Drugs vs. Your Teen’s Future
While the “Just Say No” campaign of the 1980s is long past, drug addiction continues to be a problem among American teens. How can you empower your child to say no when faced with temptation?
As they mature, teens face identity questions and work to answer them on their own. The challenge of figuring out who they are may compound worries about school, friendships and independence, and some teens turn to drugs to escape stress or fit in.
“Adolescents are uniquely vulnerable to addiction because the front of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex has not fully developed,” says Katie Plax, MD, a Washington University adolescent medicine specialist and director of diagnostic and adolescent medicine at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “This part of the brain helps us understand risks and consequences, so teens often have difficulty comprehending the effects drug use could have on their futures.”
Get Involved, Get Through
Teens who experiment with drugs may act differently—spending increased amounts of time alone, communicating with family members less, or dressing or grooming themselves in new ways. Usually, changes in activities at school, from dropping grades to unexplained misbehavior, accompany drug use, so parents need to be on the lookout.
“Though teen moods are constantly changing, certain changes are big warning signs for drug use,” says Lisa Hueckel, LPC, parent education specialist at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital’s Teen Helpline. “By building children’s confidence and talking with them before any drug use starts, parents can empower teens to say no.”
Consider taking these steps:
- Talk about substance use openly when the subject presents itself—when someone on television smokes or when drugs are referenced in a song.
- Encourage your teen to pursue wholesome interests, and express your pride in his accomplishments.
- Provide opportunities for involvement in healthy group activities, such as team sports, scouts, youth groups or the arts.
- Encourage community service and care and concern for others as great ways to spend free time and learn new skills.
Keep Your Cabinets Clean
While you’re likely familiar with illegal drugs such as marijuana and cocaine, today’s teens often ingest dangerous household materials when looking for a high. Protect your teen from temptation by keeping a close watch on these elements:
- Some teens drink hand sanitizer, which is comparable to drinking 140-proof alcohol.
- Synthetic novelty drugs called bath salts, which act the same way as methamphetamine or cocaine, have become more common in recent years.
- ADHD medications and other stimulants are used by teens to stay “up” for tests and other high-pressure events.
- Pain medications are addictive. These medications need to be properly disposed, so check with your pharmacist or physician about disposal options if you have leftover medication.
Need helpful advice about your teen? Call 314.454.TEEN (8336) to talk with a St. Louis Children’s Hospital specialist.