Alcohol and drug abuse is the leading cause of teen death or injury related to car accidents, suicides, violence and drowning. Despite this, peer pressure, along with a desire to try new things, to look grown up and to take risks, can make alcohol and tobacco appear attractive to teens. Therefore setting firm boundaries and expectations to prevent substance abuse is crucial. Substance abuse can lead to poor performance in school, problems with family and friends, and potentially life-long legal issues.

While all teens might be confronted with drug or alcohol use at some stage, some may be more likely to engage in substance abuse than others due to certain risk factors. For example, those who have family members with substance abuse issues are more likely to have them themselves. In addition, teens with poor self-esteem, mental health problems or strained family relationships are more at risk.

You can help prevent substance abuse in your teen by being a role model, openly and directly sharing your beliefs and expectations, setting strict rules with consequences, and encouraging healthy, social activities. Start conversations about substance abuse prevention early and continue to have them throughout adolescence. Make sure your teen understands the risks, the legal and personal consequences, and expected behaviors.

Warning Signs of Substance Abuse

You should also be aware of the warning signs of substance abuse, including:

  • Less attention to personal grooming
  • Red eyes and other health issues
  • Less interest in school and activities
  • Unexpected change in school or athletic performance
  • New friends who are not involved in family or school
  • Loss of appetite/unexplained weight loss
  • Chemical soaked rags or papers
  • Unusual paint or other stains on clothing, hands and face
  • Lack of concern about the future
  • Changes in behavior, especially secrecy
  • Worsening mood or attitude
  • Overly withdrawn from family

If you see any of these signs of substance abuse and believe that your teen may be using drugs or alcohol, take the problem seriously and address it immediately, without the use of a judgmental or harsh tone. If it is an isolated incident or something that has only occurred a few times, a discussion and reinforcing expectations may be all that is required. If your teen, however, is engaging in substance abuse, know when to ask for help. A physician or a counselor can assist in determining treatment to help your teen.

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