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Dealing with drug use in teens

Teenagers smoking marijuana joints at a partyStatistics tell us that education is winning, with more than 95 per cent of young people never using illicit drugs, except for cannabis [1].

In saying that, young people identified alcohol and drugs as the top issue facing Australia today, so we need to continue to be vigilant in talking to our teens about partying in a safe and responsible way.

As the above statistic highlights, the one drug that is more socially acceptable in high school is cannabis or marijuana [2]. Statistics show that 4.8 per cent of 12-13-year-olds have tried marijuana, which rises to 26.7 per cent of 16-17 year olds [3].

Unfortunately, marijuana is often used because it is seen as a harmless recreational drug. A range of synthetic cannabinoids, chemical compounds found in cannabis that are equally as popular and are used in a similar way.

A key ingredient in marijuana, THC, damages those areas of the brain, which are responsible for memory and learning. I often see young people who have lost their mind by using pot, which is so incredibly sad when they are only 15.

Marijuana is a depressant so it slows down the body. This feeling of calm can be addictive if your teen is feeling anxious or experiencing a stressful period in life. Heavy use of marijuana has the potential to damage brain development permanently. Teenagers who smoke marijuana become slow and lifeless. The legal implications are real too. Convictions can damage their employment and travel opportunities. Marijuana is, alongside of alcohol, the second biggest issue you need to be concerned about.

Dealing with a teenager who is experimenting with marijuana takes skillful parenting and often professional support. Parents often ‘know’ before they know (if you know what I mean). Although there are no easy or quick answers, these five thoughts are designed to help any parent concerned about drug use in their teen.

5 ways to deal with drug use in teenagers

1. Answer the basics

Behind each person’s drug experimentation is a different motivation. It is critical that parents are realistic about why their teen is experimenting with drugs. Are they anxious or depressed, or just trying to fit in?

Understanding the why behind teens behaviour can greatly help parents respond well.

2. Take a strong stance

Always take a strong stand when it comes to drugs. You can’t control what your teenager does when they go out but you can control what they do at home.

If you find drugs in your home call the police. Don’t negotiate. This is the hardest part and a moral dilemma for many parents who are torn between trying to keep teen safe by keeping them at home and being clear about their position with drugs.

3. Lock up prescription drugs

We often forget prescription drugs and the potential for them to be misused. If you know your teen has an issue with drug use or self-harm, you may want to consider locking the medicine cabinet. One in five teens experiment with prescription drugs at some point, so no one should rule it out. Parents should be more aware and extra vigilant during times of additional pressure, like school exams.

4. Don’t put off getting help

If your teen has a problem, drug related or otherwise, don’t put off getting help.

More than two thirds of young substance abusers suffer from mental health problems. We can safely say that mental health issues and substance abuse often goes hand in hand. If your teen in struggling with drug use consider mental health support and screening as a basic intervention strategy.

5. Take a medical approach

Research says that parents are the one of the most powerful influences in teenager’s lives when it comes to preventing them from taking drugs [4].

The better informed your teenager is about the science behind drugs the safer they will be. Always take a medical, rather than emotional approach, when it comes to talking to your teen about drugs. Parents should keep their eyes open for blogs, articles, and documentaries for research which can help them communicate to their teen about this important issue.

1 Miller, J, Bridle, R & Christou, A (2012). Illicit Drug Use in Western Australia: Australian School Students Alcohol and Drug Survey 2011.
Brief communication no.9. Drug and Alcohol Office, Perth.
2 Australian Government National Drug Strategy. (2011). Australian secondary school students’ use of tobacco, alcohol, and over-the
counter and illicit substances in 2011.
3 Australian Government National Drug Strategy. (2011). Australian secondary school students’ use of tobacco, alcohol, and over-the-counter and illicit substances in 2011.
4 Tobler, A. L., & Komro, K. A. (2010). Trajectories or parental monitoring and communication and effects on drug use among urban
young adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health, 46(6), 560-568.

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3 comments so far -

    • Thanks for that comment. I do agree that in many cases this would be totally appropriate. My general stance on drugs is not to negotiate and set firm boundaries, which I am sure you picked up on. Drugs can take hold of kids so quickly….like blink of an eye quickly! Many parents who have been on this journey wish they were stronger earlier on in the piece.

  1. I’m sorry but I see all this information you have on marijuana completely wrong and you should learn more before blaming marijuana on ruining kids lives. It has so many medical benefits and if it made you slow and lazy and dumb it wouldn’t be making young and old people with a range of medical conditions more Energetic and healthier and able to live life more than they did before. It has been used medically for hundreds of years ..

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