Worry is common part of being a parent. We want our children to be happy, to succeed, to fit in, and most of all… we want them to be safe. Parents often anxiously anticipate the day their children will first learn about drugs or alcohol. Milestones, such as the day your children enter middle school, high school, or even college may bring up concerns about substance use.
While worry is a common emotion, it’s better to help counteract worry with solid information and open communication. Parents may fret about where a child may find drugs or alcohol, but sometimes these fears are directed at the wrong things.
We all know the stereotype of a dangerous and unsavory man, waiting in a dark alley, peddling dangerous substances to unsuspecting victims. Parents often discourage their children from potential bad people, unsavory peers, and strangers who seem dangerous. Unfortunately, this protective measure often only goes so far, because most young people are first introduced to drugs by other friends, family members such as cousins or siblings, or even through their own parents’ supply.
Most research agrees that adolescents are prone to drug and alcohol experimentation. It is important not to write this off as a normal part of growing up. Studies also show that people who try drugs at younger ages are more likely to later struggle with addiction. Because the human brain is not completely, fully formed until age 25, drug use at an early age can change the way that the brain operates. It’s simply best not to do any drugs at all, and even better not to take any substances before age 25.
Where Do Kids Find Drugs?
Like adults, children can find drugs and alcohol almost anywhere. It’s easy to forget how much children observe while living with us. Kids are clever, and their growing brains make them naturally curious. Some places that children may find dangerous substances include, but are not limited to, the following:
The Cabinet at Home: No one wants to suspect that their child would ever go through the medicine or liquor cabinet at home. Unfortunately, many young people access drugs in their own home. Old opioid painkillers may be left in the cabinet after an injury or illness. Cough syrups may linger around the house after the cold or flu have passed. The basement liquor cabinet that you suspect the children don’t know about may have been raided and sampled. You need to be comfortable in your own home, and you need to trust your children. It is possible trust your children, but also trust that they have very curious minds and do not readily understand the depths of danger associated with substance experimentation. Understand that even over-the-counter medications can be deadly.
Friends from School: Peer pressure is a very real phenomenon. Anyone over the age of 35 can recall the lure of peer pressure. Some adults still succumb to the pressure to fit in. Adolescents experience this pressure at an all-time high. Part of growing up involves a process of separation from parents and caregivers and a closer association and identification with peers. Furthermore, friends from school are all undergoing rapid changes in development and perhaps even personality. Well-meaning young friends may discover alcohol, smoking, or drugs, and eagerly want to share the experience with their peers. The friends who offer substances are often kind, well-meaning kids. When substances are offered to you by friends, they don’t seem so scary, and the chances of substance use increase.
The Homes of Friends and Family Members: Unlike the scary idea of procuring drugs from unknown dealers on the street, many people first find substances in the homes of trusted adults. It is difficult for young children to understand when good people use bad substances. Children and teens tend to think in all-or-nothing thinking, and they tend to assume that the substances must not be that bad if someone they love, trust, or look up to uses those substances.
The Internet: It’s true, you can buy anything on the internet. Parents must work diligently to understand the computer, because young people learn about technology faster than most adults. There are programs that can be downloaded into a computer that make that computer appear anonymous. Anonymous computers can order any type of substance, delivered right to your door. Check your mail, and inspect any suspicious deliveries that are sent to your child. Even magazines that are wrapped in plastic can contain sheets of LSD between the pages.
Preventing Substance Use in Kids
It’s impossible to keep your growing adolescent completely away from drugs, including alcohol and cigarettes. The best defense is prevention. Age-appropriate, honest conversation with your child about substance use dangers can begin at an early age. It’s important for your child to feel comfortable talking with you about substance use and substance dangers in a natural way. The more comfortable you are in talking about substance use prevention, the more comfortable your child will feel when he or she has pressing questions or concerns about peers or dangerous situations.
Avoid exaggerating claims about substance use danger. Kids can research drugs on the Internet, and many do. Conversations about substance abuse must be honest and include real-world examples. Check out websites with real stories of addiction and recovery, such as www.HeroesinRecovery.com and choose stories that stand out to you and are appropriate to read together. These real-life accounts can provide a sense of authenticity to the real dangers of substance use in a way that make sense.
Talk to your children about brain development. No one wants to make themselves less intelligent. Yet, substance use at an early age can dampen the brain’s natural developmental process. Use real data and examples to help your child learn more about his or her growing brain, and help that child understand that he or she can help that brain development by making healthy choices.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with substance use, we can help. Call our toll-free, completely confidential helpline to find out how we can support your family toward wellness.