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What to Do When Your Teen Is Drinking

Student Story: Anna

There’s a high chance that your teen will drink at some point during their high school years. Most moms and dads would never expect it, but that doesn’t mean your family is immune! Today on Parenting Today’s Teens, Mark Gregston explains how to respond when your teen experiments with alcohol.

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When Good Kids Live Dangerously

On a warm day in September, Penny received a call from her oldest daughter. But what would typically be a light-hearted conversation about the week’s events and happenings was tragically different this time.

Mom, it’s about Kyle.

Kyle was the baby of the family. As the youngest child of a single parent, Kyle was protective of his mom, Penny, and was probably the most affectionate of her children. Outside the home, Kyle was a gifted athlete, earning a place on the varsity swim team. He was a decent student, with a close group of friends. After graduating high school, Kyle packed his things, and moved out of his mom’s house, promising her that he would be safe, and would make sure to check in with her from time-to-time. He was off to make a life for himself, and Penny knew he would succeed, because Kyle was an all-around good kid.

Mom, I’m here at the hospital. It’s Kyle. He just passed away from a heroin overdose.

The words sounded unreal to Penny. Her son gone? From drugs? There were never any signs that Kyle was using narcotics. He was a talented kid. A loving son. There had to be some mistake.

As the tragic story unfolded, Penny found out that Kyle and some of his friends had been using heroin for some time. At the time of his death, Kyle’s friends knew something was wrong with him, but not wanting to get their friend in trouble, they maintained a code of silence, never realizing that Kyle would eventually succumb to the drug.

While profoundly sad, Kyle’s story is not unique today. What was once abnormal behavior has now become the new normal for many kids. It’s not just the teens with marijuana t-shirts who meet underneath the bleachers at lunch. Athletes, musicians, scholars and the good kids you never thought would abuse drugs or alcohol are, in fact, doing just that. It’s a new generation of good kids engaging in dangerous activities. And if you think, my son or daughter would never get involved in that sort of risky behavior, think again. The National Institute on Drug Abuse recently reported the following. In 2012, 6.5 percent of 8th graders, 17.0 percent of 10th graders, and 22.9 percent of 12th graders used marijuana in the past month—an increase among 10th and 12th graders from 14.2 percent, and 18.8 percent in 2007. In the same year, 14.8 percent of high-school seniors used a prescription drug non-medically in the past year. And In 2012, 3.6 percent of 8th graders, 14.5 percent of 10th graders, and 28.1 percent of 12th graders reported getting drunk in the past month. These substances are increasingly available and accessible. And what makes them even more dangerous is the fact that the kids who use them are often committed to keeping a code of silence. Chances are you won’t hear your child’s friends tell you that your son is smoking pot or your daughter is binge drinking at parties. Even when the stories are swapped from peer-to-peer, they may never reach the ears of a parent.

In order to engage with good kids involved in dangerous activities, we first have to understand what’s at the root of the behavior. Why are teens, even the ones we would least suspect, turning to drugs and alcohol?

In teen culture, there is a constant push and search for the next “high.” That doesn’t necessarily mean a drug high. It could be the rush that comes from jumping out of a plane, getting a tattoo, piercing something on the body, dancing at a rock concert, skating down a steep hill, or playing the latest video game. Teens are looking for the thrill of experience. And when one outlet no longer holds the excitement it once did, drugs or alcohol may provide the next big rush.

Along with a search for ever-increasing “highs”, teens are navigating a very narcissistic world. All moms and dads have to do is hop on Facebook to see kids posting pictures or writing messages with the implied captions, “Look at Me! Look at what I bought! Look at what I wear! Look at what I can do! Look at what I can accomplish!” Substance abuse among teens is not about being rebellious; it’s more about being noticed. When the accolades and accomplishments don’t feel like enough, teens might turn to drugs or alcohol to cope, find acceptance or be respected. And there’s no shortage of substances available to kids who look for them.

