A Proactive Approach to Prevention
Of all the major decisions teenagers will make in their lives, the decision of whether or not to use drugs will be one of the most important. We all know the damage that chemical dependency can have on a person. If we heard that an adult family member or a co-worker was using drugs, the immediate reaction would be one of concern. We would want to help that person find the resources they need to address their habit, especially if they were neglecting their responsibilities, a behavior that often comes with substance use.
So why do many in society believe the misconception that experimenting with drugs and alcohol is simply a rite of passage for teenagers? To introduce a substance into the life of a teenager can really stunt development in multiple different ways, from brain and physical development to emotional and social development. Think back to the time when you were a teenager. What kind of physical, social, emotional, and educational maturations were you managing? Think about how hard just one of those areas can be. Now picture all of these happening simultaneously. It’s pretty amazing that the human body and mind can adjust to all of that growth. When parents are not aware of both the long and short-term risk of substance use, children can quickly and easily alter their course of lives. This can sometimes occur in a matter of days.
Adolescence is a time when the foundation of who we are and how we will proceed into adulthood is built. Just as we would never build a house on crumbling foundation, we wouldn’t want to handicap our children from becoming healthy and productive adults. This is why drug testing is so important to incorporate into a family prevention plan. It’s one of the most important tools families have when it comes to substance use prevention. When implemented early in a child’s life, it allows the family to set a strong standard regarding the abuse of substances. It also allows teens to have another way to deal with peer pressure, letting them maneuver their way out of a high risk situation by stating that they get drug tested by their parents.
Just as we schedule routine medical check-ups to ensure the health and wellness of our children, it makes as much sense to monitor substance use by drug testing. In both cases, we are preventing, or catching early, issues that can alter a child’s development. I fully acknowledge that incorporating drug testing can be tough. No parent wants to discover that their child is using drugs. However, in the treatment of substance abuse or dependency, early prevention and detection are vital. If drug use is left untreated, it usually worsens over time. Even if your teen is not showing any of the behavioral signs of substance use (e.g. low grades, lack of interest in activities, denial of responsibilities), parents can’t afford to wait to address the issues and risk seeing how deep the rabbit hole can be. At the end of the day parents have to ask themselves, “What benefit is a substance actually bringing into my teenager’s life?” Almost always, the answer is “nothing”.
There is a plethora of empirical evidence showing how dangerous drugs can be in all facets of a teenager’s life. But at the end of the day, it comes down to a family making an informed decision on the behalf of their son or daughter so he or she can have the best opportunity to turn into someone great. Frequent and early drug testing can help aid in this goal. But, when we break this conversation down to its parts, it comes down to risk and rewards. Do we as parents want to risk allowing our kids to experiment with drugs, hoping that our son or daughter doesn’t end up with a debilitating addiction that will negatively affect everyone and everything around them? Or, do we want to give our children the best chance to live out their dreams? I am confident that whoever is reading this will consider the utility of drug tests and see how they can be a tool to help the entire family to start a dialogue about substance abuse. Through this, parents can work with their children to establish trust and responsibility and most importantly, keep them safe.
This post was contributed by Dr. Evan Espinosa, Psy.D, Clinical Director at notMYkid