How Parents can Prevent Teenage Substance Abuse
How Parents can Prevent Teenage Substance Abuse

How Parents can Prevent Teenage Substance Abuse

How to Prevent Substance Abuse

"Isn't it even better news to hear that substance abuse it preventable?"


Great News

It's good news to hear that substance abuse is treatable. But it's great news to learn that it is preventable in the first place.

It's a miracle to find there is a national substance abuse helpline for teens who are in dire straits to get the help they need in an emergency. SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) has a national helpline (1-800-662-HELP).

But for those of us with youngsters and teens who have not yet used or abused substances available to them, isn't it a more of a godsend to find there is so much we can do to help prevent our loved ones from choosing to use any illicit substance from the get-go?

Helping Your Teen Avoid Drugs

"Teen drug abuse can have a major impact on your teen's life. Find out how to help your teen make healthy choices and avoid drug abuse."

Mayo Clinic Staff

Helping prevent teen drug abuse by talking to your teen about the consequences of using drugs and the importance of making healthy choices is a good first step, as early on as possible. And then keep talking to them...reminding them, checking in with them, reminding them, explaining more and more to them, reminding them, answering questions they have, and then reminding them again.

Many risk factors can contribute to your teen choosing to use and abuse substances: from basic insecurity to a desire for social acceptance. Teens often feel indestructible and might not consider the consequences of their actions, leading them to take dangerous risks — such as abusing legal or illegal drugs.1

The most common risk factors for teen drug use and abuse include:

  • A family history of substance abuse
  • A mental or behavioral health condition
  • Impulsive behavior
  • A history of traumatic events
  • And low self-esteem or feelings of social rejection.1

Things to Talk About 

You have to be the judge of the time to talk about drug use and abuse, but please know there is no time for not talking about it. It's better to have brought it up at the wrong time than not all.

Choose a time and a time when you won't be interrupted. Put away all phones, computers and music devices.phones. Then begin by assuring your teen you love matter what. Then consider any of the following  topics for discussion:

  • Ask him/her what they think about drugs, drug use, and drug abuse.
  • Talk about reasons to not use or abuse drugs. Ask him/her what they think.
  • Talk about what he/she sees on television or in movies, hears on the radio or in music, comes across on social media or online, picks up on from friends, etc..
  • Talk about ways to resist pressures of any kind to use drugs, tobacco or alcohol. Ask what ways could they do this.
  • Share your own experiences about how you did or ultimately didn't resist the call to use. Talk about the lessons you learned.1

Other Things Parents Need to Do

Know what your teens are up to, where, when and with whom. They won't like it, but you really have to know. They'll appreciate your nosiness later.

Establish clear and firm rules and consequences for home and away from home. Explain what's what, and make sure they totally understand.1

"My mom told me if she caught me using, she was going to take my butt to jail herself."


Know your children's friends. Know their families. Know about their drug history. And work to curb their influence.

Watch prescription drugs you bring into the house. Keep inventory. Note any miscounts or misplacements.

Encourage your kids to really "Just Say No!" and praise them when they do. Your support is more powerful than you realize.

Set a good visible example. Practice what you preach. They see what you do every step of the way.1

Be Vigilant About Looking for Red Flags

Besides keeping an eye out for "red flags," make sure your child knows that you are being super vigilant and why.

Be extra-vigilant about red flags, because your immediate intervention may be what turns the tide.

Note sudden changes in anything, including friends, habits, clothing, eating, sleeping, physical appearance, school performance, etc.

Keep track of instances of noticeable irresponsible behavior, poor judgment or loss of interest in things that were once enjoyed.

Observe rule-breaking wherever it may be.

And don't ignore medicine containers or drug paraphernalia in your child's room, hidden or in plain sight.1

When You See a Red Flag

When you come across a red flag, talk to your son or daughter asap. You can never intervene too early, but you can be too late. 

Encourage them to be honest. Be calm, but express your concern firmly. Be specific and work to verify any and all of your child's explanations.

And remember, focus on the behavior you don't want, not the person. They must always feel they are wanted. It's the behavior that's bad, not your child.

If Drugs Have Been Used

If your child admits to abusing drugs, let him or her know that you're disappointed and enforce the consequences you've established. But going forward, spend more time with your teen and keep an even closer eye on his or her whereabouts and activities. Check in regularly, ask questions when he or she gets home from an activity and reach out to other parents.

If you think your teen is involved to an even greater degree of drug use, call your doctor, your child's school counselor, and any other health care provider you may know or already be working with.

"It's never too soon to start talking to your teen about drug abuse. The conversations you have today can help your teen make healthy choices in the future."

Mayo Clinic Staff