Many parents are concerned about the risk of their children developing substance use disorder (SUD) given the widespread access to substances in communities and the legalization of some drugs in the U.S. While people might think legalization is simply a yes or no dichotomy, there are several forms this kind of legalization can take, each accompanied by its own set of pros and cons.
What Is the Rationale Behind Legalization?
Policymakers who promote legalization are striving to correct the wrongs caused by prohibition that began in the 1980s. The historic War on Drugs led to counterproductive outcomes, including increases in drug prices in the black market and over-criminalization of drug possessors by the criminal justice system.
According to these policymakers, legalization may eliminate the illegal drug trade, reduce the spread of disease caused by risky drug use behaviors, reduce social stigma around SUD, and restore the right of self-determination to every individual.
Many parents worry that legalization sends the wrong message to children and increases the accessibility of substances in the community. These worries are not unfounded because teenage and adolescent substance use has increased since the legalization of certain drugs. However, other negative outcomes have been reduced because of these policies, like those mentioned above. In the end, with legalization, parents need to take their responsibility to educate their children more seriously.
What Should Parents Do and Not Do?
The role of parenting in preventing substance use among youth cannot be overstated. Parents should talk to their children about the harm substance abuse can do. Not talking about this topic may lead to damaging consequences. When children are old enough to access substances, they will not have the knowledge to protect them without prior guidance.
Parents themselves must model a healthy lifestyle. If the parent is struggling with drinking or substance use, it increases the risk of their children developing similar habits later in life. Exposure to parental SUD has been listed among the many adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) which increase the risk of the child developing SUD as well.
How Is Parenting Style Related to Youth Substance Use?
As the primary influences in their children’s lives, parents have great power to shape how their children process emotions and cope with stress. Research has shown that authoritarian parenting tends to increase the risk of children developing SUD. These parents may also give in to societal stigma about addiction in a way that becomes a barrier for youth to get treatment.
Neglectful and permissive parenting may make the parents unaware of their children’s social activities outside the home. Communication between permissive parents and children tends to be scant, and this gap increases the vulnerability of children to get into substance use.
How Do Parents Know if Their Children Are Vulnerable to Addiction?
Some common risk factors can determine whether children are vulnerable. These include mental health issues, family history of substance use, ACEs, trauma, and personality disorders. If a parent identifies these issues in their child, they should work with their pediatric doctor or other health professionals for early intervention.
Meanwhile, parents should take advantage of the teachable moments while their children are young. For example, when a parent sees a character in a movie or on TV using substances, talk about what this does to one’s body. Teach them how to say no if a friend offers them something they have no knowledge of or something they know will bring them harm.
How Do Parents Help Children Cope With Peer Pressure?
Many youths begin using substances due to peer pressure. It is natural for teenagers and adolescents to value friendships and connections outside the home. Parents should have nonjudgmental conversations about their teens’ thoughts and feelings. Keeping the line of communication open is critical.
Parents can role-play what to do in social situations when someone offers drugs or alcohol to teenage children. Remind them about the risk of choosing temporary pleasure over avoiding lasting harm to the body. Researchers have put together many resources to help parents navigate this challenging topic. Discouraging unhealthy behaviors should be paired with encouraging healthy behaviors like eating right and exercising.
What Should Parents Do After Finding Out About Their Child’s Substance Use?
If teenage children are already into substance use, it important that parents work with professional interventionists to plan for a non-confrontational intervention. This is key in encouraging their children to begin detox treatment. They can also consider family therapy which will help correct parenting pitfalls and improve communication.
Parents must be aware of the danger of illicit drug use and overdose to teenagers. Many states have passed laws allowing people to get naloxone from a pharmacist without a prescription. It is a good idea to have naloxone (or Narcan) on hand if a loved one takes or is addicted to fentanyl or other opioids. Educating children about the danger of drugs like fentanyl is critical. These interventions must be based on good communication between parent and child.
As a parent, are you worried about children getting access to drugs and alcohol given the latter’s wide accessibility in the community? If your teenage child does develop substance dependence, do you know where to find support for effective intervention? At Laguna Shores Recovery, our experienced mental health professionals can coach and support your child in adopting effective recovery methods for their long-term well-being. We offer holistic treatment options like creative therapies, meditation, nature therapy, animal therapy, and life skills coaching in addition to evidence-based clinical modalities. Our family therapist can also help restore communication between you and your teenage child. We will walk alongside you to find the best treatment for your loved one. Call us today to discover how you can be part of our community. The promise of long-term, sustainable recovery is waiting for your loved one. For more information, call (866) 229-9923.