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What should you do if you find out that your teen is using alcohol, tobacco, or drugs?

If your teen is using alcohol, tobacco, or drugs, take it seriously. One of the most important things you can do is to talk openly with your teen about the problem. Urge him or her to do the same. Try not to use harsh, judging words. Be as supportive as you can during this time.

In most cases, a hostile, angry face-to-face meeting pushes your teen away from the family. If you don't know what to do or if you feel uncomfortable, ask for help from a pediatrician, psychologist, or psychiatrist.

The type of treatment your teen needs depends on the level of substance abuse. For example, if your teen has tried drugs or alcohol only a few times, talking openly with him or her about the problem may be all that you need to do. But if your teen has a substance abuse problem, then he or she needs to be seen by a doctor, a counselor, or both. If your teen is addicted to a drug or alcohol, he or she may need to have detoxification treatment or a treatment that replaces the substance with medicine. Medicine works best if it is combined with one-on-one or family counseling, or both.

Returning to substance abuse, called relapse, is common after treatment. It is not a failure on the part of your teen or the treatment program. Recovery from addiction is hard and takes time. Know that there may be setbacks that your teen will need to overcome one step at a time.

Can teen substance use and abuse be prevented?

To help prevent substance use:

  • Talk to your child early about what you expect in his or her behavior toward alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. If your teen thinks that you will allow substance use, he or she is more likely to try drugs or alcohol.
  • Keep your teen busy with meaningful activities, such as sports, church programs, or other groups.
  • Expect your teen to follow the household rules. Set reasonable consequences for behavior that needs to change, and consistently carry out the consequences.
  • Keep talking with your teen. Praise your teen for even the little things he or she does well.
  • Know your child's friends. Having friends who avoid cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs may be your teen's best protection from substance abuse.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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