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Family Members’ Guide to Teen Addiction

A mom and teen song embrace after struggling with substance use.  

If you are concerned about your teen’s use of drugs and alcohol, then you are already in the right mindset to help him or her manage this issue safely. Recognition of the problem is the first step to getting your teen the help that will aid him or her in stopping the use of alcohol or drugs immediately.

If you believe that your teen is abusing illicit substances of any kind, you are right to be concerned. This crucial developmental period can be significantly impacted by any use of drugs or alcohol – no amount of “experimentation” or use is safe.

Learn more about how we can help you connect your teen to effective treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the signs of addiction? What paraphernalia should I look for? When is an intervention needed? Get these answers and the answers to many more FAQs.

Signs of Teen Addiction

Teen Drug Paraphernalia

Interventions and Treatment

Teen Drug Abuse Related Topics

Research & Statistics

An estimated 64 percent of high school seniors say that they do not think that regular use of marijuana is a harmful choice. Get more statistics and data on drug addiction.

Despite Statistics, Teen Drug Addiction Still A Problem

Early Puberty and Substance Abuse

Link Between Teen Opioid Use and Teen Heroin Use

Being a Positive Role Model

One of the best things you can do for your child to help them avoid the pitfalls of life is to lead by example and be a good role model. Get advice on how.

How and When to Talk to Teens About Drugs and Alcohol

How to Prevent Teen Prescription Drug Use and Abuse

Educating Your Teen About Drinking and Driving

What Are the Signs of Teen Addiction?

Depending upon the substance that your teen is using, there will be different signs that will indicate addiction. For example, you will find different kinds of paraphernalia and see different signs of being high in your teen if he is using heroin than if he is using crystal meth.

Depressant drugs like opiate painkillers, heroin, benzodiazepines, and others can cause your child to behave as if he were extremely tired or “out of it.” He may find it difficult to carry on a conversation, spend a great deal of time alone or in his room, and may often complain of feeling sick.

Stimulant drugs like crystal meth, cocaine, and prescription stimulants like Adderall may have the opposite effect at first. Extreme chattiness and social behavior, insomnia, and an intense level of activity may define his behavior – but dejected behavior, depression, and days of “hiding out” in his room may follow.

No matter what the drug of choice, there are a number of behaviors that can indicate drug addiction in your teen, including:

  • Lying about drug use
  • Hiding drugs or alcohol in his personal possessions
  • Ownership of paraphernalia of any kind
  • Often appearing to be “out of it,” drunk, uncoordinated, or unable to carry on a conversation
  • Changes in friends, appearance, or music preference that can indicate a shifting interest in substance abuse
  • Cryptic language with friends via text, on the phone, or on social media that can indicate slang terms for drugs and their use
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Academic problems
  • No longer taking part in extracurricular activities or hobbies

How Does Family Therapy Work?

Family therapy is a crucial part of a well-rounded treatment program for anyone in recovery from substance abuse and addiction, but for a teenager, it can make or break her success in sobriety. Family support is critical to a young person’s ability to stay focused on sober principles and manage triggers to relapse as they arise. Additionally, because family members may inadvertently enable an addicted person’s return to active use of drugs and alcohol, it is important for everyone who is close to the addicted teen to learn about addiction, what to expect during the young person’s treatment, and how they can best contribute to that person’s success going forward.

Family therapy sessions can begin while the teen is still in treatment. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to take an active role in their child’s recovery, checking in regularly with their child’s therapeutic team to keep up with her progress and also coming into the treatment center in order to meet regularly with their teen and her therapist. Family therapy sessions often provide parents the opportunity to:

  • Learn more about what their child is thinking and doing as she goes through treatment
  • Address issues that may have taken root during active addiction and will need to be resolved before the young person returns home
  • Learn how to communicate more effectively
  • Learn how to avoid blaming, interrogating, and judgmental or enabling behaviors
  • Practice communication and create a plan for the future with the benefit of the assistance of a neutral and supportive substance abuse treatment professional
  • Ask questions about how best to proceed in specific situations

When is an Intervention Needed?

An intervention is a formal request to an addicted person to accept that he or she is living with addiction and to immediately enter treatment.  A teenager under the age of 18 does not need to consent to treatment in order to be enrolled in a drug rehab by a parent or legal guardian. However, research shows that brief interventions can help an adolescent to lower substance abuse behaviors and reduce the risk of the development of addiction. It is important to note, however, that addiction is a medical disorder and that if a teenager is dependent physically and psychologically upon her drug or drugs of choice, then intensive treatment will be necessary to help them heal.

What Intervention Techniques Are There?

