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How to Talk to Your Teens about Drug Use and Recognize the Signs of an Addiction

Every parent wants to keep their child safe, happy, and healthy. Helping your child avoid addictions and dangerous drug use is an important part of that. Addictions are more likely to form in adulthood when a person begins using drugs or alcohol during their teenage years. Substance use can also impact brain development in children and teens.

Opioid overdose deaths among teens and young adults have increased 500% since 1999, and 61.5% of teens have abused alcohol by the time they reach 12th grade. Parents play a significant role in their child’s decision to use drugs or alcohol.

When a child has a positive home environment with supportive parents, they’re more likely to make healthy choices about substance use. That’s why parents should speak with teens about addiction and substance use. Here are some tips for having positive conversations about this topic:

Have a Two-Way Conversation

When parents get worried about their kids, their conversations can sound more like lectures. But teens often don’t respond well to lectures. When it’s time to have a conversation about drug use, make sure your child feels like they have a voice. Ask questions and listen to their answers. This will help your child feel validated. When your kids believe you care about what they have to say, they will know they can trust you.

Use some of the following questions to help get a conversation started:

  • What have you heard about drug use from your friends or classmates?
  • What are your beliefs and opinions about drug or alcohol use?
  • How is your stress level?
  • How are you feeling emotionally?
  • Do you ever feel like using drugs or alcohol to manage stress or emotions?
  • What do you know about the effects of drugs or alcohol?

An important part of a two-way conversation is also being honest and clear with the reasons for your beliefs. Many teens and children have heard many adults discourage them from doing drugs, but many don’t understand the reasoning behind an anti-drug belief.

When drug and alcohol use is normalized among their peers, they may not see it as a dangerous activity. Explain why you believe substance abuse is harmful, rather than simply telling your child they must avoid drug use.

Be Loving and Firm

A common parenting mistake is assuming that you have to choose between being loving with your child or firm. In reality, the best parenting method is to emphasize your love for your child without sacrificing any firmness. Be clear that your love for your child is unconditional, but that doesn’t mean you are willing to tolerate substance abuse. It’s helpful to explain to your child that your firm beliefs about drug use are a result of your love for them.

Keep Channels Of Communication Open

It’s important for your child to feel they can come to you in the future with any questions or issues related to drugs and alcohol. Children and teens with trusting and close relationships with their parents are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.

Ask about your child’s well-being and what’s going on in their life regularly. Often, stress from social life, school, or other extra-curricular activities can increase the risk of substance abuse. If you are there for your child when they need it, you can help them develop healthy coping strategies.

Recognizing the Signs of Addiction

Addiction is a serious and potentially life-threatening problem for teens. If your child has a history of substance abuse, it’s important to recognize the signs of addiction so you can help them get the help they need. With the proper support, your child can achieve a full recovery and enter adulthood feeling healthy and happy.

Here’s what to watch for:

Sudden Weight Loss or Weight Gain

Weight can be a sensitive topic, so if you notice sudden changes in your child’s weight, approach the topic with care. While rapid weight loss and weight gain are not always a sign of addiction, they can be a sign of a different mental or physical illness.


Substance use has a significant impact on sleep. If you notice your teenager becoming increasingly tired but not sleeping more often, this may be a sign of addiction. Insufficient sleep can also wreak havoc on a person’s emotions, making them more likely to turn to substance abuse as a coping mechanism.

Lack of Motivation

When a teenager forms an addiction to drugs or alcohol, it can be difficult to care about things like school, hobbies, or extra-curricular activities. If your child used to be motivated in certain areas but has suddenly lost that motivation, it’s a good time to start a conversation. The loss of motivation could be a sign of addiction, bullying, mental illness, or simply changing interests, but you won’t know the cause unless you speak with your child.

Increased Anxiousness or Irritability

Substance abuse has a major impact on the chemicals in the brain and can cause increased anxiousness as well as irritability. The increase in anxiousness can cause people to use more substances to find relief from unpleasant feelings, which is how addictions begin to form. If you’ve noticed mood swings in your child, this could result from addiction.

Social Isolation

Many teens isolate themselves from their former friends or family members when an addiction begins forming. They may do this because they worry their former social circles will not approve of their drug use. If you’ve noticed a change in the amount of time your child spends socializing, begin a conversation to understand what may be influencing these new changes.

Get Your Child the Support They Need

If your child shows multiple signs of an addiction, talk to them about what kind of support they need. If they have developed a serious addiction, they may need medical support, whether outpatient treatment or attending a rehab treatment program.

Jackson House Addiction Treatment and Recovery Center can provide all the support your child needs to build healthy routines that don’t include drug or alcohol abuse. Contact the Jackson House team to discuss your child’s needs.

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