Adolescence is a complicated and confusing stage of life. Balancing the pressures of school, social life, family, and growing up can often be challenging for young people. This developmental stage often comes with an increased sense of autonomy for the adolescent, with many teens disengaging from family to spend more time with friends and classmates.
Teenage years come with increased risks to young people, too. With their newfound autonomy and freedom, many teens face intense peer pressure from their friends and classmates in the form of drugs, alcohol, and other risky behaviors. One recent 2022 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has some alarming new information about teenage substance abuse, particularly the opioid fentanyl.
What Is Fentanyl and Why You Should Be Concerned
Fentanyl is a potent opioid medication used in health settings for severe or chronic pain management and as an anesthetic. While the drug has pharmaceutical uses when prescribed by a physician, fentanyl and similar synthetic opiates are increasingly abused for recreational purposes by those without a prescription (or misused by those with a prescription).
Fentanyl carries an extreme risk for overdose potential as it is 50-100 times stronger than other opiates like morphine and heroin. In addition, substances like rainbow fentanyl are not only dangerous but also brightly colored and candy-like in appearance to appeal to young people. This colorful drug variant is becoming all too common around the United States.
The study released by the JAMA indicates that teen overdose deaths have sharply increased in the last couple of years, more than doubling since 2019. Over 70% of those deaths were from synthetic drugs like fentanyl. Drug overdoses remain one of the United States’ biggest killers of young people.
How To Talk To Your Teenager About Drugs
As parents, we want to protect our kids from harm, but starting conversations about drugs and alcohol can be challenging. So how do you keep the lines of communication open and maintain a strong relationship with your teenager? Below are five key steps.
⦁ Get Informed about the Dangers of Opioids
New synthetic drugs are hitting the streets all the time, many of which are marketed toward teens and young people. Understanding the substances and their risks will help you stay an active and engaged parent.
Knowing the signs of substance abuse or addiction can help you recognize critical behavioral changes that may indicate a problem. Some common warning signs include:
⦁ Sneaking out
⦁ Not checking in
⦁ Lying about where they’re going or who they are with
⦁ Isolating, withdrawing, or exhibiting other out-of-character emotional or behavioral patterns
If you suspect your teen may be using drugs and alcohol, reach out to a local treatment center or contact a support line, like SAMHSA’s National Helpline, at 1-800-662-4357.
⦁ Educate Your Teens About the Dangers of Substance Abuse
You don’t want your child’s education about illicit substances to only come from the people pressuring or encouraging your child to use them. Have frank, open, earnest conversations about the dangers of drugs, particularly high-potency opiates and synthetic drugs.
Warn your kids about the risks of things like rainbow fentanyl and how they should never ingest mysterious substances, regardless of the source or how innocent they may look. Also, make sure they are aware of the prevalence of counterfeit drugs available on social media sites like Snapchat, and how often students who think they are taking a study aid are overdosing on fentanyl.
⦁ Actively Listen and Remain Non-Judgmental
Often to protect them, parents become hyper-strict about substances to the point that teenagers are afraid to come to their parents if they have questions, concerns, or fears. This fear of judgment or consequences can often lead them to not seek support.
Let your teen know they can talk to you about anything or call you under any circumstances. Keeping this line of communication open can be a lifeline for a young person. Practicing active listening can help your teen feel heard and understood and help you pick up on warning signs that people or situations in their life may not be safe for them.
⦁ Teach Your Adolescent About Safety
The only “right” amount of substance abuse for your teen is no substance abuse. But teaching your teen what to do in the event of an emergency or overdose can potentially save their life. Informing them about life-saving measures like Narcan, prompting them to save emergency services numbers in their phones, and other harm reduction techniques can help your teen (or someone else) stay alive in the event of a worst-case scenario. The only thing worse than your child being in a dangerous drug and alcohol situation is their being ill-prepared in those situations.
⦁ Spend Quality Family Time With Your Teen
Maintaining a solid relationship with your adolescent is difficult when the only time you spend together is filled with lectures. Make sure to keep your relationship with your teenager strong with time spent as a family, building memories, and engaging in enjoyable activities. Having family dinners, going on outings, or having a game night at home can all be critical to keeping your teen checked in and connected to the family.
Nobody wants to think their teenager could be involved in dangerous activities like drugs and alcohol, but the statistics don’t lie. Hazardous chemicals are impacting the lives of young people at alarming rates. Being an active listener and informed parent to your teen can help equip them to handle whatever they may encounter.
About the Author
Scott H. Silverman is one of the nation’s leading experts on addiction and recovery. He’s made countless public speaking engagements and appearances on television to raise the alarm about the opioid epidemic. He is the founder and CEO of Confidential Recovery, an outpatient drug rehab program in San Diego that specializes in helping Veterans, first-responders, and executives achieve long-term recovery.