There are a number of different types of formal interventions staged for the purpose of helping a young person recognize that their use of drugs and/or alcohol has reached a crisis point. Some include:

  • Johnson Model Intervention: This style of intervention is one of the standards in the industry; it is the style predominantly used by interventionists on the A&E television show, Intervention. Family members gather and each speak in turn, sharing specific recollections in which it was clear that drug and alcohol use was harmful to the person or others as well as memories of how the person behaved and lived before addiction became an issue. The tone of a Johnson intervention is loving and nonjudgmental, and all participants ask the person to go to treatment and make it clear that if he chooses not to get help then there will be consequences in the form of less support from them.
  • CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Training): Unlike the Johnson Model, there is no confrontation in the CRAFT intervention method. The belief is that the addicted person will not change unless the family changes with him, so the focus is on identifying what each member can do to promote healing. Rather than a confrontation, there are a dozen or more sessions that involve all the family members so that each person can identify his or her own enabling behaviors and work together to create positive change.
  • ARISE Intervention: The ARISE intervention utilizes some of the characteristics of the Johnson Model intervention but also has some of the characteristics of the CRAFT intervention. An interventionist assists the family in the intervention process, and while it is a confrontation like the Johnson model, it occurs over multiple sessions and seeks to educate all involved about the nature of addiction as well as the benefits of treatment.

Should Children Be Involved in an Intervention?

Interventions can go exactly as planned – or they can become extremely emotional events characterized by erratic behavior of the participants and/or the addicted person. They are not generally appropriate places for children. However, in some circumstances, depending upon the child and the addicted person as well as the specific relationship, it may be appropriate for the child to make an appearance in order to have the opportunity to share his or her thoughts.

How Can Family Members Deal with the Stressors of Addiction?

Addiction affects more than just the person who drinks and uses drugs. The people who love them change and are impacted as the person’s uses of substances increases and creates more and more negative consequences. As a result, family members will also need to heal after going through a loved one’s addiction. For this reason, it is recommended that family members:

  • Attend family support groups for the family members of addicts
  • Attend workshops that help them to better understand the nature of addiction and the prognosis for recovery
  • Take part in personal therapy sessions to address issues of depression, anxiety, and day-to-day stressors
  • Go to therapy sessions with other family members (e.g., couples counseling or family therapy sessions without the addicted family member)
  • Connect with friends
  • Prioritize your own health and wellness (e.g., go to the doctor or dentist, take personal time, etc.)

What Paraphernalia Should I Look For?

Again, the type of paraphernalia used will depend upon the drug of choice. For example, a thick glass pipe with a bowl on the end may be used to smoke marijuana while a straight glass stem pipe may be used to smoke crack, heroin, or PCP.

Some common items that may be drug paraphernalia include:

  • Needles
  • Pill bottles or boxes, marked or unmarked
  • Rolling papers, cigar papers
  • Razor blades
  • Short pieces of straw
  • Glass pipes of all shapes and sizes
  • Bongs
  • Pills of any kind
  • Small plastic baggies
  • Burnt spoons
  • Collections of items that can indicate a drug use kit

What is Enabling Behavior?

Enabling behaviors include any behaviors that make it easier for the addicted person to continue actively using drugs and alcohol. For example, parents of an addicted teenager may inadvertently enable her by:

  • Talking to a teacher to get the child more time to complete an assignment when they are late due to an inability to manage their time due to drug use
  • Hiring a high-powered lawyer to help them out of legal problems caused by making poor choices related to drug use or while under the influence
  • Creating boundaries that forbid drug and alcohol use but not following through on consequences when the teen crosses those boundaries
  • Making allowances for their behavior or otherwise shielding them from the consequences of their drug and alcohol abuse

Anything that the parent does to protect the child from experiencing the effects of their drug use is considered an enabling behavior because it allows them to continue using without the need to deal with the consequences that may help them to realize that their drug use and abuse are harming their life.

How Do You Get a Loved One into Treatment?

For parents and legal guardians, the process of getting an addicted teenager into treatment is far simpler than enrolling a resistant legal adult into rehab. While a formal intervention is not necessary, it can be extremely helpful down the road. Forcing a child into treatment aggressively does not set the stage for a therapeutic and healing experience; however, taking the time to talk to him about the nature of his addiction, its status as a medical disorder, and the benefits that can be gained from treatment can be helpful. In addition, outlining what your teen can expect when they go to treatment can help to relieve some of the anxiety and anger that they may feel and help them to more quickly get into a mindset that is more open and accepting to the possibilities that lay ahead.

What Can Family Members Do After a Loved One Graduates Treatment?

