While drug addiction is hardly exclusive to teenagers, drug misuse typically begins early. U.S. teens have only a 30% chance of graduating high school without tasting alcohol, and statistics for other drugs aren’t much better: half of high school seniors have tried illegal drugs, and over 20% have misused prescription drugs. And the plasticity of the still-developing brain, which encourages such risk-taking, also makes young users more vulnerable to addiction.
For teenagers who do become addicted, there fortunately is plenty of help: for Riverside County (CA) alone, Google returns 542,000 results on “Riverside recovery center for teens,” 596,000 on “Riverside rehab center for teens,” 848,000 on “Riverside detox center for teens” and 1,170,000 on “Riverside treatment center for teens.” And that covers just 10% of the population for southern California, which covers just over 7% of the whole United States.
The bad news is, the best rehab center in Riverside or the world can’t make withdrawal entirely painless, nor completely eliminate the high risks associated with benzodiazepine addiction treatment and some other detoxes. And no treatment can change the fact that most people remain at permanent risk of reactivated addiction and other health problems.
So if you’re the parent of a teenager or soon-to-be teenager, the best defense against drug problems is to take all the proactive measures you can for stopping experimentation before it starts. Here are our Top Ten Tips. (We also suggest you read the classic Twelve Steps and other resources on getting and staying sober: what’s good for a pound of cure is often good for an ounce of prevention.)
1. Set an example.
If you have any addiction issues yourself, from regularly overdoing happy hour to needing detox from prescription drugs that have taken over your life, your kids are at special risk. For their sake, stop denying your own problem and get yourself into detox pronto.
Even if you’ve never had an actual addiction, you may be setting a bad example by saying you “need” a drink to relax or by taking too many pills. Emphasize that chemical substances are best used as a last resort rather than a first. Also, consider removing all alcohol from your home. You can go to a restaurant (without the kids) if you must have the occasional glass of wine.
2. Keep communication lines wide open.
Never snoop in drawers or diaries to check if your teens are flirting with trouble. If you confront them with anything you find, they’ll be too furious at the invasion of privacy to hear a word you say. If you find nothing and say nothing, chances are they’ll still catch on to your snooping and conclude they can’t trust you either—so they won’t confide in you when they face temptation.
If you’re open about your own concerns, most kids will respond in kind. And if you do notice signs of trouble, ask about it with an open mind and a determination to listen to the answer. Always listen to your kids with both ears and both eyes. You are the authority, but not the absolute dictator: teenagers deserve to be respected as individuals and almost-adults.
3. Avoid saying anything like, “Don’t ever let me catch you with drugs.”
Do you ever do things you knew better than to do? So does every member of the human race—including your teenagers. Implying there’s anything they’d better never do is setting them up to slip at that very point from sheer fear of it, and setting your whole family up for worse trouble when your teenager doesn’t dare confess a mistake and lets it grow into a major problem
4. Educate, but don’t lecture.
There’s a lot more to be known about drugs, and the experiences of those who misuse them, than a “Just Say No” focus can cover. There are probably a lot of things you don’t know yourself, so read up on the subject as well as finding materials to discuss with your teenager. If you don’t trust yourself to find the best information, visit your nearest Riverside treatment center (or the one most convenient to your own geographical area) with a proven track record of helping adolescents, and ask for resource recommendations.
5. Encourage your kids to admit when they need help—in any aspect of life.
Set an example by occasionally asking their advice or help (ordering them to take ordinary chores off your hands doesn’t count!) and speaking favorably of your own mentors. And when your teenagers ask for help, don’t belittle their concerns. No, you don’t have to step in and solve everything: listening while they put the problem into words may be enough to help them find the best solution.
6. Encourage your kids to know themselves.
If “making a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself” (Step 4 of the 12 Steps) is helpful in recovery from addiction, it’s just as helpful for heading off temptations that lead there. People who know their strengths and weaknesses are better at staying out of trouble. Give your teen a private journal with space to evaluate areas of concern, personal weak spots and—this is important—“things you like about yourself.” (Low self-esteem is a major driver of addiction.)
7. Encourage your kids to pursue their passions.
This goes especially for dreams that don’t fit the plans you had for your kid’s life. Teenagers are individuals with individual senses of purpose, and they don’t need anyone picking at their self-esteem with “I know what’s best for you” nagging. You don’t have to let them drop out of high school to pursue art, but give them free range to work on art in their spare time—and after they graduate, leave the next move in their hands. Their “impossible” dreams may someday make you very proud of them.
8. Emphasize promptly admitting and making amends for mistakes.
And yes, you have to set an example here too, including apologizing to your teenager when you’re wrong.
9. Don’t let your teenagers’ lives get cluttered—especially with perfectionism.
Most addictions are partly due to being “too busy” for self-evaluation and stress management, and being “too busy” usually means fearing disaster if you don’t do everything quickly and perfectly. Don’t make a big deal about A’s vs. B’s or being the star of every team.
10. Encourage your kids to help others in ways that go beyond duty.
This might mean comforting a hurting friend, donating to a charity drive or volunteering at a homeless shelter. Helping others nurtures community and keeps us aware the world goes beyond our problems—and the less “poor abandoned me” thinking that goes on, the less likely someone is to use chemicals for comfort, as a teenager or at any time in life.
If your teenager already has a drug or alcohol problem—or if you do—Inland Detox provides top treatment services for southern California. It’s less than an hour’s drive from Riverside to our recovery center in the Temecula Valley. Call (888) 739-8296 for more information.