Raising a teenager is not a job for the faint of heart. It requires compassion, flexibility and a whole lot of patience.
As adolescents struggle to find their identity during their teenage years, the line between giving them more independence without completely losing control can be difficult to navigate for parents. Throw in puberty, friends, social media and several other competing factors and it can sometimes feel impossible to steer your teen in the right direction.
While the birds and bees is often at the top of the list for conversations parents tend to have with their teenagers, a new topic has recently caught the attention of the news media and it’s something you and your teen should definitely be discussing: drug abuse.
Why You Need To Have The Talk
According to the research released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week, the number of overdose deaths in teens between the ages of 15 and 19 increased by 19% from 2014 to 2015. This news is especially shocking considering drug overdose deaths among this age bracket had been declining since 2007 after a significant period of increase starting in 1999.
Around 80 percent of the overdose deaths reported in this age group were unintentional. The primary driver behind the significant increase in overdose deaths in this age group is opioids, including prescription painkillers and heroin. The unfortunate trend in teen deaths mirrors patterns seen in adults.
The number of opioid related overdoses has skyrocketed over the past several years, so much so that the opioid epidemic has been declared a national emergency in the United States. The Tennessean reported that last year more than 7.8 million opioid prescriptions were written in Tennessee alone, approximately 1.18 prescriptions for every man, woman and child in the state of Tennessee.
This ratio of opioid prescriptions to people in Tennessee means that there could be at least one prescription opioid in every medicine cabinet in every home. Teenagers are likely seeing opioids every day, if not seeing their parents or friends actually using them every day. With more teenagers than ever living in such close proximity to opioids, a drug that has claimed thousands of lives in just the past year, it’s essential to educate them on the risks associated with abusing this drug, including overdose and death.
While the reason behind the large increase in overdose deaths among teens has not been determined, there are various reasons that teenagers turn to drugs in the first place. It could be to fit in, to feel good, to feel better, to do better, to experiment, or more likely, some combination of these reasons.
These pressures, coupled with growing up in a society obsessed with instant gratification, makes a teenager’s desire for a quick fix more understandable.
Child and adolescent psychiatrist and senior policy researcher at the Rand Institute Corp., Bradley Stein, noted that the recent uptick in teen overdose deaths “certainly is a red flag.” More importantly, Stein hypothesized that efforts to educate teens about the risks of drugs might have the biggest positive effect on decreasing the drug overdose rate within this age group.
How To Talk To Your Child About Addiction And Overdose
Keeping all of these factors in mind, parents need to talk with their teens about drug abuse no matter how daunting the conversation might seem. According to experts at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, when talking to teenagers about drug abuse, some important things to remember are:
- Plan ahead: plan to have the talk with your teen. Springing a talk about drug abuse on your teenager can immediately put them on the defense. By planning it a day or two in advance, you and your teen have time to prepare.
- Let your teen talk: once you’ve finished saying your piece, give your teenager a platform to voice their concerns and ask any questions they might have about drug abuse. Opening this dialogue is a great way to build trust between your and your teen, and ensure that they can come to you in the future with any concerns.
- Never close the door: Don’t shut the door on the conversation surrounding drug abuse. As teenagers change and put themselves into new situations, the chance that they’ll encounter drugs also changes.
- Check in: From time to time, check in on your teenager. If you notice any sudden changes in mood or shifting friend groups, it might be a good time to re-approach the situation. Always keep the lines of communication open.
In total, 772 teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 died in 2015 due to drug overdose. This number might seem low statistically speaking. However, we’re not just talking about statistics here; we’re talking about 772 lives that were cut too short. 772 families that were devastated by the death of a loved one. The heartbreak that these 772 deaths caused is immeasurable.
Does educating your teenager about the risks of drug abuse mean they will never suffer from an addiction? Unfortunately, no. You can do as much as possible to help prevent your child from falling into addiction, but there is no guarantee that they won’t suffer from it in their lifetime.
At Vertava Health, parents of addicted children will often ask what they did, or didn’t, do to cause their child’s addiction. However, this is not how addiction works. You can’t cause someone else’s addiction, you can’t control someone else’s addiction, and you can’t cure someone else’s addiction- even if they’re your child.
Arming your child with the knowledge and the truth about drugs and their risks is important since the factors that make a person vulnerable to addiction do not discriminate based on age.
As we approach International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31, it’s important to bring these conversations to the forefront to save lives and end the stigma of addiction.
If you, your child or someone you know is struggling with addiction and needs help, Vertava Health has treatment specialist available to speak with you 24/7 at 888-816-8415.