FAQ’s from Parents

When should I start talking about drugs with my child?

The broad message that “Drugs are bad” are usually accepted by most young children (early primary grades). But they soon begin to understand the difference between medicine, and play drugs. By about grade five they have an understanding that some teens smoke marihuana and drink alcohol. They are begining to understand that there are several so called recreational drugs out there and each has its own reputation…some are bad… some are not so bad. This begins to drive a certain curiosity.  It is important to pay attention to determine how curious they are becoming.

You can guage that interest in a few simple ways…. when you are driving in your car with your child and you see a group of teens smoking cigarettes, a question like “what do you think of that?” can start a converstation that will give you an idea their level of curiosity.  Watching a movie that shows drug use can provide an opportunity during a commercial to ask what they think or know about what they saw.  Understand they WILL develop a curiosity about drugs.  The sooner you create safe opportunities to talk about them, the better.

Don’t just focus on just the illegal drugs.  The temptations to use substances to change the way we feel are all around us.  A good example of this is energy drinks and stimulants sold in corner stores.  Tobacco, Alcohol, Caffeine are all drugs that your child is well aware of.  This is a good place to start to gauge their interest and understanding and then adapt your converstaions based on that awareness.

I think my child is using drugs. How do I start talking to them about it?

Two things to understand is… Trust your parental radar!  If you suspect they are involved in drugs, they probably are… you may not be accurate in all aspects, but they are probably involved at some level that needs to be discussed.   Second, as soon as you bring up the subject of drugs, they know what you are going to say… “Don’t do it”.  Their defences are all geared up for that.  So don’t say it!  You don’t need to spend time stating the obvious.

An opening line like, “We are noticing changes in you, and we are concerned. We want to talk about it with you.  We don’t want to overreact but we need some help to understand how things are with you.  Will you help us with this?”   This is a generic opening.  They will know what you are talking about.  Allow them to respond, then ask a more direct question or statement like…  “ We’re concerned that you’re using drugs.  To us that’s a big deal.  If it’s not a big deal to you, then we need you to help us understand why it isn’t.

If they talk, then you have won.  You have started a conflict-free conversation and most importantly maybe they can respond more honestly. You can expand and deal with more specifics later but starting on safe ground is critical for productive conversations.

Understand that the most common reason for these conversations to turn ugly and full of conflict, is when parents challenge their teen, or accuse them, or demand responses.  This gives your teen a reason to get defensive.  They will respond with half-truths or outright lies, and then you will be deflected into trying to prove what they are saying was untrue…. and off you all go!   A few conversaton like that and before you know it, the issue within your family is the conflicts and not the concerns over thier possible drug use.

My teen challenges me that Marihuana is not harmful or addictive. I just don’t know. What do I tell them?

Here’s a stastistic to set things straight.  North America-wide, more teens are seeking help with their addiction to Marihuana, than all other drugs (including alcohol) COMBINED!  In short, there are three times as many teens asking for help to stop using marihuana than there are for Cocaine, Heroin, Meth, Ecstasy, and Alcohol.  The team that I have worked with over the last four years has an annual school-based teen case load of about six hundred kids.  From that case load, almost five hundred are being receiving support for Marihuana addiction.

Yes it is addictive…it is not an addiction that we commonly assoiciate with drugs like Heroin, Cocaine or others. But there is no doubt that regular use can develope into a dependency that can seriously complicate their lives on several different levels.

One way to get your teen to recognize this is to simply ask them if they know anyone who has taken their use of Marihuana too far (no names).  Every teen does.  Having them share what thay see in that person that tells them they have a problem is a really safe way for your teen to acknowledge that at least in some cases this drug is not harmless.

My spouse has a drinking problem and our teen is becoming more angry about it.  I am stuck in the middle…what can I do?

Anyone who lives with someone suffering an addiction is what is referred to as Drug Affected.  Their lives follow the highs and low of those addicted.  Teens who are drug affected are one of the highest-risk groups to start abusing drugs themselves.  This is their means to cope with the day to day stress they live under.  The danger to your teen is very real.

If you cannot get your spouse into treatment or counseling, then consider at least having your teen get some support (and yourself as well).  We have had really good success facilitating a school based “drug affected” teens’ group.  These groups of teens meet regularly and get to share their stresses. We also educated them on the patterns of addictive behavior so they can better predict the addicted persons’ behavior.  Sharing with others who are drug-affected and being taught about addiction helps reduce their stress a great deal.

Check with your childs’ school counsellor, let them know what they are dealing with.  They may have a group running, or if not, they might consider starting one.  There is little doubt that there are dozens and dozens of teens in every high school that are drug-affected.

How do I tell if there is a drug-problem at my teen’s school?

This is one of the most common questions I hear. Drug problems don’t orginate in schools. They start in your own back yard.  When we look at first-use scenarios, it is clear that the vast majority of use starts in a social setting, most commonly on weekends, and not at school.  It’s only when that use escalates from so-called recreational use to a more serious level that we see that use in and around school settings.

Less than 10% of secondary students who were subject to school disciplinary action for substance use incidents (caught using or being high or having paraphenalia etc) were “first-use” scenarios.  In short, over 90% of those students were identified as already having an ongoing and problematic history of drug involvement.

