Worried About Substance Abuse?
It’s common for teens to try alcohol and other drugs. They usually start off thinking it’s something fun to do with friends. They may like how it makes them feel or think that it helps them ‘fit in’ with their peers. The problem is that it’s very easy for young people to lose control of their use and even to become dependent on drugs and alcohol. If this has happened to someone you know, you may notice that they’re using drugs regularly, that they’ve become either very quiet or aggressive, or that their marks have dropped.
If you think that a young person – your child, your family member or your friend – is drinking or using drugs on a regular basis, you need to talk to them about it. Don’t just ‘wait and see,’ hoping the situation gets better. A young person using drugs or alcohol is at high risk of becoming addicted, falling behind in school, losing friends, getting in trouble with the law or maybe using drugs to hide other severe mental health issues.
Before you talk to your friend, family member or child, prepare yourself. Explore a number of websites to learn more about substance abuse and how to best talk to teens about the consequences of misusing substances. Also find out what services are available to help them in your community.
Choose your time and place carefully. Pick a time when the young person is not likely to be drunk or high, and find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted. Let them know you need to talk to them about something important. Tell them what you’ve noticed about how they’re acting differently and why this is making you worried. Share your concerns about the effects drugs or alcohol are having on their health, friendships, education, and future. Let them know how their drug or alcohol use is affecting you, too. Be prepared for the fact that they may not like what you have to say. They may deny their use is out of control, get angry, or break down and admit they’re worried too. No matter what, stay calm and don’t judge or blame them – but don’t let them off the hook, either.
You may want to suggest that the young person make an honest list, just for themselves, of what they think is good about their use and what they think is bad. Provide them with links to helpful websites and let them know that you’ll be there for them to talk to once they’ve thought more about the impact their use is having on their life.
Follow up after your first talk to ask them what they think and offer your help. You might want to make that difficult first phone call to a professional to set up a meeting. Reassure the young person that this professional will not judge or lecture them, but instead will listen and support them. Encourage them to think positively about how working with a professional will help them cut back or quit and move forward to achieve their goals in life.
Using drugs or alcohol sometimes starts off as fun. It may be something that you do with your friends and you may like how it makes you feel or act. Sometimes, though, it can start to not feel fun any more and you might wonder if your use is starting to get out of control.
Sometimes you realize that your use is causing problems. You may notice that using is becoming your only focus and that your grades and relationships are starting to slip. You might notice that there’s more fighting going on with your parents about your substance use. Your substance use might also be causing you problems with the law or it may be affecting your physical health.
Other times, you may hear other people in your life tell you that they think you have a problem with drugs or alcohol. This may be hard to hear and you may not necessarily agree with everything they have to say. It might be helpful to reflect on this feedback and decide for yourself whether your substance use is becoming a problem.
If you’re worried that you might have a problem with drugs or alcohol, it can be helpful to write down “The Good Things About My Use” and “The Bad Things About My Use”. Be sure to be honest, this is just for you to think about. Under the “Good Things” heading, think about all the reasons why you continue to use. Under the “Bad Things” heading think about the impact of your use on your relationships, your school or work, family, your mental health and any other negative consequences of your use. Take a look at what you’ve written. If there are a few things in the “Bad Things” column, it might be time to talk to someone about your substance use.
Sitting down with a professional to talk about your use may be helpful. They will be nonjudgmental and can help you take stock of the impact that using is having on you. There are lots of ways to help you quit or cut back on your substance use and they can help support you around the goals that you set for yourself.