How to avoid addictions in adolescence? The 5 keys for parents


In this article, I will discuss some important guidelines that parents can use to reduce the risk of their youth falling into substance abuse.

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Adolescence is a stage full of changes, where there is a special vulnerability to the development of addictive behaviors. Some guidelines can reduce the risk of younger people to fall into these risky behaviors.

Adolescence is a complex stage of life, since it concentrates countless physical, psychological and social changes of great intensity

At this moment, we are beginning to open up to the outside world and live numerous new experiences, which often leads to risky behaviors. One of the most frequent problems at this time of development has to do with addictive behaviors, which involve the abuse of substances or elements such as gambling and social networks.

When we talk about addictions, it is common to think of adults. However, addictive behaviors usually begin in adolescence, at younger and younger ages, between the ages of 13 and 15.

The consumption of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs is quite widespread among young people, although the abuse of networks and online games is not far behind.

How to avoid addictions in adolescence? The 5 keys for parents

I. Why are teenagers vulnerable to addictions?

Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to addictions for two essential reasons.

  1. On the one hand, they are at a stage in which they seek to find their own identity, which is why they begin to differentiate themselves from their family nucleus. This means that many adopt an attitude of rejection or defiance of the rules, as well as of the parents themselves as authority figures.
  2. In addition to this, brain development in adolescence has not yet culminated, which translates into an inability to control impulses and plan and decide with a view to the medium and long term. All this is combined with a much more lively social interaction than in the previous stages.

In this way, the bonds with other young people become particularly strong, to the point of being the reference guide for deciding how to act.

Therefore, there is a considerable probability of letting yourself be influenced by the group when initiating addictive behaviors of various kinds. Addictive behaviors are more likely to appear in the presence of certain risk factors.

Adolescents with a family history of consumption, with few social skills or who face situations of intense change (parental divorce, breakup with the partner, change of school or housing ...) have a higher risk than the rest of falling into the networks of drug addiction or technologies.

In this sense, the object of addiction would seem to act in some cases as a way of escape from highly stressful events that the adolescent is not able to manage.

In the particular case of drug addiction, it is legal substances such as alcohol and tobacco that begin to be consumed first due to their easy accessibility. However, they act over time as a gateway to illegal drugs such as marijuana and cocaine.

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Research seems to indicate that the early onset of the use of illegal drugs is associated with other secondary problems, such as:

  • impaired mental health,
  • risky sexual behaviors,
  • and criminal behaviors.

Due to the enormous vulnerability of adolescents to falling into this type of addictive behavior, it is essential to adopt preventive measures that enhance the resources of each adolescent and reduce the risk of starting these behaviors as much as possible.

II. How to avoid addictions in adolescence

Thanks to the research that has been carried out in the field of addictions, it is known that this type of behavior is preventable if the relevant interventions are carried out early.

In this sense, it is essential to act on the risk factors that increase the likelihood that the adolescent will engage in addictive behaviors.

Although we have advanced some risk factors, we can consider the following:

  • Social level: The social risk factors that stand out the most are the disadvantaged environment, the ease of access to substances and the difficulty in accessing the available sources of help.
  • Family level: In this sense, it is necessary to point out the influence of the family history of addictive behaviors, the support and help that the adolescent receives from his environment in daily life, the emotional and educational style of the family, etc.
  • Personal level: Although to date it has not been concluded that there is an addicted personality as such, some personal characteristics that can increase the risk are known. These include high impulsivity, low tolerance for frustration or difficulties in regulating one's emotions.

Now that we have discussed the different aspects that can increase the risk of a teenager falling into some type of addiction, let's see what guidelines can be adopted to prevent this problem.

1. Build proper self-esteem

From early childhood, children begin to form the concept of themselves, something especially relevant to their self-esteem.

Having adequate self-esteem depends closely on the environment where the upbringing takes place, since to achieve it, it is necessary that the children feel from the first moments accompanied, loved, understood, etc., maintaining a fluid and open communication with their family.

Fostering optimal self-esteem is a way to help children have an adequate image of themselves, which allows them to feel valid and comfortable in their skin.

Starting this work from the first years of life will allow, when adolescence arrives, they will move in a better way through this phase of development without too many risks.

2. Quality communication

Adolescence is a stage full of fears, insecurities, doubts, etc. It is a phase that each one of us must go through, although having available and close parents can make this process much easier.

Parents who maintain a fluid and natural communication with their teenage children allow their children to reduce their fear and uncertainty, which allows them to assimilate the physical and psychological changes of adolescence in a calmer way.

At a time when children tend to distance themselves from their peers rather than from their families, keeping the lines of communication open is a way to ensure that the bond doesn't become strained and that teenagers understand that they are not alone. Of course, maintaining good communication is not at odds with maintaining rules and control at home.

In fact, communication allows these basic rules to be negotiated so that the adolescent does not perceive them as a meaningless imposition, but as a basic guideline to be met to ensure their well-being. 

Talking, talking and talking to teenage children is the best shield so that they do not see themselves in the position of looking in drugs or technology for the way out of their discomfort.

Families must try to follow a democratic educational style, which respects the development of children and their privacy without losing sight of the need for limits and control.

Educating from an authoritarian or too demanding position will only help to further tighten the rope and cool the paternal-child relationship, which will lead the adolescent to seek the protection of other people or by other means, such as drugs.

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3. Instill values

It is essential that the adolescent's close environment, especially the relative, instills a set of essential values in him. Young people need to have limits, but also a sense of direction.

The family must be a suitable model for the child, allowing him to have references and models to follow.

This explains why adolescents from complicated family settings are at greater risk of falling into addictive behaviors.

Providing references and essential values is another way to prevent an adolescent from starting this type of risky behavior.

4. Be in the world of your child

It is normal that, when adolescence arrives, children begin to become more independent and spend more time away from home.

High school, extracurricular activities, time with friends... It is easy for parents to feel that they have disconnected with their children.

However, it is essential that they try to be interested in the lives of their teenage children (here again we remember the importance of communication), since they must know their environment, the people with whom they interact, the places they frequent, their tastes and hobbies, etc.

It is not about controlling the teenager in a stifling way, as this is counterproductive. Rather, the key is to have a global vision of your life and context to know that everything is in order.

Likewise, maintaining fluid communication with the school and its social environment is essential so that, in case something goes wrong, it can be detected as soon as possible.

The best way to get to know the world of a teenage son is to talk to him directly. To promote a relaxed atmosphere of communication, it is advisable to practice activities with the family.

In addition, encouraging activities and sports with peers is also helpful in maintaining an orderly and stable routine.

5. Breaking the taboo around drugs

Drugs, like other topics, are surrounded by a great taboo. That is why addressing this issue is really difficult for many parents.

However, not talking about them will only help the adolescent to be informed and search on his own, which can cause the opposite effect to the desired one.

Everything forbidden generates more desire, so the ideal is to be able to talk about drugs naturally. If the teenager asks, he must be answered and take advantage of any appropriate time to bring up the issue and discuss it with peace of mind. When it is the parents who provide the information, it is avoided to obtain erroneous data about drugs that can lead to confusion.

Feel free to comment on how you educate your children about drugs and their consequences.

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Disclaimer: This article is purely informative, I have no authority to make a diagnosis or recommend treatment. I invite you to visit a psychologist to treat your particular case.