March 5, 2012

How to protect your teenagers from substance abuse

By Dr. Karen Khaleghi


The death of Whitney Houston cast a brief light on the phenomenon of parents partying with their children.  It certainly has not been the focus of the conversation, but it has provided a crucial “teachable moment” on an issue that needs to come out into the light.

In working with those suffering from addiction, being a parent and conducting parent education talks over the past 22-plus years, I would like to share my take on the motivations on why parents party with their kids.

“It’s like we’re more friends than parent and child.”

As kids grow up and become increasingly independent they establish their own life with friends.  Some parents do not want to see their kid go off without them, so they seek instead to become part of the group.  When the group parties, then the parent parties.  This is based on the parents’ needs not the kids’.

“I can teach them how to hold their liquor.”

I regularly have had parents tell me they feel it is best to teach their children how to “hold their liquor,” and the only way to do that is to drink with their kids. This can also include smoking marijuana and, rarely, includes the use of other drugs.

“They’re going to drink anyway; it’s safer for them to drink at home.”

These parents don’t want to worry about their children drinking and driving or otherwise getting into trouble when they are out with their friends. Instead, they provide alcohol at home, believing it is better than having their kids trying to buy alcohol on their own.

“They’re just more fun to be around.”

These parents feel their kids are more enjoyable to have around at family get-togethers when the kid also has a buzz going. One mother told me that her teenage daughters were unpleasant to have at family dinners but became much more fun to have around when the kid also had a Margarita or shot.

“But it’s prescription …”

It is a fact that we live in a culture that likes its pills. Ads on TV and the financial profiles of drug companies substantiate this reality. Parents can serve to reinforce this mentality or teach another approach. For the most part, a parent with a medicine chest full of pills will have a child who develops pill use; and this use may start off as relatively harmless but lead to a pill addiction.

It is also essential to understand that addiction is frequently a generational problem, and for recovery to occur it is important to understand what has occurred to make it a recurring family dilemma.

Keep in mind that kids don’t need parents to be their best friends; they need parents to provide guidance and structure.  With each parental dilemma, it is helpful to ask yourself if the action is in the service of the child or the parent. Understand that, through parenting, you are sending messages, and much of this is subtext. For example, if you drink with your underage children, you are letting them know that underage drinking is acceptable and that laws and social rules are acceptable to break.

Take the issue of drug and alcohol use from an objective perspective. It is very helpful to start with a look at all the issues surrounding alcohol and drug use and in that you are teaching you kid a decision tree approach to a complex issue. In doing this you start with the facts … just the facts, and work your way out. For example: the legal age for drinking is 21; what are the legal consequences for someone drinking before the legal age for both the kid and the parent?  So, you are discussing consequences for their action and at the same time the parent is reminding themselves of the consequences for their decisions.

Approach the use alcohol and drugs from health and safety first perspective. If you believe that it is inevitable that you kid will drink or take drugs establish an agreement about how situations are handled. For example, you can state that you will be the bad guy and that if they are faced with a peer pressure situation you can take the fall: i.e., my parents will take away my car, ground me for life, etc. Further, you can tell your kids that while you do not condone them using, you want to be called if they get themselves into trouble and that whatever consequences they will receive will go better if they call home for help, for a ride, when things feel out of control, etc.

And understand that your kids watch every move that you make … even when you think that they are not listening or watching.  Know that if every social event you have involves alcohol your child is learning that socializing involves alcohol.  If you find yourself saying things like: “It’s been a rough week, I deserve a drink, “It’s been a great week, let’s go get drinks,” or “I am so stressed; I need a drink,” you are in fact teaching your kid to sooth, celebrate and relax by drinking.  And similarly with pills — if you turn to pills to alleviate stress, or depression or sleep difficulties then you are by example setting up that pills are the answer.

Parenting is complex and can call on all the patience, wisdom and self sacrifice you can muster at the same time it is the most rewarding endeavor in life.

Dr. Karen Khaleghi is director of education and co-founder of Creative Care Malibu. For more information, click here.

For more information on teen drug use in America today and the current trends, click here.

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