Teenagers and young people are not immune from substance abuse and there are high levels of young people using alcohol and drugs on a regular basis. Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to substance use because they are at a stage where they are forming their identity and may experiment with different behaviours as part of this process.
Finding social acceptance is an innate, internal drive for all of us but gaining a sense of belonging is especially important to teenagers: this means that they can be heavily influenced by their peers as they make efforts to be part of a group. Coping with unfamiliar emotions and the uncertainty of the future can influence a young person to use substances.
Frequently, it is the parents, carers and relatives surrounding the teenager who may be the most affected or concerned about the substance use and they often struggle to know what to do.
If your family is affected by substance use, there are things you can do to make life easier and facilitate communication:
• Create an atmosphere where it is okay to talk about problems and express feelings; a young person is more likely to talk to you if they feel safe and know that they will be taken seriously.
• Be aware of what is going on for the young person; how they are feeling or expressing their feelings and if there is any change in their behaviour.
• Model good communication: you may feel like shouting or blaming but this is not going to get you very far. Try to express your feelings in an appropriate way, e.g. “I am frustrated by this situation” rather than “You make me mad!”
• Set clear boundaries….and stick to them!
• Try not to make judgements or assumptions: if you suspect a young person is using, explain what it is that is concerning you, rather than drawing your own conclusions.
• Don’t forget the positives in the relationship or the person; it can be easy to focus only on the negative behaviour or the current problems.
• Don’t avoid having difficult conversations because you don’t want to ‘rock the boat’.
• Educate yourself about substance use, abuse and dependence and how you can best support a loved one and most importantly, talk openly to the teenager about these issues.
• Look after yourself and address your own needs: it is hard to be supportive to others if you are stressed, tired or emotional.
If you would like further information about substance use, dependency and addiction or you are worried about yourself or others, please contact BOSASNet on 395 9119 or 7265 9891; or visit www.bosasnet.com
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