When individual schools or school districts try to impliment strategies to address substance use prevention and intervention they are often faced with the stigma that “they have a problem… or it’s a bad school”. Parents need to understand that schools are having to deal with these issues because they seriously impact your childs ability to succeed.  They are dealing with a community issue not simply a school issue and need your support and encouragement to impliment these effective programs for the benfiet of your child.

There are so many drugs out there. Which ones should I watch for?

As a parent you will never be able to keep up with all the drugs that come alone. But, that’s ok.  The reason is that there are a core group of drugs that represent the primary drugs-of choice for most teens.  In the vast majority of cases any teens that are found to be using or interested in these new or peripheral drugs, are found to already have a significant history in one or more of these core drugs.  In other words, it is their “home” drugs you need to be concerned with first because those are probably the ones they have the most serious problem with.  I have never found an instance where a teen had a problem with one of these new drugs without already having an existing serious issue with one of the core drugs.  Don’t ignore any drug(s) that your teen shows interest in.  But the core drugs are the ones you need to know something about.

These core drugs (in order of popularity and levels of use) include:

1.     Alcohol

2.     Marihuana

3.     Ecstasy

4.     Cocaine

5.     Methamphetamine (not common)

6.     Heroin (not common but soon will be)

If you hear your child talking about some of the peripheral drugs, don’t ignore it, but look to core drugs as well.  Some of these peripheral drugs include:

1.     Ketamine

2.     Oxycontin

3.     LSD

4.     Salvia

5.     GHB

My teen tells me “most kids do drugs” Is that true?

No. Teens are no different than adults.  They notice the most dramatic behaviors and draw conclusions that “everyone does it”.  When they go to a party, they notice the kids drinking or smoking pot.  They don’t notice the kids talking about that new cd or just hanging out.  At school they notice the kids out at the smoke pit, but don’t notice the kids in the library as much.  We all do it in all parts of our lives.

When I’m doing classroom presentations I always ask “what percentage of kids in this school do you think smoke cigarettes?”  Their answers are consistently between 30% and 50%, when we know the actual percentage to teen smokers in most schools is closer to 12%-15%.

It is important to know that most teens do not use drugs and alcohol. It is also important for you to help your teen slow down, and take a closer look at the teens in their school, or out at a party and really see how they entertain themselves.  This is particularly important for young teens just starting in high school.  Their desire to fit in to this new enviornment causes them to look around to see what they may need to do to fit in.  My advice to those transitioning students is simple.  Take your time, slow down, and really look around to see what the majority of teens do.  Don’t just notice the dramatic behavior and assume it represents what “everyone is doing”   (for more on this, read Peer Pressure, below)

How do I educate my teen about “peer pressure” so that other kids don’t get my child to start using drugs?

Peer pressure is often misunderstood.  While there rare are instances where other teens may prompt your child try something, the most common kind of peer pressure is self-imposed.  Most teens just want to fit in.  They look around to see what others are doing and then decide that “that’s what I have to do to fit in”.  The problem is they often only notice the most dramatic behavior and assume that this is what everyone is doing.  It is human nature and something we all do.  This becomes very risky with young teens transitioning into high school.  Helping your teen to slow down and take the time to REALLY see what most teens are doing, will help them deal with that self-imposed peer pressure in an accurate way and safer way.

Where can I get help with my teen’s drug problem?

Before anyone can respond to any substance use issue they need to have some key information.  This is referred to as an assessment.  This information helps determine what, if any, support is needed. There are three questions that need to be answered in that assessment process.  1:  What are they using?  2: How often are they using?  3: What is their willingness to change?

Your first step is to connect with someone who can help you with that assessment process.

Most schools have access to a substance use prevention specialist.  In most cases they work for a community addictions clinic and try to get into the high schools at least once a week.  Some school districts have similar support staff that are employed by the district.

If you suspect, or are concerned about your teens substance use issues, the first contact should be your childs school counselor who can arrange for your teen to meet with this specialist to have an assessment done.  If your childs’ school does not have access to such a specialist, it is still beneficial to have your childs counselor start that process.  They have their history of performance, attendence, and behavior at school and can easily tell if your child is slipping in any or all of these areas.  As well, they can refer your child to a community support resource to complete a more comprehensive assessment and then offer counseling support.

If your childs relationship with drugs is more serious, and they are willing to get some support, then I would suggest you contact the addictions support agency or clinic in your community.  Virtually every community has one, and most have specialised youth addictions counselors.  IF your school counselor is unable to refer you then just google the name of your city/town, and add “youth addictions” and you should get the agency or clinic you need.

If your child needs intensive support (such as a residential treatment program or detox) these community clinic counselors will be the best resource to assess and help with those referrals.

Most if not all of these community addictions clinics are funded by your regional health authority and are free service for you and your family.

If your child is not willing to get some help or consider making some changes, then I suggest you read some of the information on this website and read Thru Your Own Eyes to get some ideas on the benefits of Self-Assessment, in getting your teen to reconsider their relationship with drugs.

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