Is This the Summer Your Teen Becomes an Addict?

Is This the Summer Your Teen Becomes an Addict?

It’s a balmy day in July. The sun is shining, the birds are singing – and teens all over the country are getting high. It’s a sad reality many parents are loath to accept: Teens take advantage of the freedom of summer to experiment with drugs, sending some down an accidental path toward addiction.

More Freedom, More Risk

Teenagers are more likely to start drinking and smoking pot or cigarettes in June and July than any other month of the year, according to a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. On any given summer day, more than 11,000 teens will drink alcohol for the first time, about 5,000 start smoking cigarettes and roughly 4,500 start smoking marijuana, compared to 5,000 to 8,000 teens who start drinking and 3,000 to 4,000 who start smoking cigarettes and pot per day during the rest of the year. Teens are also more likely to try inhalants and hallucinogens in the summer.

Although they are widely used and less stigmatized than other drugs, cigarettes, marijuana and alcohol are by no means harmless. They can change the function and structure of the brain at a time when young minds are still developing at a rapid rate. In addition to being dangerous and addictive themselves, use of cigarettes, marijuana and alcohol often leads to "harder" drugs like meth, cocaine and heroin. Teens who use drugs are also more likely to engage in other risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex and driving under the influence.

Why are the summer months so full of temptation? With school out of session, kids have more time on their hands, less supervision and more freedom. Previous studies have shown that each of these, by itself, increases the risk of teen substance abuse. And the earlier substance abuse starts, the more likely it will escalate to addiction later in life, research shows.

Summer Teen Drug Use Prevention Checklist

If parents can manage to delay teen experimentation with drugs and alcohol, their children are less likely to develop addictions later in life. Here are a few ways to safeguard your teens:

  • Start a conversation about drug use today and continue it not only through the summer but year-round.
  • Maintain some sense of structure even when school is out. Encourage your teen to get involved in additional activities they enjoy during summer, including sports, summer school, camp, a part-time job, and religious or community-based programs.
  • Know who your teen’s friends are and try to steer them away from negative influences that condone or encourage drug use.
  • Safely dispose of or store prescription medications.
  • Set firm boundaries and closely monitor your teen, regardless of whether you think they’ve experimented with drugs or not. Research shows that unmonitored teens are four times more likely to smoke pot or engage in other risky behaviors than closely supervised teens.
  • Plan regular family activities to keep your teen engaged in healthier pursuits and to ensure the lines of communication remain open.
  • Know the signs of drug use, including changes in appetite or sleep patterns, deteriorating physical appearance, a sudden change of friends, diminishing interest in activities they used to enjoy, secretive behavior, legal problems and mood swings.
  • Teens often use drugs because they feel stressed, anxious, depressed or unable to manage difficult emotions. If your teen is drinking or using drugs, talk to them without judgment or blame to get to the root cause of their drug use. If needed, find a therapist or treatment center that can help them develop coping skills and stress management strategies. Drug abuse may be a passing stage, but just as quickly it may turn into a lifelong problem.

It may seem as though there is less going on in summer – less homework, fewer commitments and less need for supervision – but this is actually the time for parents to become more vigilant. The summer months should be enjoyable for teens, but that means protecting them from drug and alcohol problems that could someday lead to addiction.

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