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How Your Doctor Can Help Identify Teen Substance Use Disorder

One of the most difficult and important jobs a parent has is talking to their teen about the dangers of substance abuse. Even if parents feel like their teen is not listening, studies show that’s not the case. “Surveys of teens repeatedly show that parents can make an enormous difference in influencing their children’s perceptions of tobacco, alcohol or illicit drug use,” according to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Administrator Pamela Hyde1 Getting the conversation started about the dangers of substance abuse is not easy. If you are unsure about how best to talk to your teen, your teen’s doctor can help.

Routine Annual Medical Visits Important Opportunity to Talk About Substance Abuse

Maybe you’ve noticed a change in your teen’s behavior recently, a decline in academic performance, or a new group of friends. If you are worried about your teen’s drug use, a routine medical visit is an opportunity to ask questions. doctor checking records The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s “Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment” recommends talking to teens about drug use habits during an annual visit to the doctor. Pediatricians, dentists, emergency room doctors, psychiatrists and other clinicians have access to standardized screening tools. These tools can help your teen’s doctor determine your teen’s level of involvement in alcohol or drug use. Should your teen report drug use, your teen’s doctor can assess the severity. If necessary, the health care provider could offer a brief onsite intervention or refer your teen to a substance abuse treatment program. Understanding your teen’s involvement in substance abuse is the first step towards helping them get sober.

Why Parents Need to Act Now

Abusing drugs during adolescence is not “harmless experimentation” or a “normal rite of passage.” The truth is that abusing drugs during adolescence can have a serious and long-lasting impact on how your teen’s brain develops. Drugs can also affect your teen’s ability to form healthy relationships with family and peer groups, excel academically, and become a well-adjusted member of society. doctor talking to teen about risks of teen substance abuse Drug use at an early age is an important predictor of the development of a substance use disorder later in life. The likelihood for developing a substance abuse disorder is highest for teens who start using drugs at an early age. For example, 15.2% of teens who take their first drink by age 14 eventually develop alcohol abuse or dependence (compared with just 2.1% who do not drink until they are 21 years old)1. One out of every four teens who abuse prescription painkillers develops a serious drug addiction later in life1.

Teens Can Suffer from Denial

Teens with substance abuse problems rarely believe they have a problem. As your teen’s legal guardian, you can use this status to help them enter a treatment program, even if they are in denial about the problem. Studies show that treatment can be successful even if teens do not initially believe they need help for their substance abuse. Most importantly, you can talk to your teen about substance abuse. If you’re not sure what to say, your teen’s doctor can help get the conversation started. When parents talk, teens listen – even if they pretend not to. Give us a call at 877-466-0620 to learn more about substance abuse and how we can provide support.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment: A Research-Based Guide” 17 Jan 2014.
  2. Willmer, Rebecca. “Infograpic: When Parents Talk about Prescription Drug Abuse, Kids Listen (Even If They Pretend Not To).” Education Development Center. 3 Dec 2013.