Adolescent drug abuse: are parents to blame?

As a new mother and a former addict, I am very conscious of the genetics of addiction. However, I think that adolescent drug abuse (and drinking) is can signal major mental health issues in a family. How can parents deal with issues of drug use, drug abuse and mental health needs of teens? Share your opinion about adolescent drug abuse here.

minute read

Adolescent drug use step 1: experimentation

My husband often says that the mark of a wise person is the ability to learn from other people’s mistakes.

I am not wise. I need to experience things for myself to test them out, make errors, and learn from my mistakes.  I imagine other people are like me, as well. And I imagine that there are hundreds of thousands of teenagers who will agree with me that that experience speaks volumes.

Experimentation is an exercise in self-development that helps us determine who we are (or want to be).  I respect and believe in Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development.  It is the fifth stage that adolescents grapple with as they transition into adulthood and ultimately answer the question, “Who am I and where am I going?”  And in this stage, curious teens who are becoming adults will want to try out drugs.  It seems only natural.  But should we as parents condone it?

Adolescent drug use step 2: mental health needs

If experimentation is part of the process of growing up, teen drug addiction is the learned reliance on chemicals to block out pain.  Adolescent drug use is anchored in the need to escape from reality.  Teens can face very real and present dangers which draw them inside.  As they withdraw, drugs can soothe the principle fear or anger that they have few tools to manage.  Good parents will step in right at this moment, recognizing their inability to help … and ask for help from the outside (third party role models, family or adolescent counselors, rehabs,  etc.).

It is the parents who do not recognize a problem (or are hiding or denying their own problems) that are to blame for adolescent drug ABUSE.  When experimentation becomes habitual, or when mental health needs drive the consumption of drugs, parents MUST STEP IN.  If a parent is tuned into their child, s/he will now step in to provide assistance…or barring this, ask for outside help.   But should those parents who fail to support a teenager and are not ready to look at their own character defects, admit the need for help, or (worse) deny that anything is wrong in the first place  … should these parents be help culpable for a drug abusing teenager’s behavior?

What do you think?

Teen drug use WILL start with experimentation.  Although abstinence may work for some people’s characters, it is not an option for the curious and free-thinking.  The trick as a parent is to identify the intention behind your child’s use of drugs, and to take appropriate action.   And when things start to go wonky, and problems surface, to get help immediately.  But these situations only bring up more questions:

  • Is there a difference between teens taking softer drugs (nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, ecstasy) and harder drugs (opiates, cocaine, nitric oxide)?
  • Should parents actively allow drug consumption?
  • Should parents take a “no tolerance” point of view when it comes to drugs?
  • Is teen drug addiction really just a symptom of underlying family problems?
  • Should the law react when a parent has left teen drug addiction untreated, either by denial or ignorance?

Enough from me.  What do you think?

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I have read and agree to the conditions outlined in the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

  1. Hi Joanie. I feel for you. This is a very difficult position to be in. I would recommend that you seek help in Al-Anon, where you might be able to get some perspective and see how other mothers deal with their children’s addictions.

    I do wonder if you have explicitly stated that you do not agree with marijuana use or abuse, and if there are consequences in your house for your son’s behavior?

  2. Reading this article hits home for me in a very frustrating way. What do you do when you are the only parent who sees the problem?

    I am the mother of a 17 year old boy who smokes marijuana and drinks on a regular basis. When I had him tested, his THC levels were well over 600. He is constantly sick (upper respiratory infections and headaches) and has missed over 30 days of school since November. He receives home instruction because he is absent so often due to illness.

    He has learning disabilities, which he is very insecure about and has said that everyone is stupid when they smoke. He also says that he feels less depressed when he smokes. He does not believe he has a problem because he has been taught in school that marijuana is not addictive. I recognize the problem, not only for the reasons I stated above, but because socializing (smoking and drinking) is the focus of his life.

    His father believes he does not have a problem saying he’s a good kid and thinks that their upcoming mountain climb will “turn him around.” His father points out to me that he smoked and drank when he was a teen too. The difference is that he was captain of a sports team and valedictorian. Clearly, my husband’s teen usage (which I am not saying is right) was recreational and he was able to control. I have gotten no support from him, on this issue. I am always taking my son to physicians and therapists, but I cannot get him to rehab without someone else being on board.

