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Talking About Drugs and Alcohol with Your Teen

Reducing the Risks

Studies show that the most effective way to control teenage substance abuse are the following:

  • Set limits and monitor your teen's whereabouts.
  • Ask your teen to tell you his destination whenever he leaves home. (And he should call if his plans change.) If you don't like the sound of it, or if he sounds overly vague, ask for more specifics. And if you ever find that your teen didn't go where he said he was going—and he had no plausible explanation why—you should restrict his range for awhile. (One weekend with no evening privileges, for example.)
  • Respect your relationship and maintain a good rapport with your teen.
  • Remember that your teen is innocent until proven guilty. If you hear that she was at a keg party, ask her about it in a nonconfrontational manner: “Someone told me they saw you leaving the keg party the other night. What can you tell me about it?” By telling her you've been alerted but asking for her side of the story, you're still working within a relationship of trust. You may find that peer pressure got the better of her, and she's been feeling guilty about it (and she'll think twice before going again now that she knows that word travels fast). Or you may find that she actually stopped to try to convince a friend who had too much to drink to leave.
  • Another way to keep teens safe is by banding together with other parents and presenting a unified front on drug and alcohol abuse. If none of the teens in your child's group have total freedom, the peer pressure will be reduced.

Resisting Peer Pressure

Put yourself in your teen's shoes. Talk to him about what might help him resist peer pressure and save face when everyone around him is lighting up or swigging down a beer. “Just say no” wears a little thin by the teen years, but you might brainstorm tactics with him, starting with the following:

  • “I don't drink because I just don't like the taste.” (This could work with smoking, too.) The beauty of this excuse is that it shows your teen has a strong personality and has made up his mind. That's hard to argue with.
  • “I'm not going to have a drink [take a smoke], because if the coach finds out, I'll be kicked off the team.” Sports are important to most kids, and this will hold some credibility.
  • “If my parents find out, I won't be able to use the car for a month.” Again, another teen could understand that this is a high price to pay.

Some parents report success with holding out a reward: if the teen doesn't smoke, drink, or use drugs throughout high school, there is something wonderful waiting for her. Some families offer a car; others offer a lump sum of cash that fits within the family budget (it needn't be substantial—just an acknowledgment that she made it). If she can spread the word among her friends that she's not going to lose that prize, the peer pressure on her will be reduced.

What's a Parent to Do?

But what happens if your teen comes home drunk or is obviously high on something? Or you later learn that your teen experimented with something she shouldn't have?

Don't get into an argument while your teen is drunk or stoned. Your only issue at this point is safety. Your teen may require medical attention. (Alcohol poisoning can be a very real danger in teens whose bodies can't metabolize liquor as quickly as adults' bodies can.) Even a teen who seems only a little drunk when he comes home can move into a toxic state once he goes to sleep—a state that can result in permanent disability or death if it isn't treated. Don't let him sleep it off. Keep him up for awhile (walk him around the room if necessary), until the alcohol has metabolized out of his system. If your teen falls asleep and cannot be awakened, or becomes more groggy after being awakened, call your local emergency medical service.

When your teen has sobered up, talk to him. If it's his first transgression, express your disappointment and disapproval and require that it should not happen again. State what will happen if it does. Punishment should always fit the crime, and curtailing freedom to some degree will probably be appropriate in this case. (Don't make it excessive and try to listen to your teen's input, even on the punishment. He may be tougher on himself than you might expect.)

If your teen repeatedly abuses drugs or alcohol, or smokes, you should contact a drug or substance abuse counselor at school or through a community services agency. They can advise you on the next step.

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Parenting a Teenager © 1996 by Kate Kelly. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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