Teenage Drug | Alcohol Abuse and Experimentation – What Should Parents Do?

Teenage drug | alcohol abuse and experimentation are often viewed as something all kids do – a phase – something the teen will outgrow. But is it? And if it’s not, what should parents do?

Teenage Drug | Alcohol Abuse and Experimentation - What Should Parents Do?

Teenage drug | alcohol abuse and experimentation – what should parents do?

A recent article by Samantha Chang, “Experts Slam Kathie Lee Gifford for Calling Parents of Drug Addicts Failures,” deeply concerned me. Ms. Chang quoted Kathie Lee’s statement appearing in the September 2012 issue of “Family Circle,” “I’m not a perfect mom, but my kids haven’t been arrested, in rehab or kicked out of school, so I must be doing something right!”

My first comment on the article read:

Thank you Samantha Chang! You’re conclusion sums it up perfectly, “Using Kathie Lee’s reasoning, it would be logical to conclude that her husband cheated because she was a terrible wife who was bad in bed.” The one positive is the backlash and factual information that her statement has triggered. Addiction is a brain disease. This link to content created by NIDA, NIAAA, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and HBO, http://www.hbo.com/addiction/understanding_addiction/index.html, explains the disease, contributing risk factors, how it happens to some and not others, what it takes to heal the brain (treat the disease) and so much more. Again, thank you Samantha Chang!

Another reader commented on my comment and made several good points, to which I then replied:

Important points to be sure because parents do have a great deal of influence in their children’s lives. And you’re right — we are all guilty of these kinds of statements. Nonetheless they can be devastating and hurt a very important cause. In this instance, it’s the work to end the shame and stigma that surrounds the disease of addiction, which is what often keeps everyone limping along, holding onto the belief that it’s just a phase or something they’ll outgrow. It was for this reason that I took such exception to Kathie Lee’s statement – no matter how flip or rhetorical. Addiction does not discriminate based on parenting. If that were the case, significant numbers of the addicts/alcoholics with whom I work would never have become addicts/alcoholics because they had (have) wonderful, caring, engaged parents. When you meet these parents, they share a pain that’s impossible to describe. Addiction is a complicated disease and one that most people don’t fully understand. If they did, there would certainly be fewer addicts/alcoholics because what person would ever “choose” to become one? Hopefully all of these comments and shares from readers can broaden the conversations and set in motion the actions necessary to bring about what we’d all like to have happen – namely that no one’s child suffer from an addiction.

Teenage Drug and Alcohol Abuse and Experimentation – What Should Parents Do?

And so I’d like to share a wonderful resource that offers suggestions for what parents can do if they suspect (or know) their child is experimenting with, abusing or addicted to drugs or alcohol. It’s from HelpGuide.org, a non-profit resource guide launched by Robert and Jeanne Segal in 1999, inspired by their belief that their daughter, Morgan’s, “tragedy could have been avoided if she had access to unbiased, reliable information that gave her a sense of hope and direction.” Quoting from HelpGuide.org’s piece, Drug Abuse and Addiction, Signs, Symptoms, and Help for Drug Problems and Substance Abuse:

When your teen has a drug problem

Discovering your child uses drugs can generate fear, confusion, and anger in parents. It’s important to remain calm when confronting your teen, and only do so when everyone is sober. Explain your concerns and make it clear that your concern comes from a place of love. It’s important that your teen feels you are supportive.

Five steps parents can take:

  • Lay down rules and consequences. Your teen should understand that using drugs comes with specific consequences. But don’t make hollow threats or set rules that you cannot enforce. Make sure your spouse agrees with the rules and is prepared to enforce them.
  • Monitor your teen’s activity. Know where your teen goes and who he or she hangs out with. It’s also important to routinely check potential hiding places for drugs—in backpacks, between books on a shelf, in DVD cases or make-up cases, for example. Explain to your teen that this lack of privacy is a consequence of him or her having been caught using drugs.
  • Encourage other interests and social activities. Expose your teen to healthy hobbies and activities, such as team sports and afterschool clubs.
  • Talk to your child about underlying issues. Drug use can be the result of other problems. Is your child having trouble fitting in? Has there been a recent major change, like a move or divorce, which is causing stress?
  • Get Help. Teenagers often rebel against their parents but if they hear the same information from a different authority figure, they may be more inclined to listen. Try a sports coach, family doctor, therapist, or drug counselor. [HelpGuide.org]

Please do what you can to help spread the facts about addiction. For more information, check out The Addiction Project, a collaborative effort of NIDA, NIAAA, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and HBO. Cathy Taughinbaugh, Founder of TreatmentTalk.org, has compiled a blog post of 9 parents who are making a difference — an excellent overview and resource, as well.

Thank you.


Lisa Frederiksen

Lisa Frederiksen

Author | Speaker | Consultant | Founder at BreakingTheCycles.com
Lisa is the author of hundreds of articles and 11 books, including "If You Loved Me, You'd Stop!," "Addiction Recovery: What Helps, What Doesn't," and "Secondhand Drinking: the Phenomenon That Affects Millions." She is a national keynote speaker with over 25 years speaking experience, consultant, and founder of BreakingTheCycles.com. She has spent more than 14 years studying 21st century brain research in order to write, speak, and consult on substance use disorders prevention, intervention and treatment; mental disorders; addiction (aka substance use disorders) as a brain disease; adolescent addiction treatment vs adult addiction treatment; effective treatment for co-occurring disorders (having both a substance use and mental disorder); secondhand drinking | drugging; help for the family; and related subjects. In 2015, she founded SHD Prevention, providing training and consulting to companies, public agencies, unions, nonprofits and other entities to address the workplace impacts of employee secondhand drinking and alcohol misuse.

