Parents: Are You Unknowingly Encouraging Substance Abuse?

No parent wants their children to use drugs or alcohol, yet they may be doing and saying things (or not saying them) which affect their children’s attitudes toward substances in surprising ways. Without realizing it, parents can be influencing their children toward a more accepting attitude about drugs and alcohol. Here are some pitfalls for all parents to consider.

1. Take a definite stand

Kids should know the family rules when it comes to drug and/or alcohol use. Parents should be very clear that using drugs or alcohol is a violation of the family rules. Communicating in any way that they expect their kids to experiment with substances definitely sends that message. A study in 2011 found that kids meet parental expectations when it comes to drinking and drug use. The more the parents expect children to experiment, the more likely children are to do so.

2. Don’t divulge all your personal history

New research with middle school children has found that when parents tell their kids about their own history of bad choices and the consequences they faced, the children’s attitudes become less anti-drug and alcohol. Parents may be well-intentioned in revealing how drinking or using drugs was a bad choice for them, but it seems to make kids less willing to take a firm anti-use position. What is much more effective, say researchers, is telling kids about a friend’s bad experience with drugs or alcohol and the resulting consequences.

3. Pay attention to your child’s stress

Kids, especially teenagers, face a lot of stress, much of it related to school. Seventy-five percent of teenagers say that school stress is behind drug use. Mental health issues like depression and anxiety also tend to increase the likelihood of substance use. While it is true teenagers are on an emotional roller coaster for a few years, parents should not ignore signs of emotional struggle. When divorce, death, relationships difficulties, family move or other stressors affect your teen deeply, it is important to keep communication open rather than wait for the phase to pass.

4. Be a proper role model

Parents have a great deal of influence during their child’s teen years even though they feel like they do not. Popular culture doesn’t send the right message to your kids when it comes to steering clear of drugs and alcohol. In fact, 47 percent of adolescents say that popular media (television, movies) depicts substance use as normal and acceptable. Parents need to monitor their own behavior on this issue. Don’t use alcohol or drugs yourself and never provide them for your kids or their friends.

5.  Promptly address a problem

If your child is using drugs or alcohol, you can’t afford to wait to do something about it. Act quickly and decisively to intervene and help them secure treatment for substance abuse. This protects your child from potential harm and shows them how seriously you take the issue of substance use.  It also demonstrates how much you care, a point you need to reinforce as often as possible.

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