their teen is at risk for using drugs to self-medicate.

Why Teens are Tempted to Experiment

There are a wide range of reasons teenagers don’t “say no” to drugs, depending on the individual and the type of drug they are considering using. Most teens are vulnerable and may not understand or care about the long-term consequences of their actions. Understanding why they might be at risk for using drugs prepares you to look out for signs that they may be abusing drugs and taking the necessary steps to keep them safe before they get trapped in the cycle.

  • Social acceptance and fitting in
  • Social attractiveness
  • Curiosity about the effects of different drugs
  • Escaping from reality
  • Rebelling against parents or society
  • Invincibility fable
  • Mirroring habits of people around them
  • Peer groups that normalize excessive alcohol use
  • Family history
  • Coping with trauma, depression, anxiety, and other emotional pain

While physical signs of drug abuse vary depending on the substance, common problems may include academic decline, loss of interest, secretive behavior, unusual tiredness, missing curfew, neglecting responsibility, legal problems, relationship problems, withdrawing from family, and other high-risk behaviors, including speeding, unprotected sex, and petty theft.

Steps for Prevention

Early intervention can prevent negative consequences and long-term substance dependence. While your teenager may be resistant to admitting that they are using substances, it is important to talk to them openly about drugs and harm reduction to encourage safer drug use and healthier lifestyle choices.

Learn about different drugs and slang terms used to talk about them. Inform yourself about current trends. Your personal drug education or experiences may be different from theirs.  

Minimize judgment. Drugs are a sensitive and controversial topic. While teenagers might discuss it more openly among friends, they are likely to try to hide it from parents out of fear of punishment. If you want them to trust you to talk about substances, either their personal use or their exposure in high school, do not criticize . Instead of labeling their actions as right or wrong, express concern and a desire to help or listen.

Talk about myths of substance use. A lot of teenagers get information about drugs online or through music and movies, where it is talked about more openly and glamorized. They are more likely to hear about the negative consequences of substance use from official sources than other people’s experiences, which may make them feel less trustworthy or personal. They may also use message boards or forums to look for information about drugs that are not scientific.  Teens may associate certain songs or genres of music, such as rap and electronic with doing certain drugs. Talk about the messages they’ve heard in the media that have shaped their assumptions about drugs and addiction.

Encourage healthier lifestyle habits. It’s not all about saying no to “social activities,” but rather learning how to “say yes” to different things. Instead of focusing on how to make the right choices about selecting friends and hobbies, teach them about how to take care of themselves and follow principles of harm reduction. Physical activity is one of the best alternative activities to drug use, as it activates similar pleasure and reward systems and improves physical health. Aligning your values with eating healthy foods, getting regular rest, and taking care of your body can conflict with maintaining habits like substance use.

Address underlying emotional issues. Substance use is often a way of self-medicating depression, anxiety, trauma, identity issues, and self-esteem. Consult professionals who understand the interaction between mental health and substance abuse.

How ViewPoint can Help

ViewPoint Center is a short-term residential Crisis and Assessment Center for adolescents ages 12 to 17 that helps stabilize and assess teenagers struggling with drug use and emotional and behavioral issues. As drug use tends to cover up other underlying issues, many of our patients are admitted with inaccurate diagnoses. We use a holistic approach to create a treatment plan that will better help your teenager transition to the next stage of their recovery.


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