How do you know if your teenage son or daughter has a problem with alcohol or chemical dependency? Often, family members are suspicious that something’s going on, but they doubt their own eyes and ears because they don’t want to believe it.

Sadly, ignoring or overlooking adolescent alcohol and drug dependency won’t make the problem go away. Nor, as recent statistics indicate, is the problem itself getting any better. In 2013, a federal study showed that 12 percent of eighth graders said they’d smoked marijuana in the past year, with a higher figure (36 percent) noted among seniors at public and private schools.

When it comes to alcohol, the statistics are even more alarming. A 2014 study sponsored by the Archives of General Psychiatry found that 78 percent of American teenagers drank alcohol (47 percent saying they’d had at least 12 drinks in the past year).

Here are questions I most frequently encounter in my role as a specialist in treating alcohol and drug dependency:

shutterstock_110412152Why do good kids start using drugs in the first place?

It’s a natural part of growing up to experiment with new things. Adolescents are more likely to take risks because they don’t think anything bad can happen to them. Also, their brains aren’t completely developed, and they lack the capacity to understand the negative consequences of risky behavior.

We’ve always had a close relationship with our child and believed she could talk to us about any problem she was having. Why did she choose not to confide in us?

Adolescents, like adults in a similar situation, are often ashamed and defensive about problems they have with drugs or alcohol. They either keep it a secret out of shame and guilt, or they believe they can function with their drug of choice and are wary of anyone taking this away from them. The negative stigma attached to addiction problems often prevents young people from admitting they have a problem or getting the help they need.

We feel so hurt and angry because our son has lied to us repeatedly about his drug and alcohol use. We’re good parents who never did anything to deserve this. How could he treat us this way?

When someone is locked into a vicious cycle of addiction, they almost always have to lie and deceive everyone in their life, in order to continue their addictive behavior. It’s important not to take this personally and to just accept this as part of the illness. It’s also important to speak up about your own feelings and to ask for total honesty as an important part of the recovery process. This is the only way your relationship with your son can be allowed to heal and start again in a healthy way.

shutterstock_156421958We’ve tried to get our daughter help in the past, but she refused. Should we try again or just wash our hands of her and practice “tough love” instead?

There’s no doubt you love and care about your daughter. What’s important now is that you support her in getting treatment for her problem, but do not continue to enable her addiction. For example, most parents will provide help and support for treatment, but will withhold cash that could be simply used to buy drugs or alcohol. What’s most important now is that your daughter gets the treatment she needs to reclaim her life.

We can help you tackle the problem of drug or alcohol dependency in your family. To learn more, call us at 858-530-9112.

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