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In the previous column, I discussed some of the more common signs and symptoms of substance abuse. This column will offer some suggestions and recommended approaches to help you deal with a substance abuse problem with your child – or better yet, to avoid having the problem altogether.

When your child reaches adolescence, your ability to have meaningful discussions with them will be of the utmost importance. If a mutual trust has not already been developed, it will be difficult – not impossible – but difficult to build it at this point. Modeling will also remain of primary importance. If these ideas are all new to you, I would suggest that you refer to earlier columns where these skills and concepts were presented and discussed in some detail.

What follows are some suggestions and guidelines on preventing and resolving substance abuse issues while they are still in the beginning stages. You need to be aware that if your child becomes actually addicted to a drug, more intensive treatment beyond these recommendations will be needed. The area of actual addiction will be covered in next week's column.

Be the parent, not just a pal! It is amazing to me how many parents choose to act like a buddy to their teen instead of a parent. A little negotiation or compromise is fine – but you should not give the impression that everything is negotiable and that rules are done by committee. No – you are the parent and as such, you set the rules and you enforce them. Even if the child will not admit it, they count on you for caring for them and for protecting them from harm (even when they don't like it). It is always comforting to know that there is someone that will not let you spin completely out of control. There may be times when "tough love" will be in order.

Set the rules and enforce them consistently and reasonably. Rules and what is and is not allowed should not constantly change from day to day. You need to be predictable to your child. Rules and the consequences of breaking them need to be predicable. Succumb to one "but Mom, this is special, can't I please go"  and your rule becomes worthless. As you might expect, the child will immediately wonder if they can get away with it again.

Tell your adolescent what you expect of them. Don't just assume that they know – or that they do not need to be reminded once in a while.

Talk about risky situations and how to handle them.  Hopefully you have built a good enough foundation of trust and discussions that your child will bring these situations to you for advice. If not, bring them up in a non-threatening manner. An example might be to discuss what is the best way to handle a situation where kids at the party are smoking pot and they offer you some? Don't just lecture, but let the child talk and listen to their ideas. You may be surprised at how well they do.

Be involved and stay involved with your adolescent.  Take the time to know what your adolescent is doing. Get to know their friends and if possible, the friends parents (and don't be afraid to check in with them). Your child's choice of friends may tell you a lot about potential risks. Having no idea what you child is doing, where they are, or who they are with, is just asking for trouble. How many times do we see on television the distraught parent saying something like, "Why I had no idea that he/she was doing those things! - fill in the blank – building bombs, beating up other kids, stealing cars, joining a gang, doing drugs, skipping school, getting drunk, etc, etc."  

Always find the time to show your child that you care . You can do this by;

-Saying "I love you"

-Listening to them without interrupting all of the time.

-Even though it is difficult sometimes, try not to be critical of them or what they like all of the time.

-Try to educate them on what not to use and why. You may want to educate yourself first.  Stay away from the stupid stereotypes ("just say no", rot your brain, etc) and give them the honest facts. The facts are horrible enough. They will appreciate truthful answers. There are tremendous amounts of excellent materials on drugs and alcohol available at any library, mental health center, drug treatment clinic, and many police and community service organizations.

Will using all of these suggestions prevent and cure substance abuse in your adolescent? Of course not. They will however give you a good base to provide effective parenting during this period where exposure to drugs can not really be prevented.  

About The Author
James is a Masters level Child Psychologist and Internationally Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor who has worked with distressed families for 40 years. He is the author of the Seamus the Sheltie series of children's books that were designed to assist parents in discussing difficult issues with younger children. Both books have received multiple national awards from parenting organizations. Mr. Beverly has written and published articles on parenting in a variety of media.


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