As a resource for parents and young adults, Shepherd’s Hill Academy values our partnerships in addition to the support that we provide. Preventing teen substance abuse begins with talking to your teens and finding solutions to help guide these important ongoing conversations. We’ve asked our partners at The Rehab Center for their guidelines and advice for beginning these conversations, recognizing signs of substance abuse, and the next steps should you and your teen need support. Shepherd’s Hill Academy offers therapeutic, faith-based solutions to support teens and their families.

substance abuse

Talking with teenagers and young adults about substance abuse can be challenging. However, having meaningful and ongoing conversations about drugs and alcohol has been shown to help prevent adolescents from developing an unhealthy lifestyle or fall victim to addiction.

Tips For Preventing Teen Substance Abuse

Establishing clear set expectations about substance abuse helps give teens the structure they need to stay safe. Initiating this kind of confrontational conversation has its challenges, here are some tips to get the ball rolling and make it a productive experience for everyone involved.

Give Them The Facts

Teens can see through malicious threats and understand when you’re trying to manipulate them, which can cause them to test their boundaries with substance abuse even more. Instead, try giving them the facts — most drugs can be deadly, especially when taken illegally.

Keep Your Emotions In Check

Some teenagers will react with eye rolls, heavy sighs, and temporary deafness when you try to talk to them about substance abuse. Whatever you do, make sure to keep your temper and remember to remind them that you are concerned for their safety and wellbeing.

Offer Empathy and Support

While talking, make sure that your teen knows that you are on their side and that you understand. Acknowledging your teens’ point of view and their struggles are healthy. They need to know and learn how to address these things without resorting to drugs or alcohol to cope with them.

Remind your teen that you are there for support and guidance and that it’s important to you that they are healthy and happy and have all the facts to make an informed decision when it concerns their behaviors with substance abuse.

Make Sure They Know the Consequences of Addiction

Addiction can quickly ruin a promising young person’s life, and it is crucial that your teen knows that. Informing them and giving them this information is not to scare them, but to help them realize that abusing drugs and alcohol can lead to very negative consequences, like losing scholarships, deteriorating their bodies from the inside out, and, in some cases, accidental death.

Understand The Influence of a Parent or other Role Model on Substance Abuse

A study from the Partnership For Drug-Free Kids indicated that teens consider parents and parental roles to be a significant influence on their views of substance abuse. That’s why it is so important to talk and actively listening to your teen.

Asking your teen to visualize what might happen to them specifically after they abuse drugs or alcohol. This exercise can help them put into perspective what consequences might occur should they choose misuse substances.

Make sure to take advantage of “teachable moments.” The opioid crisis is still a significant issue facing the country. Use news headlines, and magazine bylines to show your teen how substance abuse affects others and what the aftermath of their choices are.

Share stories. It could be your personal experience with substance abuse if you are comfortable with it, or the stories of others in recovery. These stories can show how easy it is to get lost in addictive behaviors, making them powerful teaching tools.

Talking openly to your teen is essential, especially if your family has a history of addiction or alcoholism because this can increase your children’s risk of developing these issues. Be aware of this elevated risk and discuss it with your teen regularly, as you would with any disease.

Signs of Teen Substance Abuse

It’s normal for teens to go through mood swings. However, some behavior may cross the line from normal teenaged aginst and indicate more severe issues such as drug abuse. Typical signs of teen substance abuse include:

Problems at school

  • frequently forgetting homework
  • missing classes or skipping school
  • disinterest in school or school activities
  • a decrease in overall school marks

Neglected appearance

  • lack of interest in proper clothing
  • less grooming than normal

Physical signs of substance abuse

  • lack of energy and motivation
  • red eyes and cheeks or difficulty focusing
  • red eyes and contracted pupils
  • strange burns on their mouth or fingers
  • chronic nosebleeds

Changes in behavior

  • teens enjoy privacy but are aware of excessive attempts to be alone
  • exaggerated efforts not to allow family into their room
  • not letting you know where they go with their friends
  • breaking curfew without a reasonable excuse
  • changes in family relationships

Money issues

  • sudden requests for money without good reason
  • money disappearing from your wallet or home
  • items vanishing from your home

Remember Your Teen is Still Developing

The human brain doesn’t fully develop until around the age of 25. This delayed development can explain a lot about the way your teen communicates. For example, because the prefrontal cortex isn’t yet fully matured, teens can struggle with interpreting facial expressions.   

Add that to the impulsivity most teens struggle with due to their overactive amygdala (which is responsible for hormone release and control), and they have limited emotional control. These brain developments can explain why communication with your teen can seem complicated at times.  Once you learn to recognize typical teen behavior, you can control your automatic reactions and attempt to communicate more clearly.

Finding Help for Teens Struggling with Substance Abuse

Addiction is poorly understood, by both the individuals who misuse substances and those they care for. The younger someone is when they enter into an active addiction cycle, the more difficult it may be to exit. Prolonged use of an addictive substance like opioids, can cause long-lasting changes in the chemical composition of the brain. At this point, professional treatment is often required to help treat these addictive behaviors.

Shepherd’s Hill Academy, a faith-based therapeutic boarding school for teens in crisis, serves teen boys and girls struggling with substance and behavioral addictions. The program does require that students are detoxed before enrolling in our therapeutic program. Students currently in detox should arrive directly from an inpatient facility. Contact the admissions team today to learn more about the benefits of long-term residential care for your teen.


Partnership for Drug-Free Kids — Preventing Teen or Young Adult Drug Use: How to Talk With Your Child

National Institutes on Drug Abuse for Teens — Strategies to Prevent Your Young Person from Using Drugs

Author Bio: Brooke Powell joined the editorial team at Addiction Campuses as a content writer in 2017. She has a passion for breaking the stigma around addiction and mental health issues with informative and reliably sourced content. When she isn’t creating content, she loves to get lost in a good book or puzzle.