Talk to Your Teens Early About Substance Use

Two teens looking at a computer.

Torri Daggett has a reminder for parents of adolescents: Talk to your kids about how alcohol and marijuana have negative effects on their brain development.

She also has words of caution for parents: the marijuana of today, and how it’s used, is different from what you remember from your youth, so don’t be lulled into a sense of comfort.

“Because of the rapid brain growth of an adolescent, their brains are more vulnerable to the short-term and long-term effects of alcohol and drug usage,” said Daggett, an Ohio Certified Prevention Specialist and executive director of Sylvania Prevention Alliance, formerly the Sylvania Community Action Team.

“Teens and young adults’ prefrontal cortex is still developing,” she said. “This is the area that controls planning and decision-making. Drinking or doing any drugs can impact decisions and actions, significantly more than in adults.”

She continued, “Studies have proved that heavy marijuana use in adolescents can permanently lower their IQ by eight points.”

There’s more. “Teen usage of alcohol has been linked to a higher rate of mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression in youth and even later in life. It has also been shown to cause sleeping problems,” Daggett said. “Research has shown that alcohol or marijuana usage as a teen significantly raises your likelihood of developing an alcohol use disorder later in life.”

What’s exacerbating these concerns, she said, is that marijuana has a much higher potency than in the past. Many teens are using marijuana that is 50 to 90 percent THC, the compound that is the main active ingredient of cannabis. For comparison, in 1980 smoking marijuana would have around 4 percent THC.

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“What we’re really seeing now is a lot of vaping, especially vaping marijuana,” Daggett said. Teens also are intaking marijuana through dabbing, which is smoking marijuana’s extract, a higher potency.

“Vaping marijuana, dabbing, and edibles are getting popular,” she said, adding the drug’s potency “is getting scary.” She said research shows that this more-potent marijuana is now addictive, especially in dabbing and edibles, the forms most used by teens.

Daggett said there are things parents can do to help:

“The biggest and most important thing to do is talk to your children about the health risks involved in using alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs as their brain is still developing,” she said. “Start early, be calm and encourage questions. Children will not relate to fear tactics, but it has been shown that children will listen to their parents more often than parents believe they will.

“Have rules regarding alcohol and drug usage and consequences spelled out. Know where your children are spending their time and make sure to get to know your children’s friends’ parents and their rules.”

She continued, “Always secure your alcohol, vapes, or any prescription drugs in a lock box or other safe location. And set a good example. Parents do not always realize how their actions affect their children’s thoughts or actions.”

Also, Daggett said, “Don’t permit your underage children to drink. Some parents think that it is safer to have their children and friends drink at home. Teens and young adults whose parents allow them to drink in their presence are more likely to quickly transition into unhealthy patterns of drinking when they are away from them.”

Daggett emphasized that parents should “keep the conversation going and start earlier than you think you need to, to create the best outcome for your kids.”