“Not my daughter! She knows better than to do drugs, much less abuses them!”

--anonymous parent of teen girl drug abuser

Is this you, mom? Dad? Is this what you would say, or are even saying now?

Although it is illegal under 21 years of age, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teens and young adults (12-20) consume nearly one-tenth of all alcohol consumed in the United States.1

Approximately 50% of high schoolers (9-12 grades) say they use or used marijuana. 20% of 12th graders report using the prescription medication without a prescription. About 40% of high schoolers report smoking cigarettes.1

This was me. My daughter did all of the above and I denied it. I even tried to ignore it, until watching my daughter struggle for her life in a hospital emergency room woke me up to the daughter was in big trouble. And she desperately needed help.

It’s Important to Recognize the Signs of Drug Use and Abuse Early

The risks of drug use and abuse are simply too great to deny or ignore. It negatively affects their physical growth, notably their brain development. It invites other risky behaviors to enter the picture, like unprotected sex and dangerous driving. And later in life, it contributes to the incidence of heart disease, high blood pressure, and sleep disorders.1

“…the risks of drug use and abuse are simply too great to ignore…”

--National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, there are key signs and symptoms that parents should look for as a matter of course in raising their children.

Alcohol Abuse Early Warning Signs2

*Difficulty recalling events experienced

*Repeated conflicts with family members, friends

*Recurring mood swings, depression, or irritability

*Regularity of use, especially if connected to needing to relax, improve mood, or go to sleep

*Recurring headaches, panic attacks, sleeplessness, or stomach aches

*Red-face or a ruddy complexion, or broken capillaries on the nose or face

*Trembling hands

*Bloody or black stools, or vomiting blood

*Frequent diarrhea

*Increased secrecy.

What Parents Must Do When the Reality of Use or Abuse Hits Home

What’s a parent to do when they can no longer deny or ignore their “little girl” who has a substance abuse problem?

The Partnership to End Addiction knows what parents are up against. And they say, the “most important thing you can do is to confront...”

The “most important thing you can do is to confront…”

--Partnership to End Addiction

Here is What Parents Must Do:3

*understand the situation—know the cost of the damage that’s being done

*start the conversation—stay calm, sit down, and bring it up

*address the behavior—go there, talk about boundaries and consequences

*teach about the risks—your daughter may or may not know them

*talk about the worst-case scenarios—heroin and opioid use is no joke

When Parent Communication Falls on Deaf Ears and the Problem Continues

“In a word, or two, or three…’ substance abuse counseling.”

--anonymous parent of a teen using and abusing drugs

Evidence-Based Approaches to Treating Adolescent Substance Use Disorders4

Behavioral Interventions

In the behavioral approach to substance-abuse counseling, the teens actively participate in the effort. Incentives to remain abstinent, to modify attitudes and behaviors, to assist families to communicate and positively interact, and to increase the use of basic life skills, may be used in this approach. There will be an effort to identify and learn to manage triggers that stimulate teens to use particular substances.

Statistically effective behavioral intervention models include the following:

*Group Therapy, using Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

*Individual Therapy, also using CBT

*Adolescent Community Reinforcement (A-CRA)

*Contingency Management (CM)

*Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET)

*Twelve-Step Facilitation Therapy

Family-Based Approaches

In a family-based approach, treatment involves the family, including parents, siblings, and sometimes peers. This approach attempts to work with the environment where the teen lives and would like to keep living there. Boundaries, rules, consequences, supports are all addressed. Most importantly, great emphasis is placed on positive and constructive communication at all levels.

Statistically, effective family-based approaches include the following:

*Brief Strategic Family Therapy (BSFT)

*Family Behavior Therapy (FBT)

*Functional Family Therapy (FFT)

*Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT)

*Multisystemic Therapy (MST)

Addiction Medications

A number of medications have demonstrated over many years of use by professionals to be effective in treating addiction, especially to opioids, alcohol and nicotine. Let the professionals determine what would be best for your teen.

Opioid Use

*Buprenorphine has been effective with craving prevention.

*Methadone has been effective with withdrawal prevention.

*Naltrexone has been effective with relapse prevention.

Alcohol Use

*Acamprosate reduces withdrawal symptoms.

*Disulfiram inhibits the enzyme associated with alcohol metabolism

*Naltrexone helps with relapse issues.

Nicotine Use

*Bupropion reduces cravings.

*NRTs help wean smokers off cigarettes.

*Varenicline reduces cravings.

Recovery Support Services are a Must4

Gains in recovery must be reinforced and maintained. Backsliding is not allowed. Recovery support services are readily available, which include continuing care, mutual help groups, peer recovery services and recovery high schools. Having a community setting of mutual support has been shown to help with continued recovery.