Every teen feels the pressures of our culture. But our so-called “good” teens struggle under the added burden of trying not to disappoint mom or dad. If your son or daughter is engaging in risky behavior, they may feel additional pressure due to the fact that they don’t want you to find out. Like Kyle, they work harder to hide it. That’s why even parents of good kids need to be observant. Now, I’m not encouraging you to snoop or spy on your child. But you should be keeping a close eye on your teenager’s behavior, social group and environment. Take a peek into your son’s bedroom occasionally. Do you see any drug paraphilia? Can you smell incense or heavy masking odors? Invite your teen’s friends to the house, and get to know them. Establish trust with your child’s peers. Keep tabs on where your son or daughter goes. Are they attending parties where you know illegal substances are used? Do they disappear at odd times of the day? All these could be signs your teen is involved in dangerous behavior.

If you discover your child is caught up in substance abuse, get help immediately! It’s not just a phase, or mistaken experimenting. Regardless of what teens may hear, see or believe, there is no such thing as harmless drug use or getting drunk safely. The longer the risky behavior is allowed to continue, the higher the chances are that your child will wind up getting hurt. So if substance abuse is evident, take the steps to help your child right away. Get them in a program, or take them to see a counselor immediately.

Lastly, don’t think that your child is the exemption to the rule. If 90% of teens are experimenting with drugs and alcohol, are you willing to bet that your son or daughter is in the minority? Ask questions, watch closely and understand that even good kids can get caught up in harmful practices. If you do, you’ll be better prepared to help your teen escape and avoid this kind of risky behavior.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.


A Crash Course In Teen Drug Use

Maybe you saw the title of this article, and you thought, “Well, this is one I don’t need to read.  My kid would never do drugs!”  I’m not here to frighten you, but if you believe your son or daughter will never be tempted to use harmful substances, you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment.  We might like to think it’s the other kids who are using, and not our own.  But according to recent studies, 1 out of every 5 teens is abusing alcohol, illegal, or legal drugs on a regular basis.  Even high school students that aren’t presently using are telling researchers that they get offered prescription narcotics at least twice a day!

In a culture that fosters anxiety and promotes instant relief, drug use is becoming an acceptable method of coping.  Thirty years ago, smoking pot was done in secret by a select few potheads in tie-dye and polyester.  But today, recreational drug use is common in every social strata, including among teens.  And the issue is not going away.  More and more states are feeling increased pressure to legalize drugs like marijuana, stripping parents of their ability to forbid pot use because it’s “illegal.”

In a world that increasingly embraces drug and alcohol use, moms and dads need to understand that this issue will come up in their child’s life.  Parents also need to learn how to identify and discuss with their teens the many social pressures they will face to participate in substance abuse.

What’s Out There?

Off the top of your head, what would you say is the number one drug abused by teenagers today?  Marijuana?  Nicotine?  In reality, more common than both of these are prescription drugs!  Narcotics like Vicodin, Oxycotin, Ativan, Valium, Ambien, Adderall, and even Ritalin are popular medications being used recreationally among today’s adolescents.  There is a huge market for sedatives, painkillers, and anti-depressants, so keep a tight lid on your medicine cabinet, and realize that those bottles on the shelf can be just as damaging as the dealers on the corner.

Next to prescription drugs, Marijuana is the second most common drug abused among teens.  And you can’t turn on the television, listen to music, or read the newspaper without seeing prominent people coming out in support of legalizing this drug.  As pot use becomes more common, teens who’ve never tried it may start to think, “Well, it can’t be too bad if that person is promoting it!”  Parents, it’s not enough anymore to say, “it’s illegal!” We need to learn how to engage in a conversation about the dangers of marijuana in a different way.

Another growing trend in narcotics is designer drugs.  These are fairly common substances that have had their chemical structure altered in order to create a new product.  These drugs are often sold in powder form, including LSD, PCP, Ecstasy, and Ketamine.

This list of drugs and narcotics is not an exhaustive collection by any stretch of the imagination.  But it’s a crash course for the uninformed on what’s being offered, pushed, and abused in our culture.  The more you know about what is out there, the better prepared you will be to handle a teen who is caught in addiction, or tempted to experiment.

