What We Learned in Our Early-Intervention Parent Focus Groups
With today’s unique challenges (like social media and vaping), parents are confused about how worried they should be about kids using drugs or alcohol. Here’s what they said.
Your kids are going to ask you tough questions about drugs and alcohol (see below for examples). Not to worry — we’re here to help you answer them.
But before talking with your teen, keep the following strategies in mind to help you have a positive and productive conversation — no matter what question is thrown at you.
1. Remain calm. Take a deep breath before responding.
2. Keep an open mind. If your child feels judged, he or she is less likely to be receptive to what you have to say.
3. Avoid lecturing. Instead, try to come from a place of positivity and curiosity which will help lead to a more open dialogue. Example: Let’s explore your question in more detail, because it’s a good one.
4. Thank your child for coming to you with questions. This will reassure him that you’re a safe place to get answers. At the end of your conversation, thank him again for talking with you.
5. Remind your teen that you care deeply about his health and well-being. Example: “I want us to be able to discuss these topics because I love you and I want to help during these years when you’re faced with a lot of difficult choices.”
Be sure your child understands that simply because prescription drugs are legal, it does not mean they are always safe — and that prescription drugs are only legal for the person for whom they’re prescribed.
Misuse of prescription medicines can be just as addictive and dangerous (even fatal) as the misuse of illegal street drugs. In fact, some of those “hardcore,” illegal street drugs are made of the same stuff as prescription pain relievers.
For instance, heroin and oxycodone are both opioids derived from a common root: poppy. While kids might think that taking a prescription painkiller (like OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin) gives the full-on euphoria of heroin without the risks, the truth is, if misused, prescription painkillers are very dangerous. Also, if you take someone else’s prescription, you may not know what the pill or strength of it really is. A large, single dose of oxycodone can result in potentially fatal respiratory depression.
It’s also important to point out that combining prescription drugs with other substances — particularly alcohol — can result in life-threatening respiratory distress and death.
Learn how to safeguard and dispose of unused or expired medicine >
Learn about our action campaign, The Medicine Abuse Project >
Watch our new film exploring teen stress and pressure and the unhealthy ways many cope, including abusing Rx stimulants, BREAKING POINTS >
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but marijuana for medical purpose is now legal in 25 states, of which four (plus Washington, DC) have legalized it for recreational purposes.
In those four states (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, plus DC), you must be 21 years old to purchase, possess or use retail marijuana or marijuana products. And it is illegal to give or sell retail marijuana to minors.
The people in these states hope that by 21, they’ve given young adults enough time to make their own decision around it.
But why would states make something legal that could be harmful?
Let’s look at alcohol. It’s legal, but causes damage, including DUIs, car accidents and other behavior that leads to jail time. Alcohol can also cause major health problems, including liver problems. Cigarettes are also legal, even though they are highly addictive and proven to cause birth defects and cancer. Just because something is legal and regulated, doesn’t make it safe or mean it isn’t harmful.
Mind-altering substances — including marijuana — are harmful for the still-developing teen brain. During the adolescent years, your teen is especially susceptible to the negative effects of any and all drug use, including marijuana.
Scientific evidence shows that marijuana use during the teen years could potentially lower a person’s IQ and interferes with other aspects of functioning and well-being. Even occasional use of pot can cause teens to engage in risky behavior, be taken advantage of, find themselves in vulnerable situations, and make bad choices while under the influence — like combining weed and alcohol, driving while high, or engaging in unsafe sex.
Note: it’s important that your child inherently understands that you don’t approve of his use of marijuana, in the same way that you don’t want him to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, or use other drugs. Teenagers say that parents are the most important influence when it comes to drugs and alcohol. (They are listening to you, even though they may not show it.) That’s why it’s important to be clear about your expectations.
Learn how to talk to your kids about marijuana with our free Marijuana Talk Kit >
While some teens may argue that weed is safer than alcohol, research shows that teens don’t typically use alcohol OR weed; they use both, often at the same time — a dangerous combination. The biggest impact of mixing marijuana and alcohol is the significant increase in impairment in judgment. The level of intoxication and secondary effects experienced can be unpredictable. Some people may be more prone to episodes of lightheadedness and fatigue.
Also, because marijuana is an anti-emetic (used to treat nausea and vomiting in medical situations), it may be easier to drink alcohol until dangerously high blood alcohol levels are reached, as the normal body defense of vomiting when drunk may be muted by the marijuana.
Tell your teen that you don’t want him/her to be doing anything that can be harmful — whether that’s smoking pot, cigarettes, drinking or other reckless behavior.
