The hallways of most public schools are filled with posters outlining the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. Kids who watch Saturday morning cartoons may see dozens of commercials encouraging them to say no to drugs and alcohol. And most parents talk to their children on an ongoing basis about why experimenting with drugs and alcohol is dangerous.
With anti-drug messages on so many fronts, it’s easy to believe that teens would never choose substance abuse of any kind. Although overall teen drug use is at historic lows, there are still young people choosing to use and abuse drugs and alcohol.
Current statistics from the most recent Monitoring the Future Survey, which focuses on the drug use and attitudes towards drugs of 8th, 10th and 12th grade students in schools across the country, indicate the following:
- 8th Graders- 5.8 percent used illicit drugs other than marijuana
- 10th Graders- 9.4 percent used illicit drugs other than marijuana
- 12th Graders- 13.3 percent used illicit drugs other than marijuana1
These numbers are down from the peak rates reported in 2001. Considering that many teens are still using drugs in spite of negative consequences, the need for drug intervention among young people is more important than ever.
ADDICTION AND THE TEEN BRAIN
Addiction is a particularly serious problem during adolescence due to ongoing changes. According to the National Institutes of Health, portions of the brain that regulate impulse control and decision-making are still in development until age 25. This means that teens are simply unable to make decisions based on long-term consequences, rather than immediate rewards.2
Teens who abuse drugs do further damage to this portion of the brain, making it even less likely that they’ll be able to see the rewards of living a sober lifestyle.
If the addiction is a bit like a train, running down the track at full speed, an intervention is a bit like the braking system. In a series of conversations, moving from spontaneous to structured, the family works with the teen to bring the issue to light and help him or her stop the abuse before more damage occurs.
TEEN ADDICTION AND THE FAMILY
If your teen is struggling with addiction, she may try and push you away. It’s common for teens to shout out hurtful phrases like, “I don’t care what you think!” or “Who are you to tell me what to do?” Often, underneath the bluster, is a child who desperately wants and needs the help that loving parents can provide. No matter what your teen might say in the heat of the moment, she does listen to you. Parents are still the biggest influencers in their children’s lives when it comes to alcohol and drug use.3
During the course of addiction, teens can do a significant amount of damage to the structure of the family. Curse and shout
Teens who have just begun to experiment with drugs and alcohol, or teens who have stellar relationships with their parents that have not yet been eroded by substance abuse, may be able to curb their use through short conversations. Even though these conversations may feel much more informal and impromptu than formal interventions. It’s still important to plan for these conversations, determining exactly what you will say and how you will respond if your teen becomes angry, defensive or both.
According to the Partnership for Drug Free Kids, parents can take these steps to prepare:
- Talk with your spouse or partner – There’s no room for turning one parent against the other when having a conversation about your teen’s drug use. Remind each other that no one is to blame and present a united front.
- Prepare to be called a hypocrite – Teens automatically want to turn the focus off of themselves and back on their parents. Don’t fall for it. If you tried drugs as a teen, be honest, but keep the conversation about what’s happening now and what needs to change.
- Gather evidence – It may seem an invasion of privacy to search your child’s room or personal things. But potentially stopping addiction before it gets out of control and potentially saving your child’s life is more important. Common hiding places for drugs include dresser drawers, between clothes, desk drawers, small boxes, backpacks/duffle bags, and under the bed.
- Set a realistic goal – Having realistic expectation and a plan going forward increases the chances of a successful conversation about stopping the drug use and getting help. Small goals are easier to reach, so come up with a plan that is attainable for your teen, and celebrate every success.
- Recognize addiction in the family – Denying addiction in your other family members will only make things worse. If there is a history of addiction in your family, use that as an example of how bad things can get and why things must change. A history of addiction can also help explain to your teen why it’s so hard and so important to say “no.”4
Parents can also allow the teens to ask for help with the addiction, in case the teen knows that quitting the abuse will be difficult or impossible without help. Teens who disclose this need during the conversation should go to an addiction counselor that same day, or as soon as possible.
THE NEED FOR INTERVENTION
Parents who hold short conversations about addiction and still see no change in the teen’s behavior may need to employ a more dramatic approach and schedule a formal intervention with the help of an interventionist. Interventions are deeply structured conversations that come after a significant amount of practice and are designed to help break through a teen’s denial and get him into treatment.
The interventionist might begin the planning stages by asking the parents to pull together an intervention team. While parents, siblings and grandparents might be obvious choices, there might be good reasons to include members of the teen’s peer group. Families that include the teen’s close friends who do not use drugs may find that the intervention is slightly more effective. The intervention team then meets with the interventionist to develop a script for the intervention and rehearse.
Some interventionists ask family members to write letters about how the addiction has impacted them and read these letters out loud during the intervention. Other interventionists use a less formal approach, but they still require the family to pull together notes on cue cards, so they will not veer off script when emotions run high.
The intervention should be held at a time when the teen is unlikely to be under the influence. Some interventionists recommend holding the intervention in a place that is slightly unfamiliar. This prevents the teen from hiding in his bedroom or other area in the house. Holding the talk in an office, a church basement or a neighbor’s house might be an excellent idea.
As the intervention moves forward, the teen will be repeatedly asked to enter a rehabilitation program. As soon as the teen agrees to this idea, the intervention is over. If the teen walks out of the intervention and does not come back, the intervention is also over, but it might be rescheduled for another day. Perhaps on the second try, the teen will agree to get the needed help.
FINDING HELP FOR INTERVENTION
As mentioned, at the end of an intervention the teen needs to enter a formal treatment program for addiction. A professional interventionist can help the family to find the right program. If you’d like help staging an intervention for your teen family member, contact us. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to take your call.
1 National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Monitoring the Future Survey: High School and Youth Trends.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIDA, Dec. 2017.
2 “Risky Business.” National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 29 June 2017.
3 Mientka, Matthew. “Parents Influence Teenagers’ Drug And Alcohol Use More Than They Think.” Medical Daily, Oct. 2018.
4 “Prepare to Take Action If You Suspect Teen or Young Adult Drug Use.” Where Families Find Answers on Substance Use | Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, Oct. 2018.