We have all heard or read about the horror stories being shared by news outlets, titles such as “Rises in Teen Drug Abuse” and “Increased Drug Use Amongst High School Students” run rampant in our daily news feeds.
While there is some truth associated with the growing epidemic of substance use disorders as reported by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022) and other organizations, there also remains an importance behind deconstructing stigma associated with a SUD (substance use disorder) diagnosis.
If you are a parent to a teen or young adult that is coping with substance use, or a substance use disorder, know that your experience is valid, and you are part of a growing number of parents that are helping their children navigate social pressures and other factors that influence them to seek substance use as a coping mechanism for emotional dysregulation.
First Thing’s First
You are not alone.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2022) estimate that as many as 15% of high school students have reported using some form of illicit drug or prescription opioid. The numbers reflect the direct correlation between the developmental stage that teens are going through– in developing identities and forming relationships, as well as partaking in higher risk behaviors, which in many instances include drugs and alcohol (CDC, 2022).
Teens and young adults are at a transcendental time in their lives, a period where there are many discoveries to be made, both good and bad. It can be difficult as parents to be witness to the mistakes that these developing minds may make, but it is vital to approach these mistakes with grace and understanding, and to realize the value of understanding where an unhealthy behavior may be coming from.
Your Child is the Expert
What do I mean by this?
At the end of the day, it is your child that bears the pressures of everyday adolescent/teen life, so they are the experts on their day-to-day experiences. Teens and young adults are under an immense amount of pressure due to an ever-changing world that seems ever more uncertain.
These feelings of uncertainty about the world, coupled with social pressures to fit in, or to dress/act a certain way can make way for feelings of stress, anxiety, and in some cases depression, amongst others. These big feelings can be difficult to process–let alone manage–for a developing mind.
In turn, many teens and young people might turn to substance use in order to help sedate large feelings, and they can use guidance with regards to alternative methods to help with cognitive and emotional coping and processing.
For many others, the rapid growth being experienced by the brain, without appropriate stimulation to explore the growth (think extracurriculars such as tennis, boxing, chess, robotics, etc.), can many times lead to feelings of boredom or frustration.
As a result, a similar coping mechanism takes place, and these young minds might explore substance use in order to stimulate the brain, unaware of the negative effects it may have on their development. It is not unusual for teens and young adults to experience ambivalence with regards to seeking help, this tends to be a necessary step in the road toward recovery. The importance is that the support and access to resources is readily available so that when the ambivalence has cleared appropriate help can be sought out.
As a mental health counselor, I may be biased in always primarily recommending psychotherapy to help with substance use disorders or other addictive behavior. However, there are a plethora of resources that can be accessed outside of the therapy room.
- Self-help groups.
- These groups are usually formed by community members with a special interest in helping others in the community by providing psychoeducation opportunities, or serving as a liaison for seeking and informing about additional resources in and outside of the community that can be used to provide support. Some common self-help groups that exist for addiction/addictive behavior are SMART Recovery (SMARTRecovery.org)
- Some more commonly known self-help groups also include NA (Narcotics Anonymous) and AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), a simple Google search using the aforementioned keywords might help you locate these resources in the community.
- Support Groups
- Smart Recovery along with AA, and NA offer support groups for parents of children struggling with addiction or substance use disorders. More information can be found online by completing a Google search such as “support for parents of children coping with a substance use disorder.”
Substance use, substance use disorders, and addictions are all complex, and there is no one definitive answer for how to overcome these issues when they arise. The development and progression of these types of disorders are complex as well, and it can be difficult to witness their progression.
However, there is hope.
Research remains ongoing for best practices when treating and diagnosing this class of disorders, but the research has shown that with appropriate support and by building and maintaining motivation, overcoming addiction/addictive behaviors is within reach.
I would like to leave you with the hope that this too shall pass, your efforts to understand and help your child be the healthiest version of themselves does not go unacknowledged.
Adolescent and School Health, D. of. (2022, September 29). High risk substance use in youth. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/substance-
Chavez, B. (2021, August 25). Dea in El Paso sees 60% rise in Teen Drug abuse. KVIA. https://kvia.com/health/2021/08/25/deas-el-paso-division-reports-60-rise-in-teen-drug-abuse/
Zamboni L;Centoni F;Fusina F;Mantovani E;Rubino F;Lugoboni F;Federico A; (2021). The effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy techniques for the treatment of Substance Use
Disorders: A narrative review of evidence. The Journal of nervous and mental disease. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34698698/