As the parent of a teenager, your child getting involved with drugs might well be your worst nightmare. We know it’s a dangerous path to go down, and sometimes our minds automatically shortcut to imagine all the worst-case scenarios. However, the journey through teen substance abuse and addiction is usually different from what you imagine.

Often, the worst effects of addiction can be bypassed with healthy, open communication between parents and children. Although it’s a difficult conversation to have, it’s essential for your child’s wellbeing, and your relationship with them. Here are some tips for having an effective talk with your child about drug abuse and addiction.

First, Educate Yourself

The first step is to educate yourself on the topic. Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions about substance abuse that society perpetuates. Don’t just look up statistics; look up research and strive to understand real stories. One major misconception that we have is that drugs are irresistible forces. The truth is that internal biology, mental health states, and environmental factors all influence how we react to drugs. It’s also important to understand that substance abuse and addiction are not the same thing. Although there are dangers at any level of drug use, it’s important to understand motivations and not jump to conclusions.

About Public Drug Education

Most public schools have some program or other that promotes drug education and works to keep kids away from dangerous substances. However, numerous studies have found that they’re certainly not a one-size-fits-all solution. A talk with your child is still necessary.

Furthermore, it’s important to understand that not all drug education is created the same. Most frequently employed in public school systems is a scare-tactics approach, which emphasizes (and sometimes exaggerates) statistics and gory horror stories to make addiction and drugs feel extremely dangerous. However, studies show that this approach might be even worse than no drug education whatsoever. The danger is that once individuals have some level of exposure to substance use, they learn that it’s not all that scary, and then the authority of the educator crumbles and children disregard all associated dangers down the line. The most effective education is a moderate, honest approach, featuring personal stories and long-term consequences.

Good Mental Health = Addiction-Resistant Teens

Perhaps the most important thing to understand about drug addiction is that it’s closely tied to mental health. Many chronic substance abusers also have untreated mental illness, which can range from severe conditions like bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder, to ones we think of as more common, like anxiety and depression. One of the best things you can do to ensure that your child stays free of addiction is to properly treat any mental health issues as they come up.