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Is My Child At Risk?

It can be hard for parents to know when their teens are at risk for substance use, but ParentUp can help. Learning risks from a parent helps teens make safe decisions.

Is My Child At Risk?

It can be hard for parents to know when their teens are at risk for substance use, but ParentUp can help. Learning risks from a parent helps teens make safe decisions.

Why is My Child At Risk for Misusing Drugs and Alcohol?


Teenage Misuse is Happening. You Can Help Prevent It.

Early years are full of growing, thinking and experimenting. You can’t change whether your teen will hear about substances, but by giving them factual information you can affect their choices. They need to know the risks, and they need to hear them from you.

We asked Vermont high schoolers about high-risk behaviors over the past 30 days. Here's what they said in 2019:1

Check out the full survey results on the Vermont Department of Health website.

What Are the Risks of Misusing Substances for Teens?


Get the Facts

For open, reality-based conversations with your teen, you need to have good information. These statistics can help you explain what’s at stake.

Parents Can Help Prevent Misuse
Children whose parents tell them about the risks of drug misuse are significantly less likely to use drugs.2


This stimulant can have permanent effects on developing brains. It can cause mood disorders, as well as changes to memory and learning. Nicotine also creates pathways for addiction in the brain, making addiction to other substances more likely.

Damaged Lungs
People who vape can inhale heavy metals, cancer-causing chemicals and ultrafine particles deep into their lungs.3


Harms Teens’ Health
Teens who use cannabis at least weekly have 2 times the risk of depression or anxiety. 4
Habit Forming
Approximately 1 in 6 teens who start using before age 14 develop addiction.5
Harms Teens’ Brains
Teens who use cannabis have lower academic performance and worse job prospects. Teens who start using early and continue using cannabis regularly show a decrease in IQ 20 years later.6
High DUIs
Using cannabis while driving has been shown to more than double the risk of getting into a crash.7


Thousands of teens die from alcohol-related deaths every year. Nearly one-third of underage drinking deaths involve impaired driving.8 The rest involve alcohol poisoning, homicides, suicides, and accidents.9

Death by Drinking
Each year, around 5,000 people age 21 and under die from alcohol-related causes—more than all other illegal drugs combined.10

Prescription Medications

Just because they come from a doctor doesn’t mean they’re risk-free. Misuse of prescription pain medication kills more people annually than cocaine and heroin combined.11 Even commonly prescribed ADD or ADHD medications can be misused.

How Do I Look Out for My Teen’s Emotional Wellness?


Don’t Wait for Mental Wellness to Improve on Its Own

It’s common for issues that affect emotional or mental wellbeing to arise during the teenage years.12 Roughly 1 in 5 teens experience depression.13 Up to 24 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder. LGBTQ youth may be even more vulnerable.14
Don’t panic. With early intervention, many mental wellness concerns can be treated.

What Puts a Child At Risk?

There are many factors that can affect emotional and mental wellbeing, including:

  • Family history
  • Socioeconomic status or poverty
  • Exposure to violence
  • Chronic illness or learning disability
  • Life event
  • Cultural or familial pressure
  • Social isolation
Problems with emotional or mental wellbeing can often lead to substance misuse if not identified and treated.

Why Do Teens Try Alcohol and Drugs?

Teens turn to drugs and alcohol for many complex reasons, like behavioral health issues, genetics, trauma or issues like:

  • Seeing it at home or in the media
  • Boredom or lack of opportunity
  • Wanting to fit in with other teens
  • Chronic illness or learning disability
  • Wanting a quick way to feel better
  • Not really understanding the risks

Mental Wellness or Emotional Issues Can Turn into Substance Misuse

When teens self medicate with alcohol or other substances, it can lead to harmful long-term effects.
Almost half of kids with untreated mental wellness disorders will develop a substance use disorder.
Check in with your child regularly. Having open conversations can help them navigate their feelings and mental wellness. You can help them see that using substances comes with risks and downsides.

Fast Facts on Risks for Teens


Factual Information Is Part of Effective Parenting

As parents, it’s important to check our beliefs to make sure we’re working with the facts. That way, we can give our teens the information they need to navigate through today’s complex world. You are your child’s No. 1 influence, so you need to be sure you’re sharing the right information.

Fact: Teens Respond to Rules

Most children respond to clear rules and consequences, choosing not to drink if they feel their parents would consider it “very wrong.” When asked, 80% of teens think their parents should have a say in whether they drink alcohol.15

Fact: Drinking Alcohol Does NOT
Teach Kids to Drink Responsibly

Adolescents who drink before age 15 are 4 times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who begin drinking at age 21. That drops to below 10% for those who begin after age 21.16

Fact: Hosting Drinking Parties
Does NOT Make Teens Safer

The effects of underage and binge drinking are just as dangerous at home. Your child may have friends that are taking medications or have a history of dependence—details you will not know in advance. Alcohol use kills 6.5 times more youths than all other illegal drugs combined.17

Fact: Damages Long-Term Development

There is growing evidence that the THC in cannabis (also known as marijuana) comes with risks, especially for adolescent brains that are still developing.18 It can limit judgment and self-control, damage the brain and body, and keep teens from doing their best in school, work and life learning.

Fact: Harmful to Teens Now

Short-term cannabis use is linked to problems with learning, memory and judgment as well as increased heart rate. Regular use is linked to problems later in life such as addiction, issues with mental wellbeing and decreased IQ.19
It’s also illegal for people under 21 in all 50 states.20

Fact: Potentially Fatal Consequences

When people say “you can’t die from cannabis,” it’s because they’re thinking of death as a direct result of the drug. Many people do get hurt and even die as a result of cannabis’s effects on judgment and coordination. Using cannabis while driving more than doubles the risk of getting into a crash.

Fact: Experimentation Can Cause Lifelong Harm

Ninety percent of addictions start during teenage years.21 High school is a stressful environment, and adding drinking or drugs to the mix can be dangerous.22 Studies show that the younger a person starts drinking or using drugs, the more likely they will develop substance use issues.23

Fact: Prescription drugs can be dangerous

According to the Partnership™ for Drug-Free Kids 2012 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study, more people die from abusing prescription pain medication than cocaine and heroin combined.24

Fact: Vaping is not safe

A big part of the rise of vaping is that many people thought it was safe. We now know that isn’t true. The nicotine in vape pods can be as much as a pack of cigarettes. Kids who vape are 4 times more likely to start smoking cigarettes.25 The long-term effects of vaping are still unknown.

Fact: Nicotine Can Cause Permanent Changes to Adolescent Brains

The nicotine in vapes and other tobacco products can prime young brains for addiction to other drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine.26

Fact: Smoking Parents Leads to Smoking Teens

If you smoke, the odds of your child becoming a smoker nearly triples compared to kids whose parents don’t smoke.27

Fact: Talking About Suicide Can Be Healthy

Offering them the chance to have a conversation helps to make the topic less scary—and ultimately less powerful.28 In fact, statistics from 2 long-term studies show that areas with suicide prevention programs for youths tend to have lower suicide rates.29