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Is Your Child Vulnerable to Substance Abuse?

One in four illicit-drug users between the ages of twelve and seventeen develops dependency, a rate significantly higher than that of any other age group. In talking to your youngster about tobacco, alcohol and controlled substances (drugs regulated under federal law), make the point that no one who begins using drugs ever imagines that he or she will become hooked. It’s still unclear why our bodies react to drugs differently; why one teenager can flirt with alcohol or pot and then break off the engagement cleanly, while another rushes headlong into commitment.

Heredity appears to play a large role in determining a person’s susceptibility to drugs’ effects. For instance, the rate of alcoholism among sons of alcoholic parents is four to five times higher than among children of nonalcoholics. If there is a history of substance abuse in your family, tell your child this. Perhaps knowing that she might have inherited a gene predisposing her to addiction will serve as a deterrent.

In addition to genetic traits, certain social and environmental factors raise the odds that a boy or girl may be drawn to alcohol and controlled substances. Do any of the characteristics below apply to your child? The greater the number of risk factors, the greater an adolescent’s vulnerability.

  • Untreated psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and personality disorder. For these youngsters, as well as for those with untreated attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other learning problems that interfere with academic and social success, taking illicit drugs may be their way of self-medicating.
  • Temperament: thrill-seeking behavior, inability to delay gratification and so forth.
  • An eating disorder.
  • Associating with known drug users.
  • Lack of parental supervision and setting of consistent limits.
  • Living in a family where substance abuse is accepted.
  • Living in a home scarred by recurrent conflicts, verbal abuse and physical abuse.

Know The Facts

Coming to this discussion well informed will enhance your credibility with your teenager. You’ll also be better able to spot problems in the early stages, when they’re most treatable. The U.S. Department of Education recommends that, at a minimum, parents should know:

  • The different types of drugs and their street names.
  • What each drug and any associated paraphernalia look like.
  • The physical and behavioral signs of drug abuse.
  • How to get a child help if you suspect that he or she has a substance abuse problem.
Last Updated
Caring for Your Teenager (Copyright © 2003 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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