Substance abuse prevention program for teens
The truth is that the pandemic is increasing substance abuse by adults and teens. I could easily modify this to help adults be aware of their own substance use during these difficult times and to also give them pointers about talking to their teens about potential substance abuse.
The key concepts
- Parents and teens need to know why teens are at such high risk for substance abuse including nicotine. This is extremely important. The reality is that because teens’ brains are not fully developed yet, they physically lack the ability to accurately judge the consequences of their behavior (think of some crazy things you did as a teen that you would never do now). This goes for every teen to a greater or lesser extent, even the class valedictorian. In other words I.Q. Has nothing to do with this.
- Teens are more motivated by both emotional and physical rewards (rewards equal excitement) than either adults or younger kids. This means that teens are basically wired to engage in highly risky behavior such as vaping, drug use, and risky driving, etc. This same motivation for rewards can be used by parents to minimize risky teen behavior.
- Families need to know the protective and the risk factors that help shape if a teen will develop a substance abuse problem whether it be nicotine, alcohol, weed, opioid, etc… Parents need to know the fact that healthy parental involvement is the number one protective factor for teens when it comes not only to preventing tobacco use but preventing other high-risk behavior as well. Parents need to be educated on how to capitalize on their unique role as the number one protective factor.
- Teens need to understand how activities such as vaping can quickly reduce stress and anxiety. As teens experience the benefits of their substance use they increase the risk of using more dangerous substances. Teens don’t realize the dangers of self-medication, they only know it works.
- Parents need to be aware of their own substance use and what message they are sending their teens. I’m not saying they have to abstain (unless they want to) but they should use legal substances responsibly. If parents smoke or even if they engage in excessive drinking it sends the message to teens that tobacco use is no big deal.
- Most parents don’t know how to talk to their teens about difficult topics like substance use. I’d like to help parents and teens learn some collaborative problem-solving techniques to help both teens and parents to communicate with each other so both can feel heard.
- Most teens and their parents don’t think that they will end up with serious substance abuse issues. After all, a thing like opioid use is a big leap from vaping or even smoking weed. While most teens will not end up with a substance abuse problem they and their parents need to understand that even things like cigarettes and vaping are not harmless. Nicotine affects the growth of the teen brain and primes it for further substance abuse. We also know that the younger a person starts using things like cigarettes and e-cigarettes the higher the risk they have for developing a serious substance abuse problem.
- Teens/young adults can be taught motivational intervention techniques to shape their beliefs and attitudes about substance use. This is extremely important. These motivational intervention techniques can actually create a level of “inoculation” for teens against high-risk substance use. The motivational techniques don’t tell teens what to think about substance use, instead, they help the teens ultimately make up their own minds about drug use. This happens at a deeper level and can actually circumvent the underdeveloped executive processing. A great example of this is back at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Despite teens being much more impulsive than adults, teens actually practiced safe sex at a higher rate than adults. Once they got it solidly in their heads that AIDS would kill them, they were able to begin to plan ahead to protect themselves.
- Families need to know the benefits of contracting with teens around substance abuse. Now a simple contract on its own is not worth the paper it’s written on. Instead, the contracts I am talking about are more like living treatment plans. For example, parents and teens would discuss what the teen is willing to commit to.
For example if a teen vapes they may not be willing to commit to stop and parents need to respect that but parents can add in incentives if their teen cuts back. Since we know that rewards work better than punishments parents can reward their teens for all abstinence. I realize that it can at times be hard to know if your teen has been abusing substances but by providing parents with the tools to talk to their teens about substances as well as educating them on warning signs they can have a pretty good idea.
Another part of the contract covers things like If your teen gets drunk. While there should always be consequences for teens getting drunk the consequences should be less severe if the teen were to call the parent for a ride than if the parent finds out on their own. Consequences would also be spelled out so if a teen calls mom or dad for a ride they shouldn’t have to worry about a lecture at the time of pick up. Instead, the consequences are preset so the parent can focus on acknowledging the thing their teen did right which was to call them for a ride.