Celebrate! This is a huge accomplishment for them, and they will likely feel proud, excited, and a little bit nervous about returning home after a time of focusing solely on their recovery. Family members are encouraged to:

  • Expect changes. Your loved one will be different than before they entered treatment, but they will not be exactly like they were prior to active drug and alcohol use. Be open to these changes and avoid judgment. Your teen will likely continue to change for the next year – or longer – after they return home and become more comfortable in their recovery.
  • Let go of outcome. You cannot control whether or not your teen relapses or returns to active drug use. You can provide guidance, support, boundaries, and an ongoing connection with treatment services, but at the end of the day, the choice to stay sober is solely your child’s choice.
  • Create a support system. Just like your recovering teen will benefit from regularly spending time with other teens who are also in recovery, you too will benefit from connecting with other parents and family members of addicts in recovery.
  • Learn how to avoid enabling behaviors. Sometimes the most well-intended actions can be triggering to a young person in early recovery. Learning about potentially enabling behaviors and how to avoid them can help you to be a benefit to your teen as they seek to find balance in life without drugs and alcohol.

How Can I Finance My Teen’s Treatment?

A teen drug rehab that offers all the resources necessary to help your child overcome drug abuse and dependence comes with a price tag, but the good news is that there are a number of resources that can help you to cover the cost. These include:

  • Health insurance: The changes to health insurance regulations over the past few years have meant that families now have an easier time getting detox and addiction treatment services covered all or in part by their health insurance provider. Check with your provider to find out which services are covered and secure authorization prior to enrollment in order to better ascertain your out-of-pocket costs in advance.
  • Rearranging investments: Families that have money invested in a vacation home, boat, or recreational vehicle, or savings allocated for vacation or even college, may find that it makes sense to liquidate those items in order to fund the cost of treatment.
  • Borrowing from family members: Other family members may be willing to help you cover the cost of treatment. If repayment is an issue, you can draw up a contract to help clarify repayment terms.
  • Financing: It’s not difficult to secure financing for the remainder of the costs of treatment. Most families will not have a problem borrowing the money they need with a payment plan that makes sense for their budgets.

Will My Insurance Cover My Teen’s Recovery?

Health insurance providers are required by federal mandate to offer coverage for substance abuse treatment services as easily as for other medical conditions. The specifics, however, are often a little hazy. Some providers may require attendance at an outpatient treatment program first and/or documentation that inpatient care or certain services are medically necessary. Discuss your options with your health insurance company as well as your doctor to determine how best to approach the request for authorization of needed services.

Drugs and Teen Brain Development

Teen brain efficiency is negatively impacted by any use or abuse of drugs or alcohol. Attention span, memory, problem-solving skills, and cognitive function all suffer when teen drug abuse is an issue.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that six behaviors may indicate an increased risk of death or disability among young adults: risk-taking behaviors, unprotected sex, substance abuse, tobacco use, unhealthy food choices, and low levels of physical activity.

An estimated 64 percent of high school seniors say that they do not think that regular use of marijuana is a harmful choice even though regular marijuana use during the teen years has been shown to cause a loss of up to eight IQ points. Additionally, 6.5 percent of high school seniors report daily use of the drug.

Teen Drug Abuse Facts and Statistics

Alcohol is the most commonly abuse substance among American teens, followed by marijuana and tobacco.

In 2014, an estimated 9 percent of eighth graders, more than 23 percent of high school sophomores, and more than 37 percent of high school seniors reported drinking alcohol in the past month. Also, more than 8 percent of 8th graders, more than 18 percent of 10th graders, and more than 23 percent of 12th graders reported past-month use of illicit drugs.

About 52 million people over the age of 12 in the United States report having abused prescription drugs without a prescription at some point in their lives.

About 70 percent of teens who report non-medical use of prescription drugs also report combining their prescription drug abuse with abuse of other substances. Prescription drug-using teens were eight times more likely to abuse marijuana and four times more likely to report getting drunk more than 10 times. After marijuana and alcohol, the most common drug of abuse in combination with prescription pills was cocaine, followed by tranquilizers and amphetamines.

About 11 percent of 12th graders reported use of synthetic marijuana in the past year in 2012. In 2010, more than 11,000 trips to the emergency room were caused by use of these substances; about 75 percent of patients were between the ages of 12 and 29.

Young people who abuse drugs and/or alcohol experience higher rates of early death caused by homicide, suicide, illness, or accident.

In 2012, more than 32 million people reported getting behind the wheel of a car after using drugs or alcohol, and the highest incidence was found in those between the ages of 18 and 25.

Drug and alcohol abuse is associated with a higher risk for contraction of HIV. About 33 percent of HIV-positive Americans are active binge drinkers or drug users. Additionally, drug and alcohol abuse is associated with higher rates of unprotected sex, and sexual contact is the cause of 88 percent of HIV cases.

