Parents: Be a Model in Preventing Teen Substance Abuse

Teen Substance Abuse | Parent Treatment Advocates

There’s a clear benefit to taking medication: you feel better. Whatever ailment you might be experiencing goes away and you can return to a normal level of functioning. If a headache or migraine is keeping you in bed, for instance, you can take a pill designed to take the pain away.

However, there’s a point when relying on medication or other substances to relieve symptoms goes too far and in fact becomes an addiction. For example, when a person wants to calm down and believes that in order to do so medication is necessary, the medication becomes a crutch. The sense of relief, happiness, or relaxation experienced with the medication is not authentic. Finding a sense of calm is not sourced from one’s own power to relax.

Here’s a more specific example: one woman, who was about to get on a plane, needed to take a sedative because she was anxious about almost every aspect of her trip – the tension associated with going through airport security, her fear of flying, her apprehension of leaving her children for two weeks, her dislike and discomfort with sleeping in a foreign bed, and a host of other anxious feelings. She knew that taking the sedative would ease the anxiety to help her enjoy the two-week vacation she had been working all year for.

This woman’s story isn’t the best example for children and adolescents. The message it sends is that we can rely on medication and substances to take our problems away. Ideally, this woman might have taken sedatives while she worked with a therapist to uncover the root of her anxiety, which was symptomatic during certain situations in her life.

An addiction is alive in one’s life when he or she believes that the drug is necessary in order to achieve the psychological results. It’s an easy cycle to get into. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness (DSM) explains that the activation of the brain’s reward system is the key to drug addiction. A psychological dependence is the need for a particular substance because it causes enjoyable mental effects. One has lost his or her power to the drug, feeling the need to take it in order to avoid certain inner experiences and create new ones.

Of course, it would be easy for a child or adolescent to develop this sort of cycle too. If a teen began to take medication for anxiety, ideally, parents, mental health professionals, and educators would be working together in order to create an anxiety-free life for that teen over time, ideally without the medication. Indeed, creating this requires time, attention, and cooperation among the adults in that teen’s life.

Furthermore, the cycle of addiction is easy to fall into in our particular society which endorses having alcohol at almost all social gatherings. To begin to think about how you may or may not be modeling certain drinking patterns, you might ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you I ever have a party where alcohol is not a part of the celebration?
  • Do I drink more than a few times per week?
  • Do I say to myself or to others the following?
    • It’s been a hard day; I need a drink.
    • It’s time to celebrate; I deserve to have a martini.
    • It’s the weekend; let’s drink!
    • I’m on vacation!
    • It’s cocktail time!

Of course, as parents, you are modeling all sorts of patterns. Specifically, your relationship to alcohol or substances will likely be noticed and perhaps mimicked by your child. Learning to model positive choices towards medication, alcohol, and other substances can facilitate the prevention of addiction in your teen. Learn more parenting tips

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