What Are the Signs?

When the issue of drugs is brought up, the most common question parents ask me is, “How do I know if my child is using drugs?”  Here are a few telltale signs to keep watch for:

  • Constant use of eye drops.  Smoking pot dries out the sinuses and causes bloodshot eyes.  If your teen is going through bottles of eye drops, it might be a sign that they are using marijuana.
  • Use of Goldenseal vitamins.  Goldenseal is an herb that aids in fighting in the common cold and may help with digestive disorders, as well.  But this herb is commonly believed to mask the presence of illegal drugs in urine.
  • Overuse of air fresheners or incense.  If you get into your teen’s car, or walk into their room, and it’s perfumed with heavy aromas, it may be a sign your child is trying to hide the smell of smoke.
  • Drinking vinegar.  Many people use vinegar for medicinal reasons, but for a teen using drugs, consuming vinegar could be an attempt to mask the smell of drugs on their breath, or hide the presence of narcotics in their urine.
  • Small burns on their fingers.  I’ve had teens tell me, “I burned myself on the hot stove,” when I’ve asked about marks on their hands.  But as parents we need to use discernment.  If you regularly notice small burns on a teen’s forefinger and thumb, that’s a strong indicator of drug use.
  • Rapid weight loss, lack of energy, heavy perspiration, or small bruises on the arms, legs, or feet, are also signs of drug use.
  • Emotional changes.  Does your son seem to be depressed or angry?  Is your daughter avoiding her friends or seem listless all the time?  While these are signs of normal adolescence, don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Wild swings in your child’s emotions could be a sign that they are turning to drugs or alcohol to cope with their problems.

What Do I Do?

If you’ve discovered that your teen has a problem with drugs, or you’ve caught them experimenting with harmful substances, your next question is, “Now what do I do?

First, if you’ve had a history with drugs in your past, don’t be afraid to share that with your son or daughter.  Many parents are extremely hesitant to volunteer that kind of information to their kids, in fear that acknowledging mistakes gives kids license to repeat history.  But that is simply not the case.  Admitting why mom and dad know what they’re talking about actually adds credence and value to their words.  You can relate to your son’s struggles with marijuana.  You can understand your daughter’s temptation to have a drink after school.  Don’t glorify your past, but rather share the mistakes and regrets you have in this particular area.  Your history with drugs can help your teen avoid the same mistakes.

Second, don’t engage in an argument about the morality of using of drugs.  Yes, marijuana is an herb; yes it’s been successfully used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years.  Yes, many people want to legalize it.  And yes, many successful and prominent people in society openly admit to smoking pot.  But these are not the arguments that matter.  What’s important is your son or daughter’s relationship to drugs.  Always bring the discussion back to that personal level.  The fact is, all drugs are addictive and can be destructive.  Explain that you care for your teen, and don’t want them to be held captive to any substance.  Narcotics are designed to dull our senses and trick our minds into feeling a certain way.  Drugs don’t improve our lives in any way.  Their purpose is simply to alter our emotions, and eventually they hold us prisoner.  Many teens have told me that after using drugs for awhile, it got to the point where they needed those crutches to go to school, deal with their family, or relax.  As you talk to your teens about drugs, put yourself in the same scenario.  What would your teen say if you needed a couple of beers for breakfast before going to work?  Or you needed to pop a pill in order to sit down at the dinner table and relax?  Wouldn’t they be concerned for you? 

Lastly, seek help.  Drugs have the capability to sink their claws into our kids so deep that it can be extremely difficult to pry them loose.  If your child is caught in the snare of drugs, enlist some allies to help you free them.  Find sponsors or programs that give them tools to overcome cravings and addictions.  Read books or articles that delve deeper into counseling teenagers dealing with drugs.  You don’t have to face this alone.

If you have a teenager that ventures outside at all, the chances that they will be exposed to drugs and a drug culture are very high.  So take the time to learn about what is out there so you can help your teen avoid making choices they will certainly regret.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program.  Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.