Effects on Teens by Drug Use in the Family

So they tell their children to obey them, not to observe and imitate them. This posture is almost certainly doomed to failure.When I was a child, both of my parents smoked. This was before smoking was known to be the major health issue it is today.

On Halloween, I loved to receive candy cigarettes, because I could “play” smoking like my mom and dad. The characters on TV all smoked. And many of them died, by the way. When I was in high-school, my dad had surgery for lung cancer. Both he and my mother stopped smoking. Yet I tried smoking in college! Even though I had first hand experience, even proof, that smoking was problematic, I still tried it. Why would I do such a thing when I was a first-hand witness to the suffering the habit caused? I believe it was because I grew up witnessing smoking as a normal part of the life of adults. In other words, I reacted to what I SAW, not what my parents SAID regarding smoking.

Today, families face challenges just as deadly as smoking, and in some cases, more deadly. Children see their parents have that drink before dinner. They see them whoop it up on weekends, or at tail-gate parties with the neighbors. In some cases, they see their parents smoking, or using smokeless tobacco, a particularly insidious killer. They may even observe illegal drug use in their parents. Whatever they are observing is what they are internalizing—not what you may be earnestly verbalizing. And if you are using illicit drugs, you are opening the door for whatever your child may decide to experiment with.

Believe me, you will have absolutely no clout or credibility or standing if you tell your teenager not to smoke pot when you and your friends are lighting up around the hot-tub. It’s time for a face-to-face confrontation with your conscience. What do you want for your child, and what are you willing to do to make sure he gets it? Are you willing to change your own behavior? Are you willing to obtain treatment if you need it? Are you willing to cut ties with using buddies? If you answer NO to any of these questions, you may expect your teenager to continue to use drugs, and perhaps even to escalate his use of them.

What if the users are not Mom and Dad, but a revered older sibling or aunt or uncle? Again, you MUST stand your ground. While you can (and probably should) express your love for this person, you must also express your concern and disapproval. Your teenager needs to see that you love this relative, but that you do not condone his or her behavior, and that you will not bend your standards to allow this person to “use” in your home. What message is your teenager receiving? He is hearing that you love this person, but that you do not and cannot condone what he’s doing.

There is no question that your teenager will encounter value systems different from your own. Actually, you should hope he does. He should have experiences in which he sees what’s going on, evaluates the issues and consequences, and sees your strong and unequivocal response to those challenges. He needs your example and the guidance that comes from observing and internalizing that example. So you have a choice. If you indulge in drug use at home, expect your teenager to. If you do not, expect that he may not. There is no guarantee either way. But you may stack the deck in your favor if you refrain from drug use at home.

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