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Drugs, alcohol, vaping, and teenagers

By Sophie Barcant,
BA (Psyc), B.ED
Trainer, Facilitator,
Parenting Coach/Consultant

Imagine your teenager feeling comfortable enough to tell you that they tried smoking marijuana and what it was like! Or that they got drunk and got sick!

Impossible you say?  It’s not.

Most teens are curious and want most of all to look cool and be accepted by peers, so many will turn to substance use and abuse to fill those needs. Some also have other deep psycho-emotional needs that are not being met in the home.

Besides feeling loved unconditionally and not criticised and threatened, they must feel adequate. Fear of being a failure and rejected are deep fears and feelings that drive most antisocial behaviour.

This explains why teens with learning difficulties at school and those who just feel awkward socially are at high risk for drug use, because they don’t feel as smart or cool as their siblings or peers, or that they will please their parents.

Ignoring or giving up on a child who is not achieving or behaving as we hope, pierces their soul. They need to feel important and significant, so they turn to substances to numb the pain and fear of not being good enough and rejected.

This understanding tells us exactly what we need to do as parents to lessen the odds of their use or abuse of alcohol and drugs.

We must constantly reassure them of our love, acceptance and understanding and not pose unrealistic demands on them. In fact, we must provide the necessary support for them to feel good at something, be it one subject, a sport, musical talent, or hobby.

I share a beautiful story of a young boy who was experiencing this very pressure; living with a very intelligent older brother while he struggled to focus on academics and pass his subjects.

He was permitted by his parents to take apart engines of various kinds and what has evolved is a seventeen year old, who can build a car engine from scratch, sell it and build a mechanic business of his own, with a few CXC passes on the side.

Teens dedicated to a sport, hobby, dance, art, or musical instrument are also less likely to abuse substances, so insisting they stay with these interests when trying them out for a few years is wise. They should not be allowed to quit after a short trial period. Encouragement to persevere is vital.

Now that marijuana has been decriminalised, our teens are reading that its use is okay. It’s no longer a matter of breaking the law.

They need information so that they can make wise choices. Even though they tend to think they are invincible and that side effects would never happen to them, we must still persevere with informing them of the facts and consequences of overindulging in these practices.

Having calm, logical, factual conversations about the appropriate use of alcohol and now cannabis and vaping, with no hint of threat is what they need. You can almost guarantee that when teens are given threats they will clam up, and not be open and honest with you. The unspoken message is that ‘It is not safe to voice my opinions or tell mum or dad anything, I might get punished’.

So how do we prepare them to make wise choices?

Admitting to your children that you have zero control over what they do when they are out of your sight gives them another huge unspoken messages: it says ‘Good luck making wise choices out there and managing the consequences of your actions. I am not around to watch over you’.

Recounting stories from time to time, of dangerous, tragic, silly, embarrassing things teens have done under the influence is very effective. Teens are mortified to be embarrassed so hearing of the possibility of their doing things that could shame them can sometimes be a deterrent.

It is good for them to hear how brains are altered by medications, legal and illegal, and to be challenged to evaluate whether they want to risk their young developing brain being altered in such a way that their performance and ability to be happy and successful is jeopardised.

Let’s emphasise this fact over and over: how precious their brain functioning is and how just thoughts can change our brain structure, far less compounds in drugs and alcohol that are not compatible with our natural chemistry.

Let’s not forget to also educate them about rohypnol pills, often called ‘roofies’ popped into drinks for date rape.

So set expectations where you trust they will be intelligent enough to say ‘No’ when offered mind-altering substances and believe in your teens.

It’s also okay to occasionally ask if they have been offered substances and how they responded. Assuring them that it is perfectly safe to confess that they did to you is powerful and following through with continued trust and no punishment builds your relationship beyond measure.

They must know that they can come to you without ridicule and rejection for being honest.

Finally, remember children learn what they live. Model healthy living. Model a responsible relationship with alcohol. Model handling your own emotions responsibly, which gives kids the foundation they need to manage their own emotions.

Find many different tips on empowering teens on

Follow Sophie’s parenting approaches drawn from Love and Logic and Positive Discipline on, FB and Instagram. For personal coaching,