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HomeAdviceHealth AdviceAct Early and Often to Combat Teen Substance Abuse

Act Early and Often to Combat Teen Substance Abuse

Sponsored editorial provided by Oasis Mental Health Care

Kathy L. Miller MA, LCPC Erin Merli, CPNP
Oasis Mental Health Annapolis Pediatrics
KathyMillerOasis Erin Merli web

Drug and alcohol abuse is a parent’s worst nightmare. So why are so many parents asleep at the switch when it comes to this important issue?  

Often, parents just don’t believe that their children would try drugs, or if they do, they shrug it off as “just a phase.”

Parents who do discuss drugs and alcohol with their children often begin these conversations too late.  Others think their “good students” or “good athletes” are somehow protected from alcohol or drug use.
Parents, here’s a wake-up call.

Illicit drug use among teenagers nationwide remains high and starts as early as middle school. According to a 2013 study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse:  

  • 7 percent of 8th graders, 18 percent of 10th graders, and 22.7 percent of 12th graders reported they’d used marijuana in the past month, up from 5.8 percent, 13.8 percent, and 19.4 percent in 2008.
  • Daily marijuana use has also increased: 6.5 percent of 12th graders said they use marijuana every day, compared to 5 percent in the mid 2000s.
  • 15 percent of high school seniors reportedly used a prescription drug non-medically within the past year.

Locally, more youth are graduating to heroin use. Heroin-related deaths among 25 to 34 year-olds in Maryland jumped 50 percent (to 129) between 2012 and 2013, according to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

What’s a parent to do? Plenty:

  • Talk about the dangers of drug and alcohol use. It’s never too early to start. Ask your child’s opinion on the topic – make it a conversation, not a lecture.
  • Educate yourself and your teen about the risks of substance abuse. Research this topic together.
  • Discuss reasons not to abuse drugs – talk about your child’s goals and aspirations and how drug use may thwart those plans.
  • Get to know your teen’s friends. Monitor your child’s phone and internet time and be upfront about it. Call ahead to verify that activities will be appropriately supervised.
  • Set clear behavioral expectations and consequences around drugs and alcohol. Have a zero-tolerance policy for teens driving under the influence or getting in a car with a driver who has been drinking or using drugs.
  • Promote healthy pursuits such as clubs and sports.  It’s important that these activities continue through high school to build and maintain self-esteem.  
  • Act fast if you suspect a problem. Recognize mood or behavior changes as possible signs of drug abuse. Get help. Talk to your child’s pediatric provider or a mental health specialist.
  • Set a good example. If you drink, do so in moderation and never drive intoxicated.

Parents regularly tell us they’re afraid to confront their son or daughter over suspicions of drug use because they think their teen will be angry or feel not trusted. However, it’s realistic for parents to question the things that adolescents are exposed to and to recognize that those influences can be difficult for teens to navigate.

So keep talking. Ask questions. Trust your gut. Be vigilant. Someday, your teen may thank you for it.

Erin Merli is a pediatric nurse practitioner with Annapolis Pediatrics, www.annapolispediatrics.com. Kathy Miller is the owner of Oasis: The Center for Mental Health, www.oasismentalhealth.net.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. Drugfacts: High School and Youth Trends, Rev. Jan. 2014.

Maryland Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene. Drug and Alcohol-Related Intoxication Deaths in Maryland 2013, June 2014.

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