How can parents protect children against addiction? What should parents do when they suspect a problem with alcohol or other drugs?
Tough questions. But answers are more straightforward than you might think.
The top priority for parents: Be parents. A parent’s job is to guide their children, not be their best friend. That means knowing the facts, setting clear limits and being consistent.
Teens are developmentally programmed for risk-taking. Their brains are still establishing the ability to think for the long term and make sound judgments. “Teens will be teens” is not an adequate response to risk-taking.
Parents should educate themselves about the mental and physical effects of alcohol and other drugs and tell their teens they do not approve of them using any mood-altering substance. Research strongly supports the parental approach of forbidding substance use at home and requiring young teens to socialize under adult supervision.
The standard teen response when parents say no to an unsupervised party—“But everyone else is going! All my friends will laugh at me!”— is almost always an exaggeration.
The reality is that most teens do not use alcohol or other drugs, and friendships that depend on shared substance use generally aren’t healthy ones. Kids are less likely to engage in risky behavior when they do well at school, are happy at home and engage in positive social activities such as sports, community service or a faith community.
Warning signs to look for include changes in grades, absences from school, loss or change of friends, missed curfews or incidents of drinking or other drug use.
When a problem arises, a parent’s first instinct is often to blame themselves, feel ashamed and hide. Instead, they should understand that substance use problems have complex origins and that it’s better to focus on solutions once an issue is suspected.
Seek support from school officials, friends, your faith community and other social networks. Have your child evaluated by a professional therapist or addiction treatment specialist. Develop a recovery plan with professional help, and stick with it.
All parents want the best for their children. With foresight, knowledge and a willingness to be firm but loving guides, parents can help their children grow up to be happy, healthy—and safe.