How to Be a Positive Role Model for Your Teen

One of the best things you can do for your child to help him avoid the pitfalls of drug and alcohol experimentation and the development of substance abuse and addiction is to be a good example. You can do this by:

  • Avoiding excessive alcohol use for any reason: There’s no reason why you can’t have a glass of wine with dinner or enjoy a beer on the weekend when your children are around, but it’s important to demonstrate extreme moderation. Limiting the amount you drink, and not drinking often or to excess, will help your words sound less hollow when you tell your kids that they should avoid alcohol completely until they are of legal age.
  • Avoiding any drug use: Drug use and abuse are illegal, and if you expect your teen to avoid drinking because it’s not legal for him to do so, then you need to follow the law regarding other controlled substances as well. If marijuana is legal where you live, it is important to significantly limit use of the drug around your teen.
  • Managing prescription medications safely: If you are prescribed prescription painkillers, sedatives, or stimulant drugs for any purpose, make sure to manage them safely. Store them out of the reach of teens (e.g., do not store them in easily accessed locations in your bathroom medicine cabinet or bedside table), and if you find yourself with extra pills, dispose of them safely at a drug take-back location. Similarly, if your teen is prescribed addictive drugs for any reason (e.g., prescription stimulants for the treatment of ADHD) then make sure to manage those pills yourself to ensure they are not being abused; do not give your teen open access to their medication.
  • Utilizing healthy coping mechanisms: Rather than turning to a drink when you are stressed out, struggling with anger, or looking for a way to celebrate, demonstrate to your kids that there are better ways to cope by making healthier choices. Address stress with good sleep, regular exercise, yoga, or massage. Handle anger by taking a deep breath, talking things out calmly, and coming up with possible solutions. Celebrate with your favorite family activity.
  • Talking to your teen about why people abuse drugs and alcohol: Pretending that drug and alcohol use brings nothing but doom and gloom is dishonest. There is a reason that people abuse substances: it can help them to feel happy when they are otherwise unable to make themselves happy. Explain to your kids how drugs and alcohol trigger the pleasure pathway and create a high – the first few times. But also explain how continued use can lead to illness and making choices that make the person look bad, harm the person or others, or feel terrible – and that if use continues, addiction can develop, which can lead to a ton of negative consequences, including increased rates of accident, disease, death, and lower quality of life in general.
  • Checking in with him frequently about his viewpoints on drugs and/or alcohol: Being a good role model also means being a communicative parent. Talk to your teen about their views on drugs and alcohol, if their friends are using these substances, and how your teen feels when they see their friends drink or get high. Is your teen scared? Jealous? Disgusted? Find out, and keep checking in. If these feelings change, let them know they can talk to you.

Peer Pressure, Experimentation, and Good Decisions: Talk to Your Teen

Talking to your teen about drug and alcohol abuse doesn’t have to be a formal conversation, but it also isn’t something that should happen just once. Not sure how to go about connecting with your child on the topic of drug and alcohol abuse? Here are a few tips:

  • Take advantage of any natural openings. If there’s a scene in a movie where someone is drinking and behaving badly, if someone at a family or neighbor party over imbibes, or if there is a story on the news about someone getting into an accident after drugged driving, talk to your teen about it. Ask them what they think and give them some perspective that highlights how addiction is a disease, but that it is not a disease you can develop unless you begin drinking or using drugs.
  • Ask about your teens’ friends and peers. Find out what your teen’s friends are doing. Ask your teen if they see people at school selling drugs, drinking or getting high, or if they’ve ever tried any mind-altering substances. Asking questions can give you some insight into your teen’s personal views on the subject of drug and alcohol abuse and can help you to determine whether or not you need to pay a little closer attention to their habits to identify possible substance abuse.
  • Create boundaries and consequences. During the teen years, it’s important to give your child some freedoms and the opportunity to earn your trust and test their independence. However, they will need strong guidelines and boundaries about what is okay and what isn’t when it comes to drug and alcohol abuse. The best policy is to require total abstinence from use of all substances, and to make it clear that they should never get in the car with someone who has had even one drink or a hit off a joint. Additionally, should your teen cross those boundaries and drink or get high anyway, implement consequences.
  • Offer a “get out of jail free” card. If your teen’s ride home drinks or gets high, make sure that they know they can always call you to come get them. Make it clear that they will never get into trouble for making this choice and that there is absolutely no acceptable reason to get into the car with someone who has been drinking or using drugs.
  • Don’t get too detailed about your personal drug abuse history. If you drank heavily in college or spent your 20s experimenting with different substances, don’t get too detailed with your own experience with substance abuse. You may inadvertently send the message that you safely navigated drug and alcohol use, so it must be safer than you believe, giving your child the impression that your anti-substance abuse stance is disingenuous or unnecessary.
  • Discuss your addiction history if your teen is aware of it. If you have struggled with drug addiction in the past and your teen is aware of that fact, then it will likely come up and you should be somewhat candid. Avoid glorifying your life in active addiction, and make it clear that it is nothing you would wish on your teen.

Find out more about teen drug and alcohol abuse as well as treatment services that can help your child if he or she is struggling with substance abuse or dependence. Contact Next Generation Village to start your teen on their road to recovery today.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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