Are You Worried That Your Teen May Have An Alcohol Or Drug Abuse Problem?

Are you concerned that your teenager may be abusing drugs or alcohol? Has he or she been breaking curfew, dodging your attempts at communication or returned home inebriated? Have you noticed a slip in grades, a change of friends or found a substance on their person or in their room? Does your child seem increasingly irritable, aggressive, defiant or withdrawn? Has there been a recent life transition that your child experienced difficulty adjusting to, such as a divorce or change of school? If you’ve been able to discuss the issue with your teen, have your concerns been blown off? Alternatively, has something happened as a result of your teen’s use that has caused him or her to express feeling out of control with their substance use? Do you wonder what happened to make your child want to use drugs or alcohol or wonder if you’ve done something wrong?

The teen years are the time when our children figure out how to be adults. They are learning who they are and how to relate with others. Working out personal identity and social development issues are what defines the teenage experience. And, it’s not easy. Most teens will push boundaries, seek out new relationships and put distance between themselves and their parents. Many teenagers will experiment – to some degree – with some kind of substance. While some will try a drug, such as marijuana, or have a few beers or wine, others won’t stop there. For some teens, normal experimentation will progress into regular use and even abuse.

When Use Becomes Abuse

While it’s common for teens to experiment with drugs or alcohol, some teenagers take normal experimentation into the realm of regular use and/or abuse. Teens with a family history of addiction or mood disorders or who have recently experienced a loss, trauma or a major life transition may be at increased risk. An experienced and highly trained BPS therapist can help determine how severe your child’s problem is and recommend the appropriate course of action.  If your child is abusing a substance, getting help now can be critical. Addressing substance abuse during the formative teenage years, can prevent unhealthy coping mechanisms and patterns from becoming entrenched and leading to life-long, destructive behaviors.

Therapy Can Be Very Effective In Treating Teenage Substance Abuse

With early intervention and appropriate support, treating teen drug abuse or alcohol abuse can be very effective. Your BPS therapist can help your teen identify, address and take responsibility for his or her cycle of use. You teenager will learn what triggers his or her use and learn refusal skills. Your teen will also receive an education about what drugs and alcohol do to the body. Research shows us that educating teens about how long-term or extreme use affects the body has the greatest impact on a teen’s decision to curve or stop use. In tandem with the use and educational components, your therapist can also help your child work on bettering his or her emotional awareness and develop better coping and interpersonal skills. Your teen can learn how to handle conflict – both internal and external – in healthier ways. And, he or she can develop skills to communicate more effectively with others, including you.

If conflict is high at home, your therapist may suggest that you work with your teen in a family therapy setting. A family therapist can help you and your teen create agreements, which can be an extremely useful strategy to break out of the power struggles that are likely occurring within your relationship. Co-creating agreements can defuse patterns of conflict and empower your teen to make better decisions. A family therapist can also offer you support and guidance as you learn how to create and enforce boundaries and communicate with your child in more effective ways.

With help, your teen can become better equipped to bump up against the uncertainties of identity and social development that define the adolescent experience. He or she can learn ways to cope with complex emotions that do not include drug or alcohol use.  Learning how to communicate and cope effectively now can set your teen up for success as he or she enters adulthood and is charged with making decisions in the greater world.

But, you still may have questions or concerns…

My child doesn’t think that he or she has a problem.

While your child may contend that he or she doesn’t have a problem, if YOU think that there’s a problem, it’s probably time for some sort of intervention. Experience shows us that teens drastically under-report use, and your child may be using far more than you’re aware. If your teen is using regularly, he or she is also putting him or herself at risk while under the influence and increasing the likelihood of developing a life-long problem.

Your BPS therapist is trained and experienced to work with teens who have substance abuse issues – even if your teen continues to deny that a problem exists. Once your teen learns that what he or she says in therapy is confidential and trust is established between your teen and therapist, “real” conversations can occur. Your teen can talk about his or her use, risky behaviors and the long-term effects of drugs and alcohol with a trained adult in a nonthreatening way. With this increased awareness around use, abuse and related problem behaviors can truly be examined.

My teen is absolutely refusing to go to therapy.

It’s really hard to know what to do when a teen needs and refuses help. Involving your child in the process – giving him or her the power to choose the therapist – can be an effective approach to introducing the idea of therapy. You can tell your child that he or she is going to therapy – not negotiable – but offer him or her the opportunity to interview and select a therapist.

If your teen’s refusal continues, you may want to seek parenting advice from a family therapist. Family therapists are trained to offer parental guidance and support. They can help you navigate difficult barriers – such as your teen’s refusal for help – and strategize different and more effective ways for you to communicate with your teen.

It’s also important to note that an adamant refusal for therapy may be indicative of a deeper problem and a higher level of intervention. A family therapy can also help you make this determination.

I think that my teenager needs some expert help, but I’m not sure we can afford it right now.

This is your child’s life and wellbeing. Addressing your teen’s substance abuse and related, risky behaviors now may prevent a host of life-long problems and patterns from occurring as he or she leaves your home and enters adulthood. The investment in your teen’s emotional and physical health through therapy may not only address his or her cycle of use, but also keep the related problem behaviors from getting worse. Teens with substance abuse issues are at increased risk of getting in trouble with the law and/or becoming involved in dangerous situations. An investment in therapy now can help prevent these destructive behaviors and unhealthy coping mechanisms from becoming entrenched.

Many people come to BPS having worked with other therapists who were not trained to work specifically with teenage substance abuse issues or who they or their teen couldn’t relate with – which is a waste of time and money. At BPS, we’ll conduct a increase the likelihood of a good fit, BPS offers an online therapist directory and match you with a therapist who is trained and experienced in working with teens, abuse, and addiction and whose personality is a good match for you and your child. Once you find that good match, making a commitment to your child, yourself and your family may be one of the most valuable investments there is. Imagine your child learning how to live a healthy and productive life without abusing drugs or alcohol and ask yourself what that’s worth.

If money still is an issue, you can talk with your BPS therapist to see if they work on a sliding scale. They may also be able to help you find a community resource to help offset cost.

To increase the likelihood of a good fit, BPS offers an online therapist directory which will help you to determine what your teenager’s specific issues are and ensure a good match between you, your teen and a BPS therapist in terms of personality, style and expertise.

Check out our free, online therapist directory, which will match you and your child with a therapist who has expertise working with teenagers and substance abuse.

BPS therapist Kat Austin, LPC, LAC helped create the content for this page. Kat is a licensed professional counselor as well as a highly experienced licensed addiction counselor. She has been working with teenagers with substance abuse issues and related problem behaviors since 2000.