By Carol Briggs, Clinical Intern

Monitoring the Future (MTF) is a yearly survey that measures drug and alcohol use and attitudes toward use among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders in the United States. The 2019 MTF surveyed 42,531 students from 396 public and private schools. While cigarette smoking and alcohol use have declined some over the years, vaping and marijuana use have increased significantly. The 2020 MTF’s data shows an increase in prescription drug use among 8th graders. The impact of COVID-19 on youth substance use is still being examined and the total effects of the pandemic on our youth remains to be understood.

When it comes to youth substance use, early intervention and prevention are essential. The earlier a young person has their first experience with substance use, the more likely they are to develop a substance use disorder in later years. Some parents might believe their child’s substance use is an isolated incident or that they are just “experimenting”. Parents need to examine and reflect on their own values and beliefs surrounding substance use. It’s important to acknowledge that some families have different expectations around substance use. No matter how a family views alcohol and drug use, when parents discuss the expectations, values, consequences, and dangers with children, it can play a big part in how youth think about substances.

Current brain science shows that our brains aren’t fully developed until age 25. Not only does substance use impact cognitive development in youth, but it also influences other important developmental milestones.

Academic – Substance use can impact academic progress including attendance, grades, graduation, energy levels, and interest in extracurricular activities.

Role of the family – Teens strive for increased independence. This can be interrupted due to various dependencies on family due to legal troubles and financial need. Substance use can also have a huge impact on family stability.

Cognitive – Substance use has a significant impact on cognitive development. The ability to assess risk, as well as reasoning and thinking skills can be affected by substance use.

Language – Retaining and recalling information is impacted. Growing up includes learning how to express feelings effectively. Substance use can impact this and often leads to behavior being used to communicate instead of language.

Physical – Hygiene and nutrition are impacted. Risky and illegal behaviors that impact physical well being can occur as well.

Social – A focus on substance use can lead to discord in relationships. Socializing centers around substances and the culture of substance use. This can impact learning how to develop healthy friendships.

Emotional – Substance use decreases impulse control. Substances are often used to manage emotions instead of learning to self-regulate emotions.  

So how can parents take an active role in preventing and intervening? Start by having a conversation with your child about your expectations regarding substance use. Be clear about consequences for not meeting those expectations as well as rewards for not using. Creating a family contract can help clarify things and helps accountability. Consistency is key. If your child is already using, get them treatment as soon as possible. Many clinicians identify nicotine as the “gateway” substance. Addressing vaping or any nicotine use immediately may play an important role in the trajectory of your child’s substance use. Early intervention decreases the negative impact on development and can help prevent future substance use disorders. Regardless of how long your child has been using, it’s never too late to get treatment. Parents must take an active role in treatment planning, working collaboratively with clinicians to develop the best plan for your child’s success. Youth need support and encouragement in learning new coping skills. Family involvement, outside of the therapy hour, is a key part of treatment success.

Addressing your child’s substance use can feel overwhelming and probably brings up a lot of fear as well. Counseling can provide support and resources for parents dealing with a child’s drug use. A counselor can work with you to develop a family contract. They can also help you learn the best ways to support your child. Counselors can work with families to identify triggers for their child’s use and develop skills to apply so that triggers don’t turn into relapses. If your family needs help with substance use or addiction, Owens & Associates can help. Schedule a free 15-minute phone or video consultation to discuss how one of our clinicians or groups might help meet your family’s needs. 847.854.4333