Parents should gauge teen's risk for addiction

By Vicky O. Misa | | (405) 214-3962 | Twitter: @Vicky_NewsStar
The Shawnee News-Star
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Several decades of research shows that some teens are more at risk for developing a substance abuse problem than other teens, Gateway to Prevention and Recovery Prevention Director and Regional Prevention Coordinator Abby Flood said. Family members can watch for indicators that may suggest higher risk.

There is no single factor, she said.

“However, the more risk factors a teen has, the more likely he or she will abuse drugs or alcohol,” she said. “Conversely, the fewer the number of risk factors, the less likely he or she will develop a drug or alcohol problem.”

Also, it’s important to recognize that even children raised in the same home may have varying levels of risk, Flood said.

“It is important to keep in mind that risk factors do not determine a child’s destiny,” she explained. “Instead, they provide a general gauge as to the likelihood of drug or alcohol abuse.”

Addressing risk factors early and paying careful attention to children at higher risk can reduce that child’s likelihood of a future problem with drugs or alcohol, she said.

“Understanding risk factors is also very important when a child with more risk has already experimented with substances or has a problem,” she said. “In that case, you will have a clearer picture of why things might have happened and know how to get the right kind of treatment.”

Flood offers some things to consider.

Common risk factors associated with teen drug and alcohol abuse:

• Family History: Family history of drug or alcohol problems, especially when it is the parent’s history, can place a child at increased risk for developing a problem. Children can inherit genes that increase their risk of alcoholism, so having a parent or grandparent with alcohol problems may indicate increased risk for the child. Inheriting the gene does not mean the child will automatically become dependent on alcohol.

If there is a history of a dependence or addiction in your family, you should let your child know since he or she is at a higher risk for developing a drug or alcohol problem. These conversations should take place when you feel your child is able to understand the information.

• Mental or Behavioral Disorder: If your child has a psychiatric condition like depression, anxiety or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), he or she is more at risk for developing a drug or alcohol problem. Although not all teenagers with these disorders will develop a substance abuse problem, the chances are higher when they have difficulty regulating their thoughts and emotions. Therefore, parents with children with psychiatric conditions should be vigilant about the possibility of their teen using drugs or alcohol.

It is also a good idea to talk with your health care providers about the connection between psychiatric conditions and substance use. Managing and treating underlying psychiatric conditions, or understanding how emotional and behavioral problems can trigger or escalate a substance use problem, is important for preventing or reducing risk.

• Trauma: Children who have a history of traumatic events (such as witnessing or experiencing a car accident or natural disaster; being a victim of physical or sexual abuse) have been shown to be more at risk for substance use problems later in life. Therefore, it is important for parents to recognize and address the possible impact of trauma on their child and get help for their child.

• Impulse Control Problems: Children who frequently take risks or have difficulty controlling impulses are more at risk for substance use problems. While most teens understand the dangers of taking risks, some have particular difficulty resisting impulses to engage in risky behavior.

This information is from an excerpt from a booklet recommended by Gateway’s prevention specialists called “Parenting Practices: Help Reduce the Chances Your Child will Develop a Drug or Alcohol Problem” by the Partnership for Drug Free Kids. For a free download of the whole booklet, go to

For more information, call (405) 275-3391 or email