When having a conversation about drugs and alcohol with a teen, it’s important to understand where interest in substance use might come from. Teens are less likely to respond to dramatic lectures or confrontational statements, which can backfire and shut down the discussion. Instead, try asking open-ended questions and listening non-judgmentally from a neutral position.

If a teen feels heard, they are more likely to listen. Offering empathy and compassion can lead to a productive conversation with positive outcomes. Below are some examples of key factors to keep in mind that influence teens’ decisions to use drugs and alcohol.

Other people — Teenagers see their parents and other adults drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and, sometimes, trying other substances. Friends can urge one another to have a drink or smoke pot, but it’s just as common for teens to start trying a substance because it’s readily available and they see all their friends enjoying it.

Popular culture — Music, movies and TV shows can make drugs seem like an okay thing to do. This may present a natural opportunity to start a conversation and determine how they feel about drugs in general.

Escape and self-medication — When teens are unhappy and can’t find a healthy outlet for their frustration or a trusted friend, they may turn to substances for relief.

Boredom — Teens who can’t tolerate being alone, have trouble keeping themselves busy or want excitement, are prime candidates for substance use. Not only do drugs and alcohol give them something to do, but those substances help fill the internal void they feel.

Rebellion — Alcohol is the drug of choice for the angry teenager because it frees him to behave aggressively. Marijuana, on the other hand, often seems to reduce aggression and is more of an avoidance drug.

Instant gratification — Drugs and alcohol work quickly. Teenagers turn to drug use because they see it as a short-term shortcut to happiness.

Lack of confidence — Many shy teenagers who lack confidence report that they’ll do things under the influence of alcohol or drugs that they might not otherwise.

Misinformation — Perhaps the most avoidable cause of substance use is inaccurate information about drugs and alcohol. Educate teenagers about drug use, so they get the real facts about the harms and dangers.

For more tips on how to have a conversation with teens on drugs and alcohol, visit https://parentupvt.org/.

Partners for Prevention is a community network dedicated to sustainable substance use prevention efforts for Rutland County youth and young adults. Stay connected by liking Partners for Prevention on Facebook:

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This week’s Health Talk was written by Alan Saltis, Regional Prevention Partnerships coordinator, Rutland Regional Medical Center.

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