iStock_000013145333XSmallThe untimely death of respected actor and father, Philip Seymour Hoffman is bringing more media attention to the dangers of substance use. Mr. Hoffman won an Oscar, he was a devoted father, and had a promising career ahead of him. His death reminded me of 2 very important messages I learned as a teenager: anyone can become addicted to drugs and just saying no might not be enough.

There have been so many celebrities who have died from drug overdoses: Michael Jackson, Kurt Cobain, River Phoenix, Heath Ledger, Bruce Lee, Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, Whitney Houston, Jimi Hendrix, and on and on. For each person who dies, there are countless more who enter rehab or have legal troubles because of drugs and alcohol. Just 2 weeks ago Justin Bieber was arrested for driving under the influence. Of course it’s not just celebrities who struggle with substance abuse; we all know someone (a neighbor, friend, family member) who has battled addiction. Yes, genetics play a role: a person with an immediate family member who has abused drugs is more likely to use, but substance use can affect anyone.

Teaching children and teens to say no to drugs is a great start to prevention, but stopping here isn’t enough. Drugs/alcohol serve a purpose in the life of an addict. If they didn’t have some benefit, people wouldn’t use them. They can numb pain (physical and emotional), provide respite from reality, and can help relieve stress. The downside to these benefits is the relief doesn’t last. With ongoing use, relationships, finances, health, etc all suffer greatly. For teens, peer pressure to use can be intense, and this peer pressure probably isn’t going to come in the form of the ‘stoner’ or ‘delinquent’ kid coming up to them and asking them to use. It will likely be a friend/cousin/sibling they trust saying ‘hey we have some of this, let’s try it’ or not even asking, just passing the joint/cigarette/drink over with the expectation it’ll be consumed.

Parents are one of the key reasons why teens choose not to use! Here are some tips for prevention of substance use in teens:

1. Start communication early. As an example, most teens who use marijuana start by age 14. Start talking about drug use around 5th grade (before middle school).

2. Keep the lines of communication open. Spend time with your teen, communicate via text or Facebook if that’s how they feel comfortable.

3. Practice refusing drugs. Role play situations and give suggestions for how they can decline drugs even if they’re offered from a friend or family member.

4. Set clear and consistent rules. Set curfews, have chores and expectations of behavior (at home and at school). If they don’t follow a rule, have a clear negative consequence and stick with it.

5. Know your teen’s friends. You may not know every aspect of their friend’s lives, but have a sense for who they are hanging out with and what activities they enjoy. Try to meet the parents of the teens they spend a lot of time with and make sure you have similar expectations regarding alcohol and drug use.

6. If you find out your teen is using, try not to overreact (i.e. get angry, blame) but do tell them your concerns. Seek help from your teens health care provider as they can provide options for treatment.

Do you have other tips that have worked well for your family?


Here are some previous posts on substance use that may also be helpful:

Talking to your teen about your own alcohol & drug history

Marijuana Legalization: what parents can say to their children

How to talk to your teen about drugs

Addiction and recovery resources for Teens and families