Helping Parents Prevent Youth Substance Abuse

Know Your Child’s Risk Level

Several decades of research shows that some teens are more at risk for developing a substance abuse problem than other teens.

It is important to keep in mind that risk factors do not determine a child’s destiny. 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.


4 Common Risk Factors Associated with Teen Drug and Alcohol Abuse:

1. 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.

2. 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.

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.

3. 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.

4. 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.




Use the TalkSooner app for tips on how to talk to your kids about not using alcohol or other drugs.