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Substance Use Can Be Part of Adolescent Experimentation and Development

  • anonymous Asks ...

    How worried should I be that I caught our 12 year old sneaking a beer alone in our garage? My husband says it’s not that big of a deal but the fact that he was doing it alone really bothers me. My son says it is just something he does once in a while and that he will stop now. This all just blew up yesterday after I swooshed in silently on my bike and caught him by surprise after school in the garage. Should I let it go and see if he stops like he says he will and like my husband says or should I get him to talk to someone right away to make sure there is nothing more serious going on?

  • Delisted Expert Says ...

    First, I do not condone behaviors in adolescents which are normally reserved for adults. In today’s world, children and teenagers have already had much of their childhood chipped away from them by a push to place them more and more inside the adult world.

    However, children and teenagers, by their very nature, are curious. They see or hear about adult pleasures and want to find out about them; especially if they have close peers who have experimented with alcohol and/or drugs and reported their effects. Modeling by family and peers and can enormously influence adolescents to experiment with alcohol, drugs, and sex. I would ask you to be curious about what could have helped stage both of your children’s experimentation with alcohol. I do find it interesting that both of your children have access to alcohol and choose to drink it secretly. Is there any possibility that some family member could be abusing alcohol to their knowledge? Where, when and from whom did they acquire the idea that drinking was “ok?” Do not exclude mass media and popular culture as an influence.

    Your concern about teen drinking is a valid one as teens who drink alcohol regularly can become vulnerable to alcohol or other substance abuse/dependency than those who begin to use in adulthood. However, as parents, there is much you can do with your children about substance abuse. Here are some suggestions:

    1.Secure all alcohol in the house or garage.

    2.Remain calm and do not overreact. This can make forbidden objects and experiences more desirable to teenagers.

    3.Determine if any peers are abusing alcohol or other substances. If so, you may want to talk with those peers, their parents, and lastly, limit your children exposure to any substance abusing youth.

    4.Talk to your children’s school counselors. See if the school is providing substance abuse education so your children can make informed, wise choices.

    5.Most critical, it is important that your husband and you agree on how you are going to respond to sensitive matters like experimentation, recreational use of alcohol or drugs, lying, stealing or sex; if these ever become family concerns. Children know when parents are conflicted about their behavior and find ways to take advantage of this divide. Parents have to stand together and support one another in parenting the children.

    6.Allow your children to receive the natural consequences of their behavior(s). What would be the natural consequences for being sneaky and using controlled substances? Does your garage need cleaning or "eorganization, for example? An excellent resource for parents raising children is the parenting program Love and Logic." It can be found at: http://www.loveandlogic.com/

    7.Consider taking your children to an open AA meeting. Many teenagers do not understand the downside of using alcohol and other drugs. By hearing the stories of recovering alcoholic may induce more respect for restrain with alcohol. To find an open alcoholic anonymous meeting in your area, go to: http://www.aa.org/lang/en/subpage.cfm?page=28

    8.Find out what teen resources are available in your community for substance abuse prevention. There are prevention specialists in every community. See if you can locate and make contact with one of them for professional guidance and direction.

    Raising teenagers is a challenging but worthwhile endeavor. Many people seek professional assistance when they run into some kind of snafu with their teens. If the suggestions I have offered do not provide you with your desired result, I would strongly recommend that you seek support and guidance from a mental health professional with experience with teens, substance abuse, and family therapy.

    If you should need my further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me again. I wish you and your family the very best of everything.


    John W. O’Neal, Ed.S., MSW, MA, LPC, NCC

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