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Drug and Alcohol Abuse Among Adolescents

Dealing with Substance Abuse

  • Contact a mental health professional. If you suspect substance abuse in your child, contact a mental health professional who specializes in this area. Not all mental health professionals have this expertise, so be sure you contact one who has the right training and experience. Most communities have substance abuse centers that offer treatment or can provide you with additional information.

  • Identify and alleviate problems. Problems may be related to school, family, or peers, as well as to the child himself. If there is marital conflict in the home, discipline problems with the child, school failure, or socialization problems, try to resolve these.

  • Encourage new friendships. This is more difficult to do with an adolescent than a younger child, but try to help him establish new friendships. Don't put down, criticize, or talk negatively about his current friends, because when you do that, the child feels you are talking about him. At times it may be appropriate to restrict friendships. Rather than restricting, however, it is better to encourage new friendships.

  • Encourage the development of new interests. Provide opportunities for the child to develop hobbies, interests, and activities.

  • Build confidence. Accentuate positive attributes and look for areas in the child's life that may produce a lack of confidence. Do things to counteract the latter and enhance a positive self-image.

  • Develop overall responsibility and self-discipline. Many children are unmotivated and show problems with responsibility. They don't weigh consequences; this may be part of the problem with substance abuse. Try to develop overall responsibility in areas revolving around the home (chores, keeping their room clean) and with school.

  • Establish communication. Most adolescents tend to withdraw from their families and do not communicate as much with their parents at this age. Many times when professionals talk to adolescents about drugs or alcohol and try to make a point, children see this as a lecture or some type of reprimand. Try to establish an open line of communication with your child. Talk to her about her interests, likes, and dislikes. At times, the goal of communication is not to gather information, but to interact and exchange information in a positive manner.

  • Don't be manipulated. Many substance abusers are skilled at manipulation. Don't overextend your trust and allow yourself to be manipulated. Establish rules and consequences to follow. Do things to help you build trust in the youngster.

  • Eliminate inappropriate models. If you suspect drug or alcohol abuse in your child, be sure you aren't modeling similar behaviors for him. The models for this behavior may be occurring in your home, with his peers, on television, or in the movies.

  • Treat emotional problems. If your child experiences emotional difficulties (depression, unhappiness, anxiety), see an appropriate mental health professional.

  • Set rules and consequences for behavior. Avoid protecting the child from consequences or rescuing him. Establish definite rules and consequences. Certain events should follow consistently if the child shows specific behaviors, especially continued drug or alcohol abuse.


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From Keys to Parenting Your Teenager by Don Fontenelle, Ph.D. Copyright 2000 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with Barron's Educational Series, Inc.

Buy the book at Barron's.


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