Teen drug abuse: 5 mistakes parents can avoid

Keep your children safe from substance abuse by avoiding these common parenting mistakes.

14 June 2017
By Glynis Horning

“Drug abuse is rampant in South Africa,” says Mzukisi Grootboom, chairman of the South African Medical Association (SAMA). Authorities are battling not only with unique local ‘street drugs’ such as whoonga, also known as nyaope, but increasing abuse of legal medications, including antiretrovirals (ARVs), cough syrup and painkillers. And users are getting younger.

In a SAMA National Youth Risk Behaviour Survey, 15% of learners admitted taking over-the-counter drugs for a high. According to this survey, 11.5% had tried at least one drug, such as mandrax, heroin, tik or sugars (cocaine mixed with heroin); and 50% of the young patients seen at specialist treatment facilities chose dagga as their main substance of abuse.

“The most abused drug among youth is alcohol,” says Walter Petersen, director of the SA National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (SANCA) in Durban. “It’s not unusual for Grade 6 and 7 learners to say there must be alcohol at parties,” adds Durban life skills counsellor Claire Savage.

According to the experts, the mistakes all parents can avoid when it comes to teen drug abuse are the following…

1. Not building their children’s self-esteem

“Children who don’t feel loved and secure are more vulnerable to peer pressure, and more likely to turn to drugs to escape feelings of emptiness, sadness or failure,” says Savage.  Spend time with them, take an interest in their lives and get to know their friends. Listen to them non-judgmentally, support their individual strengths, and tell them constantly that you love them.  

2. Not setting expectations

Research shows that teens who know their parents disapprove of drugs are less likely to use them. Make your views clear from early childhood – if you wait until their teens it may be too late. Tell them they should only ever take the vitamins and medications you give them, as others can be dangerous and make them sick.

Reinforce this with teachable moments (for example, a TV programme that may tackle drug abuse, which you can discuss with them). And make it clear that you won’t tolerate any abuse. As teens, they should be able to tell peers who try to pressure them: ‘If I took that, Mom and Dad would ground me forever!’ or ‘I’m not dumb enough to try that.’

3. Not being a good role model

Children whose parents abuse alcohol or drugs are at a larger risk of addiction. “They will see this as the norm for dealing with stress or for socialising,” says Savage. Teens don’t tolerate hypocrisy. If you’ve used drugs in the past, you can tell them, but don’t indulge in colourful ‘war stories’ – say it was a phase you went through and are just grateful you survived.

4. Not being aware of the mental health connection

Two out of three substance abusers have mental health issues, including anxiety, stress, depression, eating disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). “Change in your child’s behaviour, mood, physical condition and performance indicate something is wrong – trust your gut feeling,” says Savage. Respond and get expert advice.

5. Not being aware of signs of drug-taking

Read up on these (visit the SANCA site), and speak to your children immediately if you suspect they or their friends have been using. Speak calmly but very seriously, expressing your concern and disappointment, and spelling out consequences. Follow through.

If it happens again, introduce random drug testing. Explain this is for their well-being because you love them, and trust must be earned. While they may protest, many will be grateful for the out this gives them with friends, if they have succumbed to peer pressure. Get professional help from SANCA.

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com

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