Opinion: Coping with teen substance abuse

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Nessa Kavanagh.

By Nessa Kavanagh 

Parents are often under the impression that any teenage drug use is extremely dangerous, leading them to believe that extreme measures are necessary to prevent it from escalating to more harmful substances and even death.

While discovering that your teenager is consuming alcohol or drugs can be frightening for any parent, it is important to keep in perspective that the majority of teens who drink will not become alcoholics, and most teenagers who experiment with drugs will not continue it to adulthood.

The first step to guiding your teenager in a more productive direction is not to panic, assess the situation, and make informed and supportive choices.

If your teenager is struggling with opioid addiction or is at risk of fentanyl exposure, it is vital to talk to them about overdose prevention until you can get them professional help. While this may be challenging, having this conversation without delay is essential. Prioritize providing them with fentanyl testing strips and Narcan, as whoever they are with would be the best positioned to reverse an overdose should it happen; this could potentially save their life. In situations such as drug overdose, self-harm, severe and sudden weight loss, or severe withdrawal – seek medical attention to ensure your teen’s safety. During an inpatient period, seek empathetic professional guidance regarding the upcoming steps. Establishing a supportive recovery plan for your teenager’s outpatient care is essential. 

While some believe that any teen drug use carries potential dangers, hastily ushering a teen who is binge drinking on weekends and experimenting with weed into unsuitable addiction treatment could potentially make a fixable problem worse. While there is a wide range of inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment for teens to choose from, what works well for one teen can be risky for the other. For example, exposing a vulnerable teenager to youth with more severe issues can make them more susceptible to peer pressure and increase their curiosity about experimenting with stronger drugs.

All children who experiment with substances during their teenage years do not always develop an addiction, and not all addicts share the stereotypical negative traits associated with it – such as dishonesty, manipulation, and selfishness. Influencing a teenager who is exploring their identity, interests, and passions to call themselves an addict, along with carrying the burden of its stigma, poses a risk of developing negative beliefs and distress. The teenager can feel confusion, shame, and guilt during a critical adolescent developmental period. Unless it’s an emergency, take the time to consult with a substance abuse professional regarding suitable care for your teenager. Understanding and catering to your child’s specific needs can avoid the risk of placing your youth in situations that can render them particularly vulnerable. Ally yourself with your child, and let them see you are on their side. Community resources, involved families, a positive school environment, pursuing passions, and engaging in exciting extracurricular activities are some of our most effective tools to safeguard our youth against teen drug use. 

Coping with teen substance abuse can be among the most trying challenges a family can face. It is helpful for families to remind themselves that others have successfully navigated similar situations, and by taking informed, deliberate steps, significant positive change can be brought about over time. By staying consistent, the outcome can be truly transformative.

Nessa Kavanagh is a certified clinical addiction interventionist, recovery coach and sober companion. She is the founder of www.lagunaintervention.com. She is a longtime volunteer for Laguna Beach Unified School District, currently serving the Laguna Beach High School Breakers Wrestling program as their booster representative. She is an advocate for children in sports.

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  1. The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) has observed that world-wide use of methylphenidate has risen from less than 3 tonnes (metric ton) in 1990 to more than 8.5 tonnes in 1994, 1996: 10.5 tonnes 1997: 13 tonnes 2000: 15 tonnes and 15 million prescriptions, finally 2010: 84 tonnes. 90 per cent of total world manufacture and consumption occurs in the USA.

    Teenage addiction to narcotics is encouraged by their co-dependents: parents, schools and Big Pharma as these numbers support. Co-dependency begins at home, stop doing that. See Medicated Management https://lagunastreets.blogspot.com/2013/02/medicated-management.html

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