Have your Eyes and Ears Open. Everyone is at risk.
- Learn the signs and symptoms of trouble with drug and alcohol use. Many parents don’t believe it could be their child, but all Maine teens are at risk. This can be someone who:
- Goes to a lot of parties.
- Gets in trouble at school, work, or with parents.
- Hangs around with people that are using substances as a focal point of what they do.
- Does risky things like drink and drive.
- Monitor closely. Demonstrate trust yet maintain a close eye. Teens can be very creative when trying to hide something from you. Get to know your child’s friends and their parents. Check in often, reinforce your rules and enforce them when necessary.
- Reduce access to substances in your home. Maintain inventory of everything and keep them locked up.
- Speak with others who share your concerns about substance use issues. Become involved in school prevention initiatives or your local community coalition.
Substance use prevention can start as early as the toddler days, and continue into adulthood. On-going communication is a critical component of prevention. Kids Health shares some tips for talking with children of various ages. Role Modeling is another essential element. This cannot be emphasized enough. Your children observe everything you do. Your actions shape their actions. Your perceptions shape theirs. A third deterrent is the building of protective factors. These are the foundational positive influences that ward off use. This includes things like family time, eating dinner together, positive relationships, boundaries and expectations, empowering them to be their best self, connection to community, and helping them to succeed.
There are many sources of information including the media, web, and peers. There are also MANY opinions that can make the vast amount of information confusing, and leave you misinformed. You will want the most researched, up to date, studied information there is, especially when learning about something that can be so harmful. Look for sites that start with https, and those that are not making claims from one persons point of view, or based upon one body of research. The most accurate information about drugs will come from sites that have considered much research, many studies, from a variety of sources, and with information from experts in the field of substance abuse. Recommendations include the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens, and Centers for Disease Control. Another great resource especially for parents is the Partnership for Drug Free Kids where you can find not only information about substances but also on monitoring tips, speaking with your child, how to help them, and more.
Having up to date information will help your credibility, especially if you have a teen who thinks you don’t know anything. This drug guide can help you with information on specific substances and here are conversation tips. Ongoing conversations are important as is finding the right time. Maybe you’re in the car and something comes on the news, or maybe there’s been an incident in your community. Use these as opportunities to broach the subject and learn more about how your teen feels about such issues. When stating your viewpoints on alcohol and drug use, come from a place of caring rather than control. You do however want to make sure your expectations are clear, and your child is aware of what the consequences will be for breaking the rules of your home.
If your teen asks about your use, you don’t have to divulge any information from your possibly wilder days. If your kid knows you have, or maybe still do use substances, guidance can be found here on navigating that conversation carefully: How to Talk to Your Kids about Drugs if You Did Drugs. Importantly, and so that it doesn’t take away from their situation, remind them you’re trying to talk about them, because you care about their health, safety, and future.
In addition to role modeling, reducing access, communication, setting boundaries, holding then accountable, and empowerment, you can help them come up with “outs”. “Outs” are the things they can do when they want to safely get out of a situation. Help them work through what feels natural and will work for them to refuse to use substances. This can be letting them use you, “My mom would ground me for a month!” or, “No thanks. My dad makes me do random drug tests.” Maybe you have a code word or phrase and they can call you: “But mom, I’m not ready to come home yet.” It doesn’t matter that they are trying to save face with their friends and you may come off as the bad guy. If it keeps them from using and helps them feel empowered to say no, then mission accomplished.
Teenage behavior can be pretty unpredictable. With that in mind, if your son/daughter demonstrates one or more of these, it could be an indicator of substance use:
- Withdrawal from activities of previous interest
- Changes in peer groups
- Disassociation from old friends
- Declining grades
- Noticeable behavior or emotional changes
- Un-kept appearance
While it may be scary to think your child is using substances, it is important to remain calm. Speak about your suspicions openly, and do not accuse. Ask them. The conversation should occur when you do not suspect your child to be drunk or high.
If you have concerns, speak with them. Ignoring the issue only allows the behavior to continue. Take a deep breath and prepare yourself. Get the support of other key adults in your child's life, and together, come to a common stance on the matter. Agree on how and when you will approach the situation, and determine appropriate consequences. Be prepared to make your case and to have anger returned. Your child will not appreciate being called out.
Speak clearly, and directly with your teen. Keep calm. After all, you want a conversation, not a confrontation. Reinforce your rules and consequences and be prepared to act on them. Your child won’t take the behavior seriously if you don’t. Work together toward achievable goals. Use this as an opportunity to remind them of any addiction in your family and what’s important to them. Likely, they do not want to continue to put themselves at risk for a lifetime of problems or to lose the things that they value. Monitor them closely.
If you find yourself repeatedly dealing with your child’s use, or they admit to not being able to stop, there are many resources available. What you can do is to focus on the behavior and remain firm, yet loving, and monitor your child. Help them seek professional services. Some schools have counselors on staff that are equipped to handle drug and alcohol counseling. Or you may reach out within your community. Drug and alcohol counselors can answer your questions and explain what types of treatment options are available. You may also wish to seek help yourself to deal with the difficulties of having a child using substances. Online services may be able to provide you with some immediate information while you assess the resources that are available where you live.
Let them know you are concerned about their behavior and that you care about them as an individual. Truly listen in confidence if they choose to talk to you about their use, or problems. Remind them of all the positive things in their life, and risks substance use poses to maintaining the things they value. Never offer substances as a way for them to cope and help them work through drug free alternatives. Be supportive by offering to help find counseling and treatment services in the community. An online resource to do that is Maine 2-1-1. Remain respectful and supportive if they choose not to speak to you about their use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, What to Do If Your Adult Friend or Loved One Has a Problem with Drugs offers more information which may be helpful for you.