    We are getting divorced and I was so excited at the prospect of involving a third party, mental health professional to be the “tie breaker” on this issue, as we are stipulating in our agreement. But I was sorely disappointed after speaking to a drug and alcohol counselor today.

    He said that unless my son recognizes he has a problem, rehab will do no good. And, he said that any type of treatment for depression will not work until he is clear of drugs.

    So what do I do? I have tried to involve a third party role model, who my son greatly respects and enjoys, but he turns down opportunities to be with him if a friend calls.

    I see the problem and have for over a year, but I feel helpless to do anything. I know this is heading nowhere good, but I don”t know what to do

  3. Nice topic and very interesting for a parent like me. for me my practice to my children is to show my support and love with them they know that. but at their age they are starting to explore, i let them but i never get tired of my reminder and care.

  4. Thanks for your feedback, Leyla. We welcome all comments and questions on Addiction Blog.

    Just to be clear, we do not position ourselves as pro-experimentation for teens and drugs. By claiming that experimentation is part of the natural process of self-development (and development psychology theory), we simply state that it is natural. Not good nor bad. And then we ask questions about what to do about experimentation.

    Nor do we place blame on parents for teen drug use. Instead, we try to ask questions about drug use and prevention.

    What would you suggest other parents do if they find that their children are experimenting with drugs?

  5. I cannot emphasize enough how irresponsible it is to place blame on parents, especially for those of us raising children with the disease of addiction. These type of “blaming” statements continue the cycle of cultural belief that if it can caused by parents, it can be cured by parents. With that theory how can the addict/alcoholic ever take responsibility for their actions?

    I’ll go one step further and for those parents who are denial, which I speak with everyday and they actually help create the environment that supports their child’s continued drug use, destroying lives and tearing families apart, in doing this we are denying families the platform to rise out of this with dignity and the understanding that this is a disease. This, is the difference between toxic shame and healthy shame.If people are really seeking the truth and not looking to blame, I would suggest that your readers pick up John Bradshaw’s book “Healing The Shame That Binds You”. You will then comprehend the damaging nature of the words in this blog. Especially for parents who are learning and newly coping with the pain and reality of their child’s drug use. Bradshaw’s work is used with molestation and abuse survivors as well as families living with addiction.

    If I recall correctly it wasn’t too long ago when victims of abuse were blamed for possibly soliciting their own assaults. It’s good to see that on some levels we have expanded our beliefs.

    I am here representing those parents’ and their stories that I hear, fighting for their childrens lives 24/7, in the trenches, myself included. Both of my sons started with marijuana at the tender ages of 12 and 13.

    A drug that your blog categorizes as a “softer drug”. After multiple incarcerations, hospitalizations, overdoses, detox, rehab after rehab, this so called “softer drug” is the demon that will not die and continues to hijack my children.

    I was always a hands on parent and immediately recognized the experimentation phase and stepped in right away. The fuse was lit and their disease was off and running. My work is to help educate bloggers like yourselves and the people who read this, that the truth is far from what has been written here.

    My question is, if I have been present and done all the things “good” parents do, and continue to do so, how did we end up here? I can assure you I do not walk alone. The numbers of parents like myself are staggering and a force of truth to be reckoned with. In closing, as a former Columnist for The Orange County Register in Southern California for parents raising children with addiction, I was often met with what I call “armchair quarterbacks”, the name of my column appropriately titled welcome to my world of “Parenting From The Foxhole”, there are no atheists in the foxhole.

    Thank you for your blog and providing me the opportunity to comment and further educate your readers.

  6. I agree with you fully, in so far as letting children learn from experience. I have done my self as a parent of 4, however when they became teenagers i was over anxious as they started their transition into young teenagers. They knew of the dangers and the side affects of drug taking but that did not stop them. environment and family issues have a lot to so with drug abuse, as well as peer pressure. My kids are lucky that they have a parent who does not judge them but is here to support and encourage them to seek help. Is there ever a time to encourage safe use of drugs with Information????

I am ready to call
i Who Answers?