Teenage Drug Abuse–Risk Factors
Teenage drug abuse is an enormous problem. Protecting your teen from drugs involves looking at the risk factors (those things that make a person more likely to use drugs), analyzing those, and then implementing protective factors (to minimize the person’s risk for using drugs.)There are no guarantees. However, research tells us that we can increase the odds for success if we strengthen the protective factors and modify the risk factors (if possible) of teenage drug abuse. The more protective factors you can add (or strengthen), the greater your odds for success. The following list of risk factors and protective factors come from over 500 journal articles.
- The first and most important risk factor for teenage drug abuse is heredity—blood relatives who have a drinking or drug problem increase your risk for addiction by four times. At this point in time, we can’t change our genetic makeup. However, we can strengthen the protective factor through total and complete abstinence from drugs and alcohol. It’s important that parents model and teach abstinence to prevent teenage drug abuse.
- Research tells us that a poor parent-child relationship is a huge risk factor for teenage drug abuse. This means that the teen has a poor relationship with one or both parents—either through conflict, inconsistent or severe punishment, abandonment, neglect, etc. Parents may disagree on parenting techniques, leaving the teen in a vulnerable position. Although you may have little control over what the other parent does, you do have control over what you do. It’s really important that a positive relationship exists between teen and parent(s)–lots of open, honest communication, discussion of feelings, love expressed and received. Consistent, loving parenting skills that are agreed upon and practiced by BOTH parents. If this is not possible, you will want to enlist other family members, or neighbors, or some community group to help establish a strong relationship with your teen.
- Conditional love on the part of the parents is another risk factor. (I will only love you if…..) This is usually unspoken, but assumed by the teen. So, the protective factor against teenage drug abuse for this one would be unconditional love (I will always love you no matter what.) This DOESN’T mean that the parent neglects to set limits on poor behavior. Establishment of appropriate consequences is an expression of love. “I love you AND I’m not willing to loan you the family car tonight because of what happened last night.”
- Another risk factor for teenage drug abuse is parenting with unreasonably high, unrealistic expectations, which causes the teen to feel, “I’m not good enough.” The protective factor, then, is for parents and teens to learn to communicate well and to negotiate in establishing mutually acceptable goals and expectations.
- A low self esteem–on the part of the teen OR the parent can contribute to drug abuse problems in the teen. The protective factor, then, is for parents to not only help build the teen’s self esteem, but also to work on raising their own self esteem.
- Teenage drug abuse also occurs when depression, anxiety, panic disorder, or a trauma history occur in either the teen or the parent. So, it’s very important for the parent to treat the depression, anxiety or other mental health issues. This will help to protect against teenage drug abuse.
- Another big risk factor for teenage drug abuse is poor academic performance. So, poor grades, school truancy, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder are all issues that need to be addressed. Teens and parents need to work to solve school and/or motivation problems—seek tutoring, counseling, medication, resolutions of behavioral problems, and better supervision in attending school.
- The existence of other problems in the family–marital problems, divorce, illness, another problem child– can be an important risk factor for teenage drug abuse. Parents need to work hard to solve problems that could be affecting their children. Although this can be very challenging. Every effort that the parents make to solve the problems can have a positive impact on the teen.
- Research tells us that another risk factor for teenage drug abuse is the absence of religious or spiritual values in the family. Parents can reduce the risk of teenage drug abuse by teaching values, attending a religious or spiritual group, and most importantly, practicing what they preach. If they don’t practice what they preach, they’re causing harm.
- The teen’s need for risk-taking behaviors can be a risk factor. Certain personality types absolutely require excitement and adventure in order to feel happy and fulfilled in life. So, recognizing that, parents can involve their teen in sports and activities that feel adventurous to the teenager.
- An addictive pattern in one or both parents can be an environmental risk factor for teens. This may be the parent’s overinvolvement with alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, carbohydrates, prescription drugs, work, pornography, gambling, or any other behavior that has life-damaging consequences. Parents can and should seek help for their own addictions and practice what they preach. Remember, children learn what they live. As the children see that their parents are happier and healthier, they’re less likely to turn to addictions as an escape from the stresses in life.
- “Hanging out” with the friends who are abusing drugs or alcohol contributes to teen substance abuse problems. Although parents often feel powerless in this area, there are many things that parents can do to create a positive and loving relationships in the family. In addition to sufficient parental supervision and monitoring family activity time together, parents can consult with professionals on how to improve family relationships so that the family reduces the possibility of teenage drug abuse.
- Early cigarette use is highly correlated with teen substance abuse problems. Parents should quit smoking themselves. In addition, parents can promote awareness of the hazards of cigarette smoking to their entire family.
- Parents are often surprised to know that poor impulse control on the part of a parent can predispose a teen to drug abuse. If you as a parent are prone to road rage, tantrums, yelling, impulsive life-damaging decisions, then you’re more likely to be faced with teenage drug abuse in your family. It’s important for parents to get help for their impulse control issues. Contact a counselor for counseling or anger management classes.
- Another risk factor for teenage drug abuse is poor social skills. The teenager feels inadequate socially, and doesn’t know how to make friends easily. Parents can do a great deal in teaching social skills. There are books, courses, teachers, and neighbors who can help you with this important set of skills.
- Passive parenting is also a problem. This means that the teens are raising themselves with little supervision. It’s important for parents to learn how to provide structure and supervision in the family.
- A lack of quality time spent together doing activities as a family contributes to teenage drug abuse. Parents can unplug the television, restrict use of telephones, insist on spending time together doing family activities. The parent can pick an activity (20 to 40 minutes) one night and have the teen pick the activity the next night.
- The risk factor of conflict–arguing, fighting, hitting, punching, power struggles–is often difficult for parents to address. But, it’s important to reduce the conflict in the family, engage in family counseling to learn new skills to reduce the possibility of teenage drug abuse.
- Enabling is another risk factor for teenage drug abuse. This means that one or more family members does not enforce consequences for rules that have been broken. This person, the enabler, is making it easier for the teen to abuse drugs. Al Anon, a sister organization to Alcoholics Anonymous, is free and available for anyone. This, or counseling, can help the person to stop enabling.
- A lack of parental supervision contributes to teen substance abuse. No matter what the cause is for this problem, it needs to be addressed. Parents can learn to solve this problem so that they are more actively involved in their teen’s life. If no extended family members can help, there are community resources that should be engaged.
Many of these problems may seem overwhelming, yet by focusing on solutions, you can minimize the risk of teenage drug abuse. For more information, or to get in touch with us, please visit our website at: http://www.resolutionsutah.com
Copyright © 2009 Kathie Keeler, All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced, stored, or transferred by any print or electronic means without the express written consent of the copyright owner.