What Parents Should Know About Teens And Drugs

    The dangers of drug use have again come to the forefront due to the recent high-profile deaths of young celebrities. The use of illegal drugs among youth is increasing. Research shows that many teenagers first use alcohol before the age of 13 (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2000). Twenty-five percent of surveyed college students (underage drinkers) reported binge drinking (five drinks for men/4 drinks for women) in a single occasion (Sheffield, Darkes, Del Boca, and Goldman, 2005). The 2016 Monitoring the Future Study found that one in nine 12th graders admitted to using synthetic marijuana (Spice/K2) in the past year. The changing perceptions among youth that marijuana is not dangerous could be partially responsible for rising marijuana use. The MTF study also found that more than 11% of 12th graders had used prescription medication for non-medical purposes in the past year. After declining for several years, ecstasy is now, unfortunately, making a rebound (Johnston, O’Malley, Bachman, and Schulenberg, 2012).

    Many parents are often caught off guard by their child’s drug use and only find out when serious health, academic and/or legal consequences arise. Negative consequences related to teen drug use not only impacts the teenager but also their family and society at large. Below are some helpful suggestions for parents.


    Talk with your teenager. An open dialogue is key to forming a healthy relationship in which your child is encouraged to discuss not only their achievements and goals but also their fears, stressors, and concerns.


    Set an example for your teen. Live a drug-free lifestyle by not using or allowing family and friends who are responsible for your children to use drugs. If you are using/abusing drugs get help through the different options that may be available in your community.


    Know your child’s friends. Make sure you have personally met or spoken to the teenagers that spend significant time with your child. Many teenagers report that their initiation into drug use occurred while with friends. Unfortunately, some of today’s parents work too hard in trying to be their child’s “friend” instead of their parent. Parenting sometimes requires difficult and unpopular choices. Don’t worry that they will hate. Your angry teenager will get over it… remember it’s better to be safe than sorry.


    Create your own village to help raise your child. Don’t limit the positive role models in your teenager’s life to only family and close friends. Seek out teachers, mentors, coaches and community leaders to help provide positive influences in your child’s life. Most successful people often recount emulating the role models that were active in their lives.


    Set expectations and follow through on consequences. Let your teenager know what behaviors are expected and the resulting consequences to any violations. Don’t be afraid to following through on removing privileges including cell phones, computers, and outings with friends.


    Get your child involved in extracurricular activities. Don’t limit their choices to cheerleading or athletic programs. Consider other alternatives including STEM (science, technology, engineering math)-based programs, art, theatre, chess, debate, etc. Research shows that children involved in positive extracurricular activities are less likely to use drugs compared to children who aren’t involved in these pro-social activities.


    Educate yourself. Read, watch news programs, or go online and learn about alcohol and drug use. Remember knowledge is power.


    If you suspect your child may be using drugs don’t believe it is a phase and they will grow out of it. Alcohol and drug use today cannot be seen as “harmless experimentation.” Unfortunately, there are numerous teenagers who are dead or paralyzed because of their own or someone else’s “experimentation” with drugs.


    Parents must remember that drug use does not DISCRIMINATE. Its devastating effects can be seen among all ethnic, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds. There are numerous treatment options available including inpatient, residential, outpatient and aftercare programs.


    Great free resources and support systems exist in the community and online and some have been listed below.

    National Clearinghouse for Alcohol & Drug Information (NCADI)

    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

    Alcoholics Anonymous (Contact your local chapter)

    Narcotics Anonymous (Contact your local chapter)

    Teen-Anon (Contact your local chapter)


    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2000). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance-United States, 1999. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 49(SS-5): 1-94.

    Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2012). Monitoring the Future national results on adolescent drug use: Overview of key findings, 2011. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan.

    Sheffield, F.D., Darkes, J., Del Boca, F.K., & Goldman, M.S. (2005). Binge drinking and alcohol-related problems among community college students: implications for prevention policy. Journal of American College Health, 54(3): 137-141.

    About the Author:

    Dr. Sheffield is a Licensed Psychologist, Author, Speaker and Life Coach. She has over 15 years of experience providing services to children, adolescents adults, parents, schools, colleges, universities, and social services agencies. Her private practice, PsychCore, PA is located in South Florida and she provides consultations, life coaching, program development, and staff development workshops.

    Copyright © Felecia D. Sheffield. PhD. All Rights Reserved.


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