top of page

Early-Intervention Parents: What Was Learned

Have you ever wondered what struggles other parents or caregivers of teens encounter when dealing with drugs and alcohol today? With vaping on the rise, the legalization of marijuana spreading across the country, and the influence of social media, we were curious as to how parents deal with these new challenges facing their families.

To get a handle on what parents are facing and how they are responding, we recently conducted eight focus groups across the country with a diverse set of parents of 11- to 16-year-olds. Some were certain that their kids had never used substances, while others suspected that their kids might be drinking or using other drugs.

Our conversations were wide-ranging and informed by research data on substance use that we shared with the parents. Here are a few of the highlights:

Being a Parent in Today’s World

These parents told us that they try to lean on the experiences that they had growing up, but the world is evolving so rapidly that their personal childhood experience is often irrelevant. Parents lamented that their children are exposed to more information — not all of it good — more frequently, and they find it difficult to be “gatekeepers.”

How Parents View Teen Substance Use

All of the parents we spoke with take teen substance use seriously. However, they recognize that it’s likely that their kids will be exposed to drugs or alcohol and possibly engage in substance use. Some parents were surprised to learn that the person who introduces their child to substances will more than likely be a friend, older sibling or a permissive parent who allows substance use in their home, not a “drug dealer.” Most parents were very clear about expectations around not drinking or using other drugs. However, there were a few parents who thought it was useful to “inoculate” their kids around alcohol or marijuana, meaning that they would allow their kids to get drunk or high so that their kids would “know what it’s like” and be less likely to “go crazy” when they are on their own. These parents were surprised to learn that middle school and high school kids who use substances were more likely to be the heavy partiers in college and actually at greater risk for a substance use disorder.

Seeing Substance Use as a Teen Health Issue

Many parents were surprised to learn that 90 percent of people with addictions started in their teen years — sometimes even earlier. From the time kids are about 10 years old and through their mid-20’s, the brain is undergoing massive changes, developing important capabilities for adulthood. These include the ability to regulate emotions, weigh the pros and cons of risk-taking, understand what consequences might be before they happen, and problem-solve. Using substances like drugs or alcohol during this critical time can hurt teens’ brains. In fact, some teens who have heightened risk factors are even more vulnerable to adverse impacts than others. These risk factors include a family history of problematic substance use or other addictions, underlying mental health problems (such as depression, anxiety, or ADHD), childhood trauma (such as witnessing or undergoing school shootings, abuse or neglect, or violence) and being bullied.

bottom of page