Substance Abuse Prevention

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The use of tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs is one of the biggest temptations facing young people today. As a parent, you are your child's best protection against drug use. You can start by telling your children that you expect them not to use drugs and become informed yourself about drug use. This publication was written by the American Academy of Pediatrics to help you identify the warning signs of drug use and provides tips on how to help your child (especially during the preteen and teen years) say no to drugs.

Stages of drug use

Both casual drug use and addiction impact health, but it is important for parents to know the difference. The same pattern of use and abuse exists for alcohol as with other drugs, such as marijuana or cocaine. The following is how experts explain the stages of alcohol or drug use:

Stage Description
Abstinence No use.
Experimentation The first 1or 2 times your child drinks alcohol or uses drugs. Children at this stage are curious about what it feels like to be drunk or high.
Non-problematic use Repeated drug use in social situations without associated problems. Children at this stage are using in order to have fun with friends.
Problem use Drug use for purposes other than recreation or drug use associated with a single problem, such as to deal with tension with parents or a school suspension. Children at this stage have begun to use in order to help them manage their emotions.
Abuse Drug use that has a negative impact on daily functioning or that is associated with recurrent and significant risks and problems. Children at this stage have experienced problems because of their drug use but continue to use anyway.
Dependence Loss of control over use. Children at this stage have developed a compulsion to use and no longer can simply decide to "just say no" or "stop using any time they wish."

How can I tell if my child or teen is using drugs?

Certain symptoms and behaviors are warning signs for drug use. But keep in mind they may also indicate other problems, such as depression. Look for

Teens will try to hide, disguise, or downplay alcohol or other drug use, so you must learn to recognize the signs of abuse and stay on top of things. Also, trust your instincts. If you suspect a problem, talk with your teen, ask questions, and speak with a health professional about your concerns.

Remember that your child's doctor has the knowledge and experience to help you find out if your child has a drug or alcohol problem and how to help your child.

About teen confidentiality

All teens should be screened for alcohol and other drug use as part of routine medical care. Your child's doctor will want to ask questions about alcohol in private in order to get honest answers. If your child does report alcohol use, the doctor will determine whether your child needs very brief advice, a return visit, or a referral to a specialist. Every doctor will have his or her own policy about what information must be shared with a parent and what will stay confidential (meaning stay between the patient and the doctor), but most doctors will protect a teen's confidentiality if they believe that the teen's drug use is not an immediate safety risk to the child or others. It is important for you to respect the doctor's decisions about confidentiality in order to encourage your child to have an open and honest discussion with the doctor.

What you can do

The following is what you can do to help your child say no to drugs: