Solutions for Teenage Drug & Alcohol Abuse

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Teens of all types abuse drugs and alcohol, no matter how well they're doing in school or how healthy of a relationship they have with their parents. While finding out that a teen has been drinking or using drugs can lead a parent to worry, get angry or feel like a failure, it's important to overcome those feelings in the name of stopping the problem. Drug and alcohol abuse requires professional help, and without intervention, it can lead to serious problems, including addiction, legal trouble and overdose.

Talk to your teens about drugs and alcohol.
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Part of battling addiction is knowing what's out there. It used to suffice to keep an eye out for drug paraphernalia and smell for marijuana smoke on clothes. But drug use among teens changes from generation to generation and moves in cycles. Synthetic drugs are easy to hide or even make at home, and manufacturers of street-drug paraphernalia are constantly coming up with new ways to disguise their wares as innocent objects.

The community-services officer on your local police force or an addiction specialist at a local hospital should be able to provide you with information on modern drugs and the signs of their abuse.

Talk to your local community-services officer.
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Make sure your teen knows you disapprove of drug and alcohol use, and warn against it. But also make sure your teen knows to come to you if he begins using drugs or alcohol. Teens often hide things from their parents to avoid punishment, so make it clear to your teen that honesty will not be punished--it will be rewarded with help to break the addiction and the cycle of destructive behavior.

Parents have a right and responsibility to know everything about their teen's life. Know where your teen is, what she's doing and who she's with. It doesn't do to know simply who your teen's friends are, because outside elements (a friend's older sibling or a friend of a friend) can easily cause trouble. Don't be afraid to ask your teen whether she has been offered alcohol or drugs, or whether she has tried them. The honesty may surprise you. If your teen says no, make it clear that it's OK to tell you if the answer is ever "yes."

Pay attention to your teen's online communication, including text messages, profiles on social-networking sites and instant-messaging accounts.

Make sure you talk to your kids.
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If you suspect or know that your teen is using drugs or alcohol, you may wish to stage an intervention--a powerfully effective surprise meeting in which friends and family acknowledge the drug use and ask the user to seek treatment. Interventions are best conducted with the help of a specialist, called an interventionist. Your doctor may be able to help you find such a specialist. Interventions generally are a last-ditch effort and end with immediate admission into residential rehabilitation.

Talk to an interventionist about your options.
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If you suspect drug or alcohol use but do not believe it rises to the level of an intervention, you may wish to consult your family doctor. The doctor can ask the teen about drug or alcohol use in private (teens may be more honest with a doctor than with you). The doctor may recommend further help, such as an evaluation by a specialist.

Drug or alcohol abuse is often undetectable in teenagers until it causes other serious problems (such as an accident or arrest). If drug abuse has turned into addiction, the specialist who evaluates may recommend residential rehabilitation.

This is a difficult step for many reasons, but doctors say it is the surest path to success. Rehabilitation centers have trained specialists who can help the teen through detoxification, administer addiction-curbing drugs, encourage healthy behaviors and work toward the ultimate goal of helping the teen become stronger than the addiction.

A doctor talking with her teenage patient.
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