The number of teens who abuse tobacco, alcohol, drugs and other substances hasn’t changed much in the past couple of decades, but for those who are prone to addiction for one reason or another, the menu of substances to choose from is larger than ever.

Parents need to educate themselves

Parents have to educate themselves about more than simply cigarettes, weed and other street drugs. These days, those who fall into addiction can do so using cough syrup, alcoholic energy drinks or family members’ prescription medications. Creatively-named concoctions such as “K2” or “Spice” and bath salts with appealing monikers like “Ivory Snow” continue to surface.

“You push down one drug and then another comes up,” says William Milchak, an addictions counsellor at Penn State Hershey.

Teens don’t need a drug dealer to get their fix

Social media and access to the Internet for drug purchases might have something to do with that. Instead of meeting a drug dealer on a shady street corner, teens are getting their fix from the home medicine cabinet, the corner drugstore or online peddlers. “I think parents have to educate themselves about what these drugs are, how they come, who is using them and what to look for,” Milchak says.

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Signs that your teen could be involved in substance abuse

Experts agree that the following could be signs that a teen is involved in substance abuse:

  • Missing money or medications

  • Using mints, mouthwash and air freshener more than usual

  • Changes in appetite or sleep habits

  • A new set of friends

  • Problems at school (either with behaviour or academic performance)

  • Withdrawal from social activities

Trust your instincts

Of course, some of the signs could just be typical adolescent behaviour. The key, Milchak says, is for parents to trust their instincts. “You know your kid better than anyone. If you sense something is wrong, don’t just write it off, err on the side of safety and do the hard things.” Seeking help for your teen doesn’t mean you must be a bad parent.

The genetic link

Often, addictions have a genetic link. If someone in your family has (or has had) a problem with any type of substance abuse, your children are four to five times more likely to become addicted to something. Substance abuse might also be the result of underlying problems such as low self-esteem, depression or anxiety.

Control what is introduced to your teen

Studies have also shown that children introduced to addictive substances before age 18 or 21 are more likely to become addicted to something than those who don’t drink or try addictive substances until later in life. “Age is really important, as are genetics,” Milchak says. “That’s just the way it works.”

If you suspect that your teen is abusing any substance, call a school counsellor, paediatrician or any of a number of hotline numbers that can be found on the Internet.

Article source: Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center via Science Daily.