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Reasons Parents Overlook Teen Drug Abuse

There are plenty of reasons parents may be tempted to ignore signs of teen drug or alcohol abuse. "Shame and stigma around addiction play a heavy role," says Kim Manlove. After their 16-year-old son died as a result of drug use, Manlove and his wife, Marissa, started a support group for other parents. "A lot of the parents we work with think they have failed as a parent if their child has a drug problem," says Manlove.

Many parents don’t raise the subject, thinking they don’t know enough about drugs. If this is the case, time at the library or on web sites such as can build the knowledge and confidence to start talking. Other parents dread their teenager’s response if they question possible drug use. Teen brains are uniquely primed to react to even the most innocent comments, even facial expressions, with explosive bursts of emotion.

For parents who avoid conflict, the promise of an emotional outburst may seem an impossible hurdle. "Teens are more comfortable being in opposition with their parents," says Swick.  But getting involved when you suspect teen drug or alcohol abuse is worth the discomfort. Parents who intervene early in teen drug or alcohol abuse can significantly reduce the possibility their child will become addicted.

When to Worry about Cough Medicine Abuse

Parents and teens tend to discount cough medicine abuse because it is legal and easy to purchase. That’s a mistake, says Pasierb. "Cough medicine is rarely a kid’s drug of choice…," he says. Once is enough for half of the kids who try it. "The teens who abuse cough medicine more than once are typically engaged in multiple forms of drug abuse," Pasierb tells WebMD.

Chances are, if you see any signs of teen drug or alcohol abuse, your child has moved beyond simple experimentation. "By the time parents see signs, it’s usually the tip of the iceberg," says Manlove. Your child may play it down but if you find empty bottles or drug paraphernalia in his things, there is a strong possibility that not only is he using, he’s losing control of the ability to hide it from you.

The Role and Power of Parents

You cannot control every aspect of your child’s life, especially as she enters the teen years, but you do play an important role. In a survey of more than 2,000 teenagers and 450 parents, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) found that teens with strong ties to their parents were less likely to use drugs or alcohol.

Respecting your role as your child’s protector might help you work through the privacy question. "Any substance use is a risk to your child’s health," says Pasierb. "If parents are trying to understand the threat of drug or alcohol abuse to their child’s health, and they have a strong suspicion, it makes sense to look into it."

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1 in 10 teens abuse cough medicine. It's dangerous, even deadly. Is your teen in danger?

Click here to watch video: Cough Syrup Drug Abuse