How do you talk to a teen about addiction? Do we really need to talk to teens about addiction? Adolescence is a time of experimentation. Teens engage in high-risk behavior such as drug use, alcohol use, sexual relationships, and potentially illegal behaviors. Every year there are stories about how some of these teen behaviors have gone wrong. No parent wants their teen to be hurt. In addition, no one wants to see teens make decisions that can cause them harm. Or worse, that could affect the rest of their lives.
Talk to Teens About Addiction
Relationships are all about connection. Furthermore, this connection comes through communication. At our drug rehab, The Redpoint Center, in Northern Colorado, we work with families and teens to create healthy, realistic conversations about drug and alcohol use. We often receive questions from parents asking us how they can have conversations about addiction with their teens. Below are some tips to how to talk to your teen about their drug or alcohol use:
- Think about the setting. It is not recommended to bring these topics up with other people around. Wait until your teen is relaxed and calm so you can truly connect.
- Avoid a punitive or condemning tone. The idea is to have a conversation about drugs and alcohol that is reasonable. In addition, it is key to emphasize that no one is in trouble. You just want to learn more and share ideas on the topic.
- Open-Ended questions spark discussion. Ask open-ended questions. These are questions that lead to deeper conversation. The answer would not be “Yes” or “No.” For instance, “What have you heard about opiates in school?” is a very different question than “Have you heard about the opiate problem in school?” The first question requires discussion.
- Support positive peer awareness. Ask what your teen has heard and seen about drugs and alcohol in their peer groups. Has anyone been hurt? Has anyone had to get treatment?
- Be curious and conversational. If you know your teen has used drugs and alcohol in the past, ask what the experience was like. This is not always easy to hear, we know. Try to stay curious without getting activated or worried. Ask a teen if they ever felt like they were having a problem with drugs and alcohol what would they do? In addition, make sure there is a clear support network. If you’re not the person they wish to come to, make sure they feel they have folks they can rely on. That might be a close family friend, a teacher, a priest or a pastor. The key is ensuring teens have the support they need.
Supporting Teen Mental Health and Awareness
The key to positive mental health and good communication is awareness. When we model awareness for our children, they learn through action, not just through words. This is very important. Model patience, kindness, and a willingness to forgo judgment. This doesn’t mean we don’t teach discernment. We do. But, we also share the wisdom of positive life skills for developing minds. And this means everything.
Here are some steps to cultivate deeper awareness.
- Teach teens how to respond to trouble. Do teens know what to do if someone is in trouble? What if they’re offered a substance? Do you have a codeword or phrase to share within the family in case a teen is in a situation they don’t want to be in? This is a powerful way to forge a solid alliance of trust.
- Set boundaries. Each parent or caregiver will need to decide how they want to relate to their loved one and substance use. It is completely acceptable to let your teen know what the response will be if they continue to use these substances, this can include consequences.
- Be sure they talk. Most importantly, even if your teen does not want to talk to you about these subjects, encourage them to find someone, anyone who is a safe person to discuss these problems with. Let them know that they can come to you if they need help, that you will not punish them for seeking help.
- Seek professional support. Lastly, research options for treatment and therapy in your local community before talking to your teen. If they disclose that they would be open to some type of treatment, make sure you have options on hand.
What teens really need is us. Adults need to talk to teens about addiction and substance use. And, they need our attention, openness, and compassion. It is not always easy. Teens can test even the strongest adult. But the payoff of truly attending to our kids is beyond measure. If we cultivate relationships every step of the way, during a child’s life, we build trust. Hence, trust is the bedrock of a solid relationship.