The good news? Parents can also do a lot more than some realize to help protect teens from drugs or alcohol. One key is avoiding simple mistakes, like these 14 cited by addiction specialist Dr. Joseph Lee, a spokesman for the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and medical director the Hazelden Center for Youth and Family, an addiction treatment facility in Minneapolis.
Mistake: Failing to set expectationsTeens who know their parents disapprove of drug use are less likely to use - and vice versa. Dr. Lee says it's best to let your kids know how you feel about drugs before they hit their teenage years.
Mistake: Ignoring mental health issuesMore than two-thirds of young substance abusers suffer from mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, and eating disorders. As a rule, substance abuse and mental health issues come together in young people.
If your child undergoes an evaluation for drug abuse, make sure it includes a thorough mental health screening.
Mistake: Assuming experimentation is no big dealExperimentation doesn't necessarily lead to addiction, and some parents figure that there's nothing especially worrisome about a child trying drugs or alcohol. In fact, even dabbling in substance abuse can cause big problems, such as car accidents, sexual assault, and serious overdoses. It's not a normal rite of passage.
Mistake: Being dishonest about your drug useParents often feel uncomfortable discussing with their children their own experiences with drugs or alcohol. There's certainly no reason to wax nostalgic about the "glory days," but Dr. Lee recommends being honest if kids ask. "I am not aware of research indicating that an informed discussion with kids about your drug use leads to them to use drugs," he says.
Mistake: Blaming yourself (or your spouse)There's no such thing as a perfect parent, and there's no use in shouldering all the blame (or blaming your spouse) if a child has a drug or alcohol problem. Feeling guilty isn't just unpleasant, it can complicate substance abuse treatment - by dividing the family just when it's important to pull together as a team.
Don't ignore the past, Dr. Lee says, but keep your eyes on the present. If your child is involved in therapy, there will be ample time to make things right.
Mistake: Setting a bad exampleThink teens simply don't pay much attention to their parents? Research suggests otherwise. Model the kind of behavior you want from your teen.
Mistake: Being judgmentalBeing firm is one thing, but "laying down the law" in a moralistic way can close off lines of communication. Try not to be judgmental or to jump to conclusions. Do all you can to make your child feel comfortable about coming to you for help, if it's needed.
Mistake: Failing to consider risk factorsJust as obesity is a risk factor for diabetes, smoking is a risk factor for teen substance abuse. Other substance abuse risk factors include early aggressive or disruptive behaviors, depression, ADHD, and anxiety. If your child has any risk factors, get help.
Mistake: Confusing intelligence with maturityJust because a child is smart doesn't mean he/she is mature enough to have good judgment about drugs and alcohol. The brain region responsible for judgment - the prefrontal cortex - doesn't fully mature until a person is in his/her mid-20s.
Mistake: Not locking the medicine cabinetPrescription drug abuse is a huge problem in the U.S. The CDC says one in five teens experiments with prescription drugs at some point, and most teens obtain the drugs not from drug dealers or the Internet but from friends and family.
Be sure to keep track of all drugs in your home. If you no longer need pills, get rid of them. And pay attention to other substances around the house that have the potential for abuse, including solvents, aerosols, etc.
Mistake: Failing to consider family historyLike many diseases, addiction can run in families. If it runs heavily in yours, it might be a good idea to adopt a strict no-drinking policy in your home. For some families, it might be okay to let a teen have a sip of wine on a holiday occasion when others are drinking - but not all.
There are no hard and fast rules for what is acceptable for all families, Dr. Lee says. And a teen can develop a substance abuse problem even in the absence of any family history of addiction.