Why do they start? What Should I Look For?
A major factor in drug use is peer pressure. Even teens who think they're above the influence of peer pressure can often find it hard to refuse trying drugs when they believe their popularity is at stake. Teens may feel that taking drugs or alcohol to fit in is safer than becoming a perceived social exile, and may not realize that their friends will not abandon them simply for refusing a joint or bottle of beer. A popular adage that is thrown around regarding peer pressure says if your friends would abandon you for not accepting an illegal substance, they're not "real" friends- but try telling this to a teenager. A more effective method is to acknowledge the pressure to fit in and work with your teen to find solutions to these problems before they arise. Suggest that your teen offer to be the designated driver at parties, and work with them to develop a strategy for other situations.
Even agreeing to back your teen up on a carefully crafted story can help enforce your bond with them- giving them the okay to tell their friends to blame you or that you give them random drug tests will go a long way. Knowing they have your support in such a sensitive subject can alleviate many of their fears, and knowing they can trust you helps instill the idea they can come to you with other problems. This is also an excellent time to remind them to never allow friends to drive under the influence and to never get into a car with someone under the influence. Reassure your teenager that if they should give in to peer pressure and become intoxicated or high, or if they have no sober ride home though they are sober themselves that it is always okay to call you for a ride home. Some parents may want to consider getting teens a cell phone for emergency use, or giving them an emergency credit card for cab fare.
Depression is another major factor in drug use. For more in depth information on teenage depression, please visit Sue Scheff™'s Teen Depression Resource. Despite the fact that many substances actually make depression worse, teenagers may be lured in by the initial high, which in theory is only replenished by more drugs. Thus begins the vicious cycle that becomes nearly impossible to break without costly rehabilitation. If you notice your teen is acting differently, it may be time to have a talk with them to address these changes. Remember- do not accuse your teen or criticize them. Drug use is a serious cry for help, and making them feel ashamed or embarrassed can make the problem worse. Some common behavior changes you may notice if your teen is abusing drugs and alcohol are:
Violent outbursts, disrespectful behavior
Poor or dropping grades
Unexplained weight loss or gain
Skin abrasions, track marks
Missing curfew, running away, truancy
Bloodshot eyes, distinct "skunky" odor on clothing and skin
Missing jewelry money
Depression, apathy, withdrawal