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Talking to Your Military Teen About Substance Use

Service member talks with high school teens

With the challenges of long family separations and permanent change of station moves, military teens may be more vulnerable to drug and alcohol use. Certain common challenges like a need for social acceptance at a new school may prompt teens to act before considering consequences. Luckily, there are steps you can take to help reduce your child’s risk for a substance use problem.

How can I talk to my teen about substance use?

The dangers of teen alcohol and drug use include impaired driving, future health problems, and increased susceptibility to addiction. Here are a few tips to help you discuss drug use with your teen:

  • Talk now. It might seem like your pre-teens are too young for a serious talk about substance use, but research shows that it’s not uncommon for children to be offered drugs or alcohol before turning 13.
  • Embrace honesty. Be prepared to answer questions about your experience with drugs. Sharing your own experiences or being open about any family history can make the conversation more relatable and allow your teen to learn from the past.
  • Talk and listen. A two-way conversation may likely resonate better with your teen. It’s important your child feels comfortable sharing his or her opinions, concerns or questions with you.
  • Avoid scare tactics. Focus on real risks for commonly misused substances. For example, discuss how marijuana can affect their performance on sports teams or put them at risk for legal trouble.
  • Get real. Brainstorm scenarios in which your teen may be offered drugs and work together to come up with some real ways he or she could handle each situation.
  • Stay involved. When possible, revisit the topic of drug and alcohol use. Get to know your son or daughter’s friends and their friends’ parents. Stay involved in their social activities.

What warning signs should I look for?

If you think your teen may be at risk for drug or alcohol use, keep an eye out for these warning signs:

  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • New friends and different places to hang out
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Withdrawal from or hostility toward family members
  • Unfamiliar smells in the home, car or on the teen’s possessions
  • Unexplained need for money and secrecy about where it goes
  • Alcohol bottles, prescription drug bottles or drug paraphernalia in the teen’s room
  • Changes in physical appearance or personality
  • Sudden changes in school performance

Where can I find more resources?

What should I do if my teen needs help?

If you think your teen has a substance use problem, you may want to seek professional help to navigate the path to sobriety. As a member of the military community, your teen can receive the necessary inpatient or outpatient treatment through TRICARE. Your primary care manager can provide an appropriate referral. You aren’t in this alone.


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