Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.
4) Set Clear Expectations That Are Consistent With the Law
Besides talking to youth about the risks of using substances, parents need to express clear rules and expectations around teen substance use. At a minimum parents should establish rules that are consistent with state, territory and province laws. This generally means that youth should not be allowed to smoke or use any tobacco product before they turn 18, and they shouldn't be allowed to drink until they are 21. Illegal drugs are off-limits for the same reasons; because in fact, they are illegal. Parents need to make these boundaries clear. Therefore, parents should not provide their youth with alcohol or tobacco, or allow any youth to use alcohol or tobacco while in their presence. Some parents may wish to make an exception for substances used during sacred religious events or important family traditions. For instance, in the Catholic tradition, the consumption of a small amount of wine is part of a holy sacrament and in the Lakota tradition, tobacco may be consumed during a sweat lodge purification ceremony.
Parents should also restrict teens' access to these substances in their own home. There should be no tobacco products or illegal drugs in a youth's home for them to gain access to. As alcohol can be legally consumed by adults, some parents will have alcohol in their home. However, parents need to carefully protect and monitor any alcoholic beverages in their homes. The liquor cabinet or wine cabinet should be locked, and parents should monitor alcoholic beverages stored in the refrigerator to be sure these beverages are only consumed by adult members of the household and aren't mysteriously disappearing. Furthermore, parents should be careful how they store over-the-counter and prescription medications, as most youth who misuse medications get them from home. Only limited quantities of common over-the-counter medications should be accessible in common areas in the home. Parents' prescription medications should be locked up in the parents' bedroom, bathroom, or safe and should be monitored to make sure pills or doses aren't disappearing. Furthermore, parents should be sure to dispose of any unused or unneeded medication as soon as possible. Ask a local pharmacist for the best and safest way to dispose of unused medications.
Furthermore, parents should never allow their teens or their friends to drink or smoke in their home with or without their direct supervision. Some parents feel that allowing youth to have drinking parties in a home with parental supervision will allow youth to experiment with alcohol in a safe manner. However, this arrangement is illegal. It is illegal for adults to provide alcohol or tobacco products to underage youth. Parents who knowingly allow youth to drink alcohol under their roof can be found guilty of providing alcohol to underage youth. In addition, several states are considering stricter laws that would make parents liable for any injury or death that occurs as a result of teenage consumption at their home.
Parents should make it clear that they do not want their children to be with their friends when they are engaging in illegal activities (stealing, property damage, drug and alcohol use, etc.). From a legal and common sense approach, there is guilt by association. Furthermore this rule has the added benefit of eliminating arguments about who was, and was not, drinking. Youth need to know that it is wrong to be with people who are violating the law even if they themselves do not directly engage in the illegal activity. Of course, there may be times when youth find themselves unexpectedly in a circumstance when friends decide to use drugs and alcohol. In this case, they should initiate a previously determined lifesaver or safety plan.
5) Establish Consequences for Tobacco, Alcohol, or Other Drug Use
Parents need to prepare their youth that there will be consequences for using these substances, just as there are consequences for breaking other rules. For example, a sixteen-year-old needs to know that if he's caught drinking, smoking, or experimenting with drugs, there will be a consequence such as grounding, loss of privileges, or extra chores. If youth operate a motor vehicle or break another rule after drinking or using substances, the consequences will be greater. For older adolescents who still live at home, parents should still enforce rules about illegal substance use. Although these adolescents may have reached the age where they can legally drink or smoke, parents still have the right to establish what behaviors are acceptable in their home. Many adults do not permit other adult guests to smoke or drink in their home and their older adolescent children should be no exception. For youth who reside independently, parents can withhold financial support if they belief their youth are abusing alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.
6) Develop a Lifesaver or Safety Plan
Parents must strike a balance between enforcing clear rules and ensuring their youth's safety. Sometimes youth can make a single poor decision that results in their safety being compromised; for instance, youth might have decided to experiment with alcohol or another drug and may have misjudged the dose and related effects thereby placing their life in danger. Or, they may find themselves in a dangerous situation over which they have no control; for example, they may have ridden to a party with a friend who subsequently started drinking or using drugs at the party. Additionally, intoxicated youth can easily become lost and may find themselves in a dangerous part of town. On these occasions, youth may fail to ask for help for fear of getting into trouble; and yet, failing to ask for help may put their life in danger. Therefore, parents and youth should develop an agreement in advance, sometimes called the lifesaver or safety plan: If youth should ever find themselves in a dangerous or potentially dangerous situation they can call their parents at any time and get help with no questions asked. Their agreement should specify when youth contact their parents and evoke "the agreement," their parents will come to pick them up and there will be no further discussion about the incident until the following day, when everyone will be sober, calm, and rested. During that conversation, youth should be permitted to discuss what occurred. Parents should help youth to reflect on what they might have done differently. Parents should determine what consequences, if any, should be applied. It is suggested that parents should apply some leniency if they determine that the youth realized they made poor choices and asked for help. Parents want to reinforce that their youth's willingness to call for help was a good decision, despite the poor choices which made it necessary for them to call for help in the first place.
7) Know When to Seek Professional Help
If parents realize that they are disciplining their youth multiple times for the same or similar substance-related issues or that their children are showing signs of possible drug or substance use, they should seek professional help. Some signs of possible drug use can mimic signs of other emotional problems. These can include declining grades, reports of poor school attendance, behavioral or angry outbursts at school or at home, loss of interest in activities they used to find enjoyable, isolation from friends or family, drastic change in friendship groups, significant changes in personal style and grooming, significant decline in personal hygiene, significant changes in mood, or changes in sleeping or eating patterns. Other signs are more directly linked to alcohol and drug use such as: unusual odors or excessive use of perfumes, air fresheners, and mouth wash; finding cigarettes, alcohol, drugs or drug paraphernalia in the teen's laundry, book bag, room, or other belongings; or visible signs of intoxication such as slurred speech, watery or red eyes, or loss of coordination. If youth experience any legal problems or school discipline problems at school due to drug or alcohol use, it is also an immediate sign that a parent needs to seek help for their child.
Parents should consult with their family doctor or pediatrician if they are concerned about their teen's drug use. There are also counselors and therapists who can assess a youth's current substance use and make recommendations about how to help youth. There are some at-home drug testing kits on the market that parents may feel tempted to use to determine if their teen is on drugs. However, it's best for parents to use a professional therapist or chemical dependency counselor to do a full assessment, as these assessments factor in many other variables other than if there are currently substances in their system. Parents can look here http://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/ for substance abuse assessment providers and treatment resources in their area.