The short answer is yes. Your child is at risk of substance abuse and other common issues faced by teens because all children are at risk.
It’s true that certain factors—such as poor academic performance, a mental or behavioral health issue, questioning sexual orientation, trauma, lack of parental monitoring, or a history of family substance issues1—can increase a child’s risk. But the truth is no matter how much you support or shelter your child, she will face situations and stresses that can open the door to substance abuse and other serious issues. And sometimes, all it takes is one moment’s lack of judgment to impact the rest of your child’s life.
Remember, you are your child’s #1 influence—and seeing the risks is the first step to keeping your child safe from drugs and alcohol.
Sometimes risk factors are not obvious.
See why these kids may be at risk.
13 years old
Plays the violin
Gets straight A’s
Has her dream college already picked out
Has always had an internal drive to be the best at everything she does
Today, with the rise of prescription stimulants, even kids who are well aware of the dangers of street drugs may be open to misusing prescription medications to study or get ahead.
In fact, according to the Partnership™ for Drug-Free Kids’ 2012 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, more than 1 in 5 teens think there’s little to no risk in using Ritalin or Adderall without a prescription—and 1 in 4 believes prescription drugs can be used as a study aid. Of children who have misused or abused a prescription drug in their lifetime, 1 in 5 has done so before the age of 14—making them even more likely to develop a substance abuse disorder than those who start using at an older age.
Misuse is possible even with a prescription. Storing prescription medication safely, and administering it yourself can help prevent your child from sharing or taking too large a dose. For prescriptions like opioids, promptly dispose of unused medication. Mixing with alcohol, or other depressants like benzodiazepines (such as Xanax®) can increase the risk of overdose. Even if you don’t think your child is likely to mix, make sure they know about the risks.
It’s important to set your child up for success by talking to regularly about healthy ways of handling stress and the risks of all drugs—including prescription medications. Know the warning signs of a potential problem so you can step in early.
16 years old
Loves riding horses
Generally known as a quiet, reserved, and “good” kid
Recently moved and started at a new school
We all know how important fitting in is when you’re a teenager. And drinking, vaping (one survey showed 34% of Vermont high schoolers had used a vape)2, or drugs can seem like an easy way to make new friends and find a place in a new school. Teens can also feel pressured if they’re looking to fit into a group of kids who are drinking, vaping or using drugs. And some teens who’ve always been seen as “the good one” may even try to use drinking, vaping or drugs to change their image.3
That’s why it’s so important to talk to your child and monitor your child’s behaviors, friends, and activities regularly—especially during times of transition.
14 years old
Known for his kindness and sensitivity
Has always “marched to the beat of his own drummer”
Loves spending time on his computer—and lately has been spending more time alone than usual
Adolescence can be a difficult time for teens who are highly sensitive and maybe a little “different.” While anyone can be a victim of bullying—in person or online—children who are perceived as different, weak, or less popular than their peers are often likelier targets. In fact, LGBT teens, teens with disabilities, and socially isolated teens may be at increased risk of being bullied.3 And experts believe that bullying and rejection from peers may raise a teen’s risk of alcohol and drug abuse—often because bullied teens are looking for a way to cope with their emotions and feel better about their situation.4
Children who are being bullied don’t always ask for help. So it’s important to look out for warning signs, which can range from unexplained injuries and lost or destroyed clothing or other items to frequent health complaints and problems sleeping. For a more complete list of warning signs—as well as ways to take action if you think your child is being bullied—visit www.stopbullying.gov.
15 years old
Loves to read and play his guitar
Average student, but has been struggling a bit lately in school
Has recently switched to a new group of friends you’re not sure
they are the best choice
Struggles with schoolwork and suddenly switching friends can be signs of substance abuse in teens.5 If you’re seeing these signs—or are wary of the friends with whom your teen is keeping company—it’s time to step up your monitoring to take a closer look at his behaviors, friends, and activities. Trust your instincts, talk to your teen about your concerns—and your expectations—and help him understand the importance of choosing supportive, healthy relationships.6 And if you think your teen is drinking or using drugs, it’s time to take action and get help.
16 years old
Plays baseball for the high school team
Driven, above-average student
Honest about his activities. Committed to not drinking alcohol,
but admits he’s tried smoking marijuana a few times.
With today’s ongoing discussion around legalizing marijuana for adult medical and recreational use, some parents may actually find themselves relieved if their child tries marijuana instead of drinking alcohol.
But it’s important not to fall prey to this false sense of security. Just like alcohol, marijuana poses many risks—especially for teens whose brains are still developing. Marijuana in teens is linked to an increased risk of motor vehicle crashes,7 problems with attention, learning, and memory,8 a 2x greater risk of depression and anxiety,9 lower academic performance and worse job prospects.10 These problems can affect your child for the rest of his life. In fact, individuals who start smoking marijuana as teens and continue using it regularly have been shown to have a decreased IQ 20 years later.11
It’s critical that you make sure your child knows about these dangers. Studies show that as the perception of marijuana’s potential harm decreases, teen use of marijuana increases.12 So let your child know how much you care about his health, his safety, and his future. Talk to your child about how marijuana can affect his brain—and his future.
There are many—often overlapping—reasons why teens turn to drugs and alcohol. In many cases, what leads a teen to use is a complex mix of underlying reasons, including behavioral health issues, genetics, a history of trauma, or other issues. But here are some reasons to keep in mind that may affect any teens, any time.
According to the Partnership™ for Drug-Free Kids, teens often drink or use drugs because they:
- Think it’s a normal part of growing up—often because they see it a lot at home or in the media.
- Are looking for a way to escape their problems or feel better about their lives.
- Are bored.
- Want to bond or fit in with other teens.
- Had a bad day and want a quick way to feel better.
- Have a need to rebel.
- Want to let go of their inhibitions.
- Don’t really understand the risks.
As with substance abuse, there are many complex reasons for mental health issues like depression and anxiety. But here are some things that the National Institutes of Health and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services say may put your child at greater risk:
- Family history
- Socioeconomic status/ poverty
- Exposure to violence
- Low self-esteem or self-image
- Chronic illness or learning disability
- Stressful life event (such as a death, divorce, break up, move, or sexual assault)
- Family tension or problems
- Cultural and/or familial pressure
- Social isolation or low social support
- Gender (teen girls have a higher incidence of depression than teen boys)
It’s important to remember, too, that mental health issues often lead to substance abuse if not properly identified and treated.