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Drinking, Drugs and Your Teen: Tips for Discussion

I've been very open on this blog and in many other areas of my life about my struggles with drinking. My kids were center stage for some of the dumber things I did during that time, and I regret that so much. They finally stopped the barstool jokes, but it took a couple of years.

I took Julian to his 12-year checkup last week- his pediatrician talked to him about drugs and alcohol, if he had been asked to use anything. (He said no.) On the way home, we talked about this and then we talked about my drinking.

I told him that if he chooses to drink, that's entirely his decision, but not to drive drunk. We also discussed a few other things, which you will see below.

He hates the idea of Uber/Lyft ("They might do something mean to me, Mom") so I told him I would always come to get him if he needed me. I'd prefer if he waited until he's 21, but in the age of underage drinking, I know this might not happen. I'm also not sure of the interactions with his meds, but that may be something I need to look into.

Ritalin+Clonidine+alcohol=potential yikes.

Drugs Are Bad, Mkay
I've watched too much "South Park", but you get the idea. The talk that we need to have with our kids isn't meant to be a funny one- I can't figure out a way to make it funny or else I would. Matthew has decided to hand this talk over to me. I've worked as an addiction counselor and chemical dependency technician. When I was a mental health associate, I also got a lot of first-hand experience with people who had been using drugs and/or drinking. Let's leave it at it's not always pretty. I think I'm prepared?

A Few Tips on Talking To Your Kids About Drugs and Alcohol:

-Bring up the topic calmly. The conversation I had with Julian was a pretty calm one, it just happened to follow his checkup. Let it happen naturally if you can. Sometimes these conversations don't happen calmly, as in if your child is caught with a substance- many parents would be very angry.If you have to, let some time pass before speaking to your child. Nothing will get accomplished if both of you are angry. Ask them why they might want to use anything- boredom, wanting to fit in?


-Discuss the dangers. In Cameron's case, he can't drink energy drinks. It may trigger an SVT episode so he can forget the entire amphetamine category of drugs. His cardiologist had a very long discussion with him in the hospital about drug use, and I think it scared him. If kids know the dangers of what they're trying out, they might be a little (or a lot, hopefully) less likely to try it again. Alcohol can lead to liver damage, and smoking can damage the lungs, throat and other areas, for example.

-Remind them how drugs and alcohol can affect their brains. This can affect their decision making and other skills in the future.
-Remember that your influence matters. If you have had a drug/alcohol problem, it is up to you to decide whether to discuss it with your child- every situation is different. My kids saw some of the effects of my drinking and they remember it, so it's not like we can skip over it. I don't plan on discussing why I drank so heavily, because that goes into marriage issues. I plan on discussing the not-so-great things I did and what could have happened had I kept drinking. If you haven't had this issue, you can discuss stories of people you know that have had issues- kids can relate to this pretty easily. Just be prepared for questions.
-Provide support. Today's teens go through a lot. Peer pressure is a bit different than it was 20 years ago.

Looking for Signs

It can be troubling to worry about or even see signs that your child may be using drugs/alcohol, but it's something to watch for.

Behavioral Changes:

changes in relationships with friends/family
breaking curfew
locking doors
has increased appetite (marijuana will cause this)
clumsy behaviors
disappears
changes in energy levels
stealing

Personality Changes:

mood changes
withdrawn/depressed
hostile/angry
lack of motivation
secretive
silent
deceitful

If you do realize that your child is using drugs/alcohol, there is an outpatient treatment for teens, but if it is a heavy problem, your child may need inpatient rehabilitation. Please try to treat your child with love, not confrontation, as hard as it may be. They may be angry with you, but inside they are struggling. You can reach out to a local mental health professional or treatment center.

Talking to teens can be hard, and everyone involved can feel awkward. This talk, however, can save lives. If you haven't had this talk, it may be time.

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