Teenagers and Drugs and Alcohol-How much do You Really Know?
You have an open, honest relationship with your child. If there were drug or
alcohol use, or cigarette smoking going on, you would know it. You know you
You could be right. On the other hand, you could be very wrong. A recent study
showed that parents routinely underestimate their children's use of alcohol
and other drugs.
In the study, researchers asked 591adolescents (ages 12 to 17) about their
use of drugs and alcohol. After that, the researchers questioned at least one
parent of each adolescent about their knowledge of what their child was using.
Results showed that the parents did not have an accurate picture of the frequency
with which their children were using drugs. For example,
54.4 percent of the teenagers reported they had consumed at least one alcoholic
drink in their lifetime and 23.6 percent reporting they had been intoxicated.
But only 30.5 percent of parents thought their child had had a drink, and
only 8.2 percent thought their children had ever been intoxicated.
44 percent of the teenagers reported smoking cigarettes, but only 27 percent
of parents knew their children smoked.
23 percent of the teenagers said they had used marijuana, but only 13.2 percent
of their parents knew it.
8.5 percent of teenagers said they used drugs other than marijuana, and only
3.1 percent of the parents knew it.
One of the important points about this study is that parents of the younger
teenagers-the 12- and 13-year-olds-were the least likely to have a realistic
picture of what their children were up to. This is particularly worrisome because
research shows that the younger kids are when they start to use drugs and alcohol,
the more likely they are to develop addictions.
Know the warning signs
There's no guarantee that your child is using drugs or alcohol if these warning
signs are present. However, if they are present, it's important to pay attention
to them. Here are some of the common signs:
Having a best friend who uses drugs or alcohol
Taking up with new friends who avoid you
Being friends with older kids and young adults
Neglecting routine duties at home
Not caring for people and values that used to be important
Extreme mood swings
Keeping phone calls secret
Suddenly having expensive new things for unexplained reasons
What puts your child at risk?
Family history of drug use or alcoholism
Learning differences and failure early on in school
Difficult family situations
Behavioral problems before the teen years
Difficulty controlling him or herself
Where can you turn if you think drug or alcohol use is present?
Even if you think something's going on with drugs or alcohol, it's hard to
know what to do next. These are the people you could consider contacting for
help in taking the next step:
Your family doctor
Alcoholism or Drug Abuse Hot Line, or other services listed in the Yellow
Pages under "Drug Abuse"
Social worker, psychologist, drug counselor
Guidance counselor at your child's school
Priest, pastor, rabbi or similar person
Trusted friend or relative in a "helping" profession
Listen to your instincts
No parent wants to believe a child is using drugs or alcohol. And no parent
wants to believe their child isn't being completely open and honest. But teenagers
do not always tell their parents everything. That's hard to hear, but it's very
Very often, after parents do find out their child has been using drugs or alcohol,
they say that there were little signs here and there, but they didn't really
think much about them at the time. Those are the things you need to pay attention
to. When something happens that feels odd, doesn't ring true or seems out of
place, listen to what you say to yourself about it. Pay attention.
Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, October 2006; National Institute on Drug and Alcohol Abuse; NYU Child Study Center