Information on Teens & Illicit Drugs
Adolescence is a time of important physical, intellectual, emotional, and social development. Learning how to solve problems, build close friendships, make decisions, and handle responsibility are important during the teenage years.
Drug use interferes with teens' ability to learn and improve those skills. Whether it is alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, or other illicit (illegal) drugs, the bottom line holds true: teens that use drugs put their future in danger.
Help prevent this from happening by opening the conversation with your teen regarding drug risk and avoidance. Below are some informational tips for you and your teen that may help support you in this conversation.
- Parents tend to underestimate their teen's exposure to illegal drugs.
- Almost 1/3 of teens report that they have used illicit drugs at some point in their lives.
- Using alcohol and tobacco at a young age – especially before high school – increases the risk for using other drugs later, such as marijuana and cocaine.
- Young people that don't use drugs are more likely to stay in school than those that do use drugs.
- Over one quarter of high school students report that they have been offered, given, or sold an illicit drug on school grounds.
- Poor judgment while using drugs puts teens at risk for car crashes, falls, drownings, violence, unplanned and unsafe sex, and suicide.
- Drug use can cause serious immediate and/or long-term damage to the brain, liver, kidney, heart, and lung – just to name a few.
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Tips for Parents
The reality of the situation is that, at some point, your teen will be offered drugs in some form or another. Give him or her reasons and ways to refuse drugs when the time comes to make the decision.
- Tell your teen often that drug use is unacceptable, illegal, harmful, and wrong. Talk frequently about family expectations and rules about drugs. Clearly state and enforce the consequences for breaking the rules.
- Raise your teen's awareness about the health risks and consequences of drug use. (See the Sources section listed to the Right of the page for more information.)
- Positive feedback strengthens a teen's decision not to use drugs. For example, "It's great that you have decided to stay away from drugs. That takes a lot of courage!"
- Busy, supervised teens have fewer opportunities to do drugs. Encourage your teen to take part in community activities, after-school programs, or get a part-time job.
- Get to know your teen's friends. Know where they hang out and what they are doing. Talk with your teen's friends' parents about your "no drug use" rules.
- Talk with your teen about ways to handle pressure from friends to get "high." Teach your teen how to say "no" and to suggest doing something different (safe). To feel comfortable talking openly with you, your teen needs to know that you will not punish him or her for being honest.
- Get involved in your teen's education. Set rules for doing homework, set goals with your teen for school grades, ask questions about his or her classes, and encourage him or her to read.
- Boost your teen's self-confidence and self-worth. Praise his or her attempts as well as achievements. Encourage your teen to express his or her opinions and feelings in a positive way – such as talking, writing, or drawing.
- Talk with and listen to your teen. Show that you are there for your teen when he or she needs you.
- Help your teen (especially girls) develop a positive body image. Encourage your teen to respect his or her body by encouraging healthy eating, exercising regularly, and avoiding alcohol and other drugs.
- If you have an alcohol or other drug problem, help is available. Talk to a health care professional and/or see the Sources section (listed to the Right of the page).
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What should I do if my teen is using drugs?
Calmly talk about the extent of his or her use – what kinds of drugs, how often, how much, with whom, where, and why. Explain why you are concerned. Remind your teen of your rules about drug use and enforce the consequences for breaking them.
If you believe your teen is abusing drugs or your efforts to enforce the rules have failed repeatedly, seek help from a counselor or health care professional.
© 2001, American Medical Association
Used by permission.
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Reviewed By: Adolescent Interest Group
Last Reviewed: August 2013
Below are links PAMF accessed when researching this topic. PAMF does not sponsor or endorse any of these sites, nor does PAMF guarantee the accuracy of the information contained on them.
Join Together Online.
National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information.
Hotlines and Help Lines from Palo Alto Medical Foundation.
Additionally, you may wish to consult these sources for more information regarding drug use and abuse:
- Your teen's health care provider.
- Your teen's school counselor.
- Your local hospital or public health department.