*Assertive Continuing Care (ACC)

*Adolescent Community Reinforcement Approach (A-CRA)

*Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

*Narcotics Anonymous (NA)


*Recovery High School

Contacts for Parents to Get Professional Help Right Away4

*Family Doctor…schedule an appointment today

*Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)


*American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM)

*Patient Referral Program on the American Academy of Addiction


*Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Finder on the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry

Taking the Christian Path to Substance Abuse Counseling5

There is a mountain of evidence showing faith’s effects on not only helping the substance addicted to recover but to help prevent them from using and abusing substances in the first place.

There is “…voluminous empirical evidence on faith’s contribution to preventing people from falling victim to substance abuse and helping them recover from it.”

--Brian and Melissa Grim, Journal of Religion and Health

73% of addiction treatment programs in the U.S. (130,000 congregation-based substance abuse programs) include a spirituality-based element, including treatment facilities, recovery programs, and support groups.

84% of scientific studies show that faith is a positive factor in addiction recovery and prevention programs.

It’s not just the body we are talking about when we speak of substance abuse counseling. The spirit of man is also a central part of the continuum of addiction health care.

It is indisputable clear that religion and spirituality are very powerful when it comes to assertively dealing with substance abuse prevention and recovery. The vast body of research shows the efficacy of faith in substance abuse counseling impacts not only people’s behaviors and beliefs, but also their sense of belonging.

“Spirituality is defined as an openness to God, nature, or the universe where one can experience harmony with truth, feelings of love, hope and compassion, inspiration or enlightenment with a sense of meaning and purpose in life…”

--Burnett, 2014

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, as of 2018, the U.S. is in a substance abuse crisis of unprecedented proportions, especially when it comes to the use of opioids. It is estimated that more than 20 million Americans have a substance use disorder. 2.1 million of those are addicted to opioids. Another 1.8 million are addicted to pain medications.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also as of 2018, reported that 88,000 people die annually from alcohol-related causes, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. 10, 265 of those deaths occurred in alcohol-induced car crashes. The Department of Transportation estimated in 2015 that an alcohol-related driving fatality occurred every 51 minutes.

63,632 drug overdose deaths happened in the U.S. in 2016, according to the CDC, with opioids being the culprit in 42,249 of those fatalities. The National Institute on Drug and Alcohol Abuse report 72,000 drug overdose deaths.

While faith-based intervention has shown to be more than effective across the board when it comes to drug use and abuse prevention and recovery, the efficacy of Christian-based faith treatment, in particular, has a long history of specific success.6

The first settlers to America viewed addiction to alcohol and drugs as a moral problem. Put simply, it was considered sinful behavior and moral weakness that must be dealt with through the power of God, instead of whatever power the addicted person could muster. Addiction was seen as merely a sinful choice.

In the last 100 years, science and the medical field began to identify such addiction as a disease. By 1944, the U.S. Health and Public Services identified addiction as one of the largest health concerns in the nation. Medical and research communities mobilized to confront this threat to the health and safety of America head-on. Involving God, faith, religion or spirituality was the least of their concerns at the time.

In the late 1800s, religious conversions or experiences in tent revivals were touted by many patients as the antidote for addiction. They proclaimed God took their addiction away. Programs like the Salvation Army and various rescue missions sprang up all over the country to help the addicted get back on the path of the straight and narrow.

Alcoholics Anonymous (12-Step) in the early 20th Century and Teen Challenge in the mid-21st Century brought home the claims that the answer to addiction was still God, however, not to the complete exclusion of science-based treatments. Surrender, sanctification, and the power of God were once again viewed as the drivers in true and lasting recovery from addiction.

Studies as recent as 1988 concluded that faith, notably the Christian faith, is indeed a starting and ending point in true recovery from addiction. It is believed that the healing power of Jesus Christ is what brings about and maintains an individual’s rehabilitation.

1. “Teen Substance Abuse and Risks,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, February 2020.

2. “Spot the Early Warning Signs of Substance Abuse,” by the Rehab After Work, citing the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

3. “What Do I Do if My Child is Using Drugs?” Partnership to End Addiction, 2020.

4. “Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment: A Research-Based Guide,” National Institutes of Health, 2014.

5. “Belief, Behavior, and Belonging: How Faith is Indispensable in Preventing and Recovering from Substance Abuse,” by Brian and Melissa Grim, writing for the Journal of Religion and Health, August 2019.

6. “Christianity and the Treatment of Addiction: An Ecological Approach for Social Workers,” Jason Pittman and Scott W. Taylor.