Connect. Guide. Empower.
It’s normal for teens to have questions about substances. Connect. Guide. Empower. can help you start a judgment-free conversation with your teen about the risks and how they can stay safe.
With tips, facts, and resources, this site helps you connect with your teen, guide them toward the facts, and empower them to make safe decisions.
Below are tips for connecting with teens in conversations about substance use, including what teens have said they wish the adults in their lives understood
Lead with Empathy
Being a teen is hard. There's a lot of pressure on young people these days, and the world they're growing up in is different from what you experienced as a teen. Teens want their parents to know that they're super stressed and want to identify ways to relieve that stress.
Connecting with an understanding parent may help identify positive ways to address their stress rather than options like substance use. And we don't always give young people the credit they deserve: They're smart and want to be empowered to make positive decisions.
You know your kid best. You know that they're not a "bad" person, regardless of what substances they might be wondering about or have even tried. But the default language a lot of parents use can come off as punitive, rather than supportive. Reacting without judgment or accusations allows for productive conversations that help you understand why your teen has questions.
If your teen does use substances, there is always a risk of addiction or mental health issues. It's important to lay a stigma-free foundation when it comes to talking about substance use. Just like you'd want to get your teen the best possible help if they had asthma, you should want them to get the support they might need for addiction. Addiction is a treatable medical condition, but stigma can lead to feelings of shame or the need to hide, and it makes it hard for teens to ask for help.
Leave the Door Open
Maybe you try to talk about substances when you pick up your teen from school one day, and they're just not into it. That doesn't mean they don't want to talk, period. Normalize these types of conversation so that it feels less awkward (for both of you!). This lets your teen know that they can come to you with questions and you won't jump to conclusions about why they're asking.
Not sure how to start? Look for mentions about substances in TV shows or movies or in the news. That can help set up the conversation so that it seems less out of the blue.
It is important to provide your teen with guidance on how to make healthy choices. Teens with parents or guardians who provide guidance to avoid substance use have lower rates of use. Each substance has unique risks, it is important to educate yourself about commonly misused drugs so you can discuss these specific risks.
There is a lot of false information online, so it is important to help them sort through truths and myths. Wine and opioids have very different risks, so grouping them together can seem extreme and out of touch and makes teens less likely to ask questions if they think that's your perspective.
Build Two-Way Trust
Adolescence is a tricky time to navigate: They’re not a kid, but they’re also not an adult yet. Teens want to feel like they have autonomy over their actions; they want to feel like you trust them and are there for them, no matter what.
The more your teen feels like you trust them, the more they will trust you as a place to turn to with questions, or to get help if they need it.
Facts About Substances
Between friends, TV shows, and TikTok, your teen probably has some ideas about substances already. But not all of the information that’s readily available is accurate. Here are some facts to get you up to speed.
Get important drug facts below!
1. Alcohol is the most commonly used substance among young people in the U.S., and teens who drink alcohol are more likely to experience a range of negative outcomes, including:
Injuries such as burns, falls, or drowning.
Unwanted, unplanned, and unprotected sexual activity.
Problems in school, memory problems, and misuse of other substances.
2. Many don't know that alcohol is a classified Group 1 carcinogen, putting it in the same category as asbestos, radiation, and tobacco. A growing body of evidence supports the World Health Organization's recent statement that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption, and it is a cancer-causing substance.
3. In general, the risk of teens experiencing these negative outcomes is greater for those who binge drink than for those who do not. But, in New Jersey, about a quarter of teens think weekly binge drinking doesn’t carry risk.
CANNABIS (AKA MARIJUANA, POT, WEED)
1. Cannabis is only legal in New Jersey for those 21 and older, but youth are exposed to a lot of information about it through friends and social media. It can be hard for them to know what’s true and what’s not.
2. Today's weed is much stronger than it was ten years ago. High-potency THC products are commonly sold as vapes and edibles (the most used marijuana products for youth), and are linked to increased mental health issues and psychosis/schizophrenia.
3. About a third of NJ students have tried it, and about one in five students currently use it —only slightly lower than the number of students who currently drink alcohol.
4. Many NJ high school students think using marijuana once or twice a week has either no risk of harm or just a slight risk. However, using marijuana harms the developing brain and leads to problems with:
Memory, attention, learning, decision-making, and school.
Anxiety, depression, and even self-harm, especially for teens with a family history of mental illness.
5. The risk of developing a cannabis use disorder increases for people who begin using marijuana before 18.
1. All opioids are addictive. Whether it’s prescription painkillers like hydrocodone (Vicodin) or illegal substances like fentanyl or heroin, they all work in the body the same way. Opioid dependence can happen in just five days.
2. Fentanyl is an extremely potent opioid (10 to 50 times stronger than morphine), and it has led to increases in opioid overdoses and deaths across the country. It has also become increasingly common for fentanyl to be found hidden in other types of drugs without a person’s knowledge, making any opioid (or other drug) use even riskier if it's not from a legitimate pharmacy.
3. About a third of U.S. youths think opioids are easy to acquire; the most common way that high school students in New Jersey get prescription opioids is from friends or family members. About 1/3 of New Jersey student-athletes who misused prescription painkillers got them from their own prescription.
4. One way to keep your teen safe from opioids is to practice safe storage and disposal of prescription medications in your home. Keep opioids in a secure place that others can’t easily access, and always properly dispose of unused prescriptions. This site can help you find a convenient drop-off location
1. Stimulants are a class of substances that includes things like cocaine, methamphetamine, and ADHD medications —all substances that speed up communication between the brain and the rest of the body. ADHD meds include Adderall, Ritalin, and Concerta, and you may hear young people call them “Addy” or “study buddies.”
2. Some teens will turn to ADHD meds to try to stay awake or focus. But they can actually make it harder to study and make teens feel anxious, panicky, or sick if the meds weren’t actually prescribed to them to manage ADHD.
3. Most teens who misuse prescription stimulants say they get them from someone they know.
4. Anything that didn’t come directly from the pharmacy is risky. It is possible that counterfeit pills masquerading as Adderall could actually be laced with dangerous other substances like fentanyl.
988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a free, nationwide digital dialing code providing compassionate, accessible care. Text or call 988 24/7 if you are in crisis.
NJ REACH is a free central call-in line for New Jersey residents who are looking for help with substance use disorder.
Call 1-844-732-2465, 24/7
Screening 2 Support is a free, confidential tool to self-screen for anxiety, depression, substance use disorder, and more.
How to Get Involved
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