14 Responses to Teenage Drug | Alcohol Abuse and Experimentation – What Should Parents Do?

  1. Hi Lisa,

    I read that article as well, and it was very distressing. These kind of comments are why the stigma continues on and why parents so often want to hide the fact that they are struggling with their teen. We need public figures to come out and speak publicly about the problem and understand that even though many teen experiment (unfortunately), there are some teens who cannot stop, once they get started. This is, as you mention, for a variety of reasons.

    It is so important to be aware of the dangers of experimentation and I appreciate your tips on what a parent can do.

    • Hi Cathy,
      Gosh this is such an uphill battle, isn’t it? And as you’ve said, we need public figures to use their notoriety to help the general public understand, so that it’s not something to be ashamed of as a parent. Thank you so much for adding your comment!!

  2. This is so distressing to think about. I’m sure she didn’t mean it to be hurtful but these things happen in the best of homes with the most wonderful parents. Lisa, your education of the public is a very worthwhile cuase. Keep up the great work !

    • Thank you so much for your compliment, Barbara! And as you said, she probably didn’t mean it to be hurtful – hopefully all of this will productively expand the conversations around this terrible disease.

  3. Billy says:

    Thanks for the post. It is my experience that although sometimes drug use can be a ‘phase’, that is not always the case. Serious teen drug abusers are often never able to kick the habit. Many of my peers developed heavier and more devastating drug use habits. Luckily, I was able to get clean and sober when I was 17 years old. I have been clean for the last 8 years. I got help from a place called New Life House. Check out their site if you are looking for help. New Life House – A Structured Sober Living

    • Hi Billy,
      That’s marvelous that you got clean and sober at 17 and congratulations on 8 years sobriety!! Thanks for sharing what worked for you and the info on New Life House — much appreciated.

  4. It is quite true that a mother gets hurt the most if their child is found to be an addict . If its the case of drug addicts, then i suggest every mothers to search for the drug rehab for teenagers. The treatment process is quite unique and effective.
    Read More : drug rehab for teenagers

  5. […] clear and his speech was sharp.  Issues with weed and beer seemed to be a thing of the past -just teen experimentation that Mark had outgrown.  Things were looking […]

  6. momcat says:

    Lisa, your blog has been invaluable to me and to my family. We’ve been dealing with this issue in our family for a couple of years so far. My son is now 16 1/2. We began drug and alcohol testing him after he ended up in the hospital nearly comatose with a 2.5 BAL. That was a little over a year ago. He is now in an outpatient treatment program because he failed a breathalyzer test (.02) and the program was one of the consequences. He must maintain a 3.0 gpa, abstain from drugs and alcohol, attend the ‘program’ in order to have the privilege of driving and other freedoms. His dad is not on the same page. We are divorced and live by vastly different principles. Overall my son is doing great, not perfect, but great. His program director and therapist said it best, “if you offer a hungry person food, they’re going to take it.” My son’s dad is bribing him with a ‘look the other way’ drug & alcohol policy, a truck, freedom, etc. My son is going to have to show restraint beyond his years to overcome the emotional blackmail and take a stronger, more independent path. Only time will tell.

    I’ve been reading all you give us Lisa and appreciate beyond words the value it’s given to me. Thank you with all my heart . . .

    • Thank you so, so much for sharing your experiences. It is incredibly difficult when both parents are not on the same page. Your approach is excellent and now is the time to do it because of the brain developmental processes that are going on, now, and until his early 20s. Not only that, but this disease is progressive and can and does kill at any point along the way – ending up comatose with a 2.5 BAL in the hospital is so serious! As you said, your son is going to have to show restraint beyond his years because it’s easier to take the grooved neural pathways than do whatever it takes to forge new ones. He’s so lucky to have you and that you are doing everything possible to help him by setting the boundaries you are setting. As parents (or as spouses or siblings, for that matter) we always want to believe our children (spouse or sibling) won’t lie or try to deceive us, but the nature of this disease overrides that capability, so it’s the boundaries that can help the most. Just in case other readers wonder what I mean by this – I’m sharing this link about addiction cravings: http://www.hbo.com/addiction/understanding_addiction/13_craving.html, as well as this one by NIDA’s Director, Dr. Nora Volkow, introducing The Addiction Project: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/magazine/issues/spring07/articles/spring07pg14-17.html, and this one by NIDA on the science of addiction: http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/science-addiction.

      I also want to thank you for your kind words about my work – it really means a lot to know it’s helping!!

  7. momcat says:

    So true Lisa. The therapist with the drug/alcohol program told us that whatever your kid says he’s doing times it by 5. I’ve found that to be closer to accurate than not with all of the stories I’ve been hearing. Deceit is how the using can continue. It’s up to us as parents to take a hard look at reality and not get sucked into the fantasy of a perfect child. The counselor also said that kids struggling with drugs/alcohol are typically very sensitive people. Working with who they are is a big key to their success. In the end it’s up to them to make the choice.

    The reason I’ve taken such a hard line with my son is because I’ve read everything you’ve offered about adolescents and the damage to their brains from drug and alcohol use. Once you’ve educated yourself you can no longer look the other way and sleep at night.

    Thank you Lisa . . .

    • You’re so welcome, and thank you for sharing your experiences with your son. I know, for me, it was hearing other peoples stories that really helped. I wish you both all the best. Take care.

  8. Thank you for this article. Addiction is definitely an overwhelming epidemic in the USA Today. It is a problem that needs to be addressed. I am now clean and sober, after many attempts at various types of rehabs and sober livings. I needed something different in order to get clean and sober. I found the help that I needed at http://www.thelasthouse.net

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