Remain curious and ask your teen why she thinks weed is safer than alcohol.
Heroin is a highly-addictive drug derived from morphine, which is obtained from opium poppy plants.
Heroin use impacts the brain more severely than other substances and can create brain changes that lead to addiction.
After an injection of heroin, the user reports feeling a surge of euphoria or “rush.” With regular heroin use, tolerance develops. This means the person must use more heroin to achieve the same intensity or effect.
At higher doses used over time, addiction develops and the person has an overpowering physical urge for the drug. This is called craving. The person also experiences a loss of control, making it more difficult to refuse the drug, even when use becomes harmful. Most people who are addicted to opioids cannot taper off (use less of the drug over time) without help.
With physical dependence, the body has adapted to the presence of the drug and withdrawal symptoms may occur if use is reduced or stopped. Withdrawal, which in regular users may occur as early as a few hours after the last administration, produces drug craving, restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea and vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps (“cold turkey”), kicking movements and other symptoms.
Heroin use is associated with a number of serious health conditions, including fatal overdose, infectious diseases like hepatitis and HIV (because these diseases are transmitted through contact with blood or other bodily fluids, which can occur when sharing needles or other injection drug use equipment.)
Some teenagers and young adults are at greater risk of becoming addicted because of their temperament or personal situation, such as having a mental health disorder or experiencing trauma in childhood.
In addition, if there is a history of addiction – cocaine, alcohol, nicotine, etc. – in your family, then your child has a much greater risk of developing a drug or alcohol problem. Explain to your teen that while he may be tempted to try drugs, the odds are really against him. His genes make him more vulnerable and he could easily develop a dependence or addiction. Use this family history as a way to talk with your child and regularly remind him of this elevated risk, as you would with any disease.
“Molly,” is the powder or crystal form of MDMA, which is the chemical used in Ecstasy. Some claim that Molly is less dangerous than other illegal drugs because it’s not physically addictive, more pure than other forms of ecstasy and will not cause cognitive impairment as it doesn’t kill brain cells. The reality, however, is that the use of Molly — a stimulant drug — comes with serious health risks. The DEA notes that it can cause confusion, anxiety, depression, paranoia, sleep problems and drug craving.
Health risks can include anything from involuntary teeth clenching, a loss of inhibitions, transfixion on sights and sounds, nausea, blurred vision and chills and/or sweating. More serious risks can even include increased heart rate and blood pressure and seizures.
The news media reported several stories about Molly’s popularity at music festivals. This is perhaps the most hazardous of settings, because when combined with the hot crowded conditions, intake of MDMA can lead to severe dehydration and dramatic increases in body temperature. This, in turn, can lead to muscle breakdown and kidney, liver, and cardiovascular failure.
An additional risk of taking Molly is the potential of it being “cut” or mixed with other harmful substances by someone else, despite claims of it being pure.
Here’s what you can say if you did smoke weed when you were younger:
“I’m not going to pretend like I didn’t, and that’s why I’m talking to you about this. I will tell you that when I did smoke, my judgment was compromised and the only thing that prevented me from getting into some horrible circumstances was luck.”
You may want to point out some of the negative things that happened to you (or your friends) that you wish didn’t.
“And you may be thinking: Well, you did it, and nothing horrendous happened to you. I just want you to understand that these are chances you may take, and they are just that, chances. A lot of harmful things don’t happen to you because of your ability to make clear decisions. When you are stoned that ability is very much compromised.”
Here, you’re not only being informative but reminding him/her that marijuana can impact her judgment.
Here’s what you can say if you didn’t smoke weed when you were younger:
“You may or may not believe this, but I never smoked weed when I was a kid. It didn’t have a place in my life, and would have interfered with the activities I enjoyed.”
Here, you’re explaining why marijuana didn’t interest you. Your reasoning may have been that you didn’t want it to interfere with the activities you enjoyed; that you didn’t feel you needed to use weed to fit in; that you were turned off by the smell; or any other honest reason that kept you from trying marijuana yourself.
Learn more: How to Talk to Your Kids About Drugs If You Did Drugs (pdf) >
Watch this video: “But YOU smoked when you were younger” >
If you are worried about your teen’s drinking or drug use, please call our Parent Toll-Free Helpline at 1-855-DRUGFREE (1-855-378-4373) to speak with a trained and caring specialist. Or visit Get Help to learn more.
What questions are your kids asking you? Share with us in the comment section below and we’ll help you answer them.
The fact that you have tried drugs may be an advantage. Don’t just talk, listen.