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While there is no specific cause of substance use disorders (SUDs), there are factors that could put a person at risk. One of these factors is being a teen. 

Many people who develop substance use disorders started using as teens. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 15% of high school students have reported using illicit drugs, and 14% reported the misuse of opioid prescriptions. Since teens are impressionable and still developing the decision-making part of their brains, it’s important to educate your teen on the effects and consequences of substance use.

Teen Substance Use Education

Adolescence is an emotionally loaded time. Your child is trying to figure out their beliefs, values, and what makes them an individual. They’re searching for individuality and don’t want to be told what to do because they want to figure it out for themselves. This can make talking about serious subject matters like substance use difficult. 

It is crucial that when you have these discussions, your teen sees you as a safe person for these types of conversations. When talking with your teen about substance use, try the following:

  • Emphasize the long and short-term consequences of substance use.
  • Do not use scare tactics or threats. Your teen will see this as controlling and a reason to disregard your advice and knowledge on the matter.
  • Be honest with them. Without honesty, it will be impossible to keep an open dialogue of communication about substance use.
  • Use outside resources, such as websites, reading material, and mental health professionals, as educational tools. When you present stats and facts about substance use, it won’t seem like you’re forcing your opinion.

Navigating Teen Peer Pressure

Peer pressure can play an important role in whether or not your teen uses substances. If your child has friends who are using substances, that puts them at a higher risk for using them, too. The best way to help your teen navigate peer pressure is by boosting their self-esteem and making an effort to know their friends.


Giving your kid praise and making them feel loved and appreciated will enhance their self-esteem. If your child feels good about themself, then they are less likely to be desperate for approval from their peers. Self-esteem is complicated, and you can’t hold up your child’s self-esteem on your own, but you can do your part to make sure your child knows that you love them.

Knowing Your Teen’s Friends

Making an effort to know your child’s friends will help you understand the influences your teen is being exposed to. When your child invites friends over to the house, make an effort to get to know them. This will give you empathy and understanding for your teen and make connecting with them easier. 

If you feel like your child is hanging out with people who might expose them to substances or harmful behaviors, you can warn your teen about this influence. If necessary, take measures into your own hands by contacting the kid’s parents.

Open Communication

Teenagers are terrified of judgment. They constantly worry about being judged by their friends, classmates, and teachers. Your kid shouldn’t also be worried about being judged by you. Keeping an open dialogue of communication requires communicating without judgment. 

Take the time to understand your child’s situation before jumping to conclusions. If you express vulnerability to your child, then they are more likely to be vulnerable with you. This will give you insight into your child’s life and inform you of factors that could potentially put your child at risk of developing SUD, such as:

  • Being under excessive stress
  • Struggling with sexual identity
  • Difficulties with mental health management

When your child doesn’t feel judged by you, they are more likely to tell you what’s going on in their lives. This way, you’ll know if substance use has become a more prominent component in your teen’s life and can act accordingly. When you can, give your child the space to make healthy choices. However, this won’t always be practical, especially if the choice involves potential danger to your kid.

Telling Personal Stories

You shouldn’t lie to your teen about your past experiences with substance use. They’ll likely see through this, which will cause distrust in your relationship. However, you can choose to omit parts of your experience. If your kid inquires about details of your story you aren’t ready to tell, acknowledge that there is more to your story. Explain that you are putting up a boundary for sharing that part of your story and the importance of respecting people’s boundaries.

Emphasize the consequences of your actions. Explain the personal cost of using substances and how you could have handled the experiences or events that led to your substance use differently. Be careful not to glamorize your experience. You can express how using substances made you feel and why you made the decision to continue despite the consequences. 

When you tell your teen about your experience with substance use, include stories about your recovery. Educate them on tools and habits you learned that help you manage overwhelming emotions or mental health symptoms. Your kid may find these tools applicable in their own life.

Talking to your teens about substance use is a daunting but necessary task, especially if you or someone in your household has a history of substance use. West Coast Recovery Centers can provide you with treatment that will help you and your family grow emotionally and heal from past trauma. We offer a variety of modalities and different types of therapy, such as group therapy, yoga, mindfulness, and dialectical behavior therapy. We want you to have the ability to explore what treatment option you connect with. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, call (760) 492-6509 to learn how West Coast Recovery Centers can inspire long-term recovery.

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