Applied Psychology

Talking to Teens about Drugs and Substance Abuse

May 18, 2021 | By Saranne Durham
Talking to Teenagers about Drugs and Substance Abuse

Teen substance abuse in South Africa is an ever-growing concern. Children as young as 12 years old are starting to experiment with drug use and an increasing number of teenagers are regularly smoking marijuana.

While talking to kids about drugs can be difficult, it does make a positive impact. Research shows that those kids whose parents and caregivers persevere and chat to them about drugs on a regular basis, are 42% less likely to use drugs than those whose don’t have these conversations.

“Addiction is a life long battle that can be better prevented by starting a continuous dialogue with your teenager.”

Why Chat to Your Teen about Drugs and Substance Abuse?

Parents need to educate their kids about substance abuse, not their peers or media. They need to hear from their parents that teen drug and alcohol use is not condoned in their family. They need to learn from their parents about the consequences of drug and alcohol use. And, most importantly, they need to be held accountable for their actions in relation to drugs and alcohol use.

Did You know these 3 Drug Facts?

  1. Methamphetamine has a swiss cheese effect on the brain – parts of the brain are literally obliterated such that the brain can develop holes all over it
  2. Marijuana is seen to be a gate-way drug. This is because it is often equated to other drugs with more serious health risks and once tried creates doubt in a kid’s minds as to how “bad” other drugs really are
  3. Cocaine is a stimulant that can make users more alert and mentally astute as well as energetic, this means that it is often used as a work and study performance enhancer

What is Addiction?

Imbibing in something does not necessarily mean abuse or addiction. When using falls into one of these four categories, it can be deemed to be substance abuse and indicative of an addiction.

The 4 Categories of Substance Abuse and Addiction

  1. Drug Cycle: Physical signs of substance dependency are withdrawal symptoms (irritability, sweating, nausea…) when not using and an increasing tolerance when using i.e.: needing more of the substance to create the same high than when it was first used
  2. Social Problems: Relationship problems, challenges within school, work and home settings and/or withdrawing from social and spot activities to use the substance
  3. Impaired Control: Overwhelming urges to use, physical cravings, persistent thoughts on how and when to use again as well as an inability to cut down or stop despite wanting to
  4. Risky Use: Placing oneself in potentially dangerous situations or taking unnecessarily risks in order to get a fix are signs of addiction

“Not all people or drugs are created equal when it comes to addiction.”

Drug addiction, to a large extent, depends on the physiology and predisposition to addiction of an individual. However, something that is legal can be as addictive and destructive as an illegal substance. For example, nicotine is highly addictive as is heroin.

Five Factors that Influence the Addictive Nature of Drugs

  1. Intoxication: How much of the drug leads to physical or mental damage
  2. Reinforcement: The strength of the dopamine reward cycle from using the drug
  3. Tolerance: The ever-increasing amount needed to create the same high
  4. Dependence (mental and physical): How difficult it is to quit using it
  5. Withdrawal: How bad the symptoms are when someone stops using

10 Common Signs of Addiction

  1. Poor performance at work or school (including being late or absent)
  2. Social withdrawal
  3. Loss of motivation
  4. Lack of energy
  5. Risky behaviour, when intoxicated or to get intoxicated
  6. Stealing
  7. Lying and covering up in relation to use, getting substances and storing them
  8. Overspending on a substance, especially when it creates financial risk
  9. Neglecting outward appearance
  10. Neglecting physical health needs

How to Talk to Your Teen about Drugs and Substance Abuse

Consistency and honesty as well as follow through with regards to consequences, are important when it comes to the continuous conversation you need to have with your teenager about drugs and substance use. What needs to be conveyed is that you aren’t going to support a drug habit or enable a substance abuse to continue, but you are open to helping them travis this area of life with them and should they need it you will assist them.

Where to Start a Drug and Substance Abuse Conversation with Your Teen

1. Maintain an Unambiguous Stance

Using tobacco and alcohol before 18 and is illegal and harmful. You do not want o see them hurt or negatively impact their future

2. Consequences are Real

Decide upfront and convey what the punishment will be for drinking, smoking or drug use and how it will be implemented.

3. Speak to Emotions

Explain to your child how disappointed you will be with them should they break your rules. Research shows that the opinions of parents weigh heavily when a child is deciding to flout the rules.

4. Keep it Real

Teenagers tend to live in the moment. So, when talking about consequences, emphasis the present and immediate consequences of excessive drinking, smoking or drug use e.g.: impaired ability to function, loss of memory, embarrassing behaviour, hacking cough, stained teeth, bad breath and a pimply.

5. Don’t Scare, Unpack Reality

Don’t sugar coat the impact of taking drugs. Chemical addiction is a swift process that can lead to permanent damage to body and mind. Additionally, it is difficult to break free of a substance addiction and can result in a lifelong mental and physical struggle against cravings.

6. Do the Maths

Get out a calculator and calculate how much smoking adds up to over time. Equate it to saving towards buying something they want – a new piece of tech or even a plane ticket!

7. Acknowledge and Praise

Encourage your teen’s resolve in the face of peer-group pressure. Acknowledge that not following the herd takes courage. And explain that you are proud of them for sticking to their principles and your rules.

8. Seize the Teachable Moments

Pay attention to occasions that naturally present themselves to talk about substance use and abuse – don’t put it off rather use opportunities.

You may be well-suited to a career in counselling if helping people make positive life-choices is your thing. The South African College of Applied Psychology offers a wide range of counselling courses, including the Higher Certificate and the Diploma in Counselling. For more information, enquire now.

Previous post

Next post