Parents, let’s get real here. If you have a teenager, chances are they have either tried cannabis (pot/weed), are actively using it, or they know another teen who is. And, chances are that at least some of the parents you’ve talked to are in some way co-signing their teen’s pot use. “Oh, it’s just pot,” they may say. Or, “they’re just teenagers, they’ll grow out of it;” “they’re stressed; they’re under so much pressure; they are just blowing off steam.” Another I’ve heard is, “I’d rather have them at my house, so I can monitor things. At least then I know they aren’t out somewhere else getting high.” As innocent as it may seem, if your teen is getting high by smoking, vaping, or dabbing pot, then it’s not something to be ignored or minimized. So ... let’s talk about teens getting high.
As we know, getting high can be very enjoyable to the user. The reason a teen might initially use can vary, but overall, they like the bodily effects produced and the social culture surrounding them when they use. Getting stoned can feel really good, and drug culture can feel welcoming. Not only that, teenagers are hardwired to view situations with a skewed risk-to-benefit analysis, typically making decisions based not on how bad the consequences will be but on how great the benefit will be. That’s often what leaves us scratching our heads, wondering why in the world a teen might decide to do something like jimmy-rigging a zipline from the neighbor’s house to his/her own and risking serious injury just for a few seconds of excitement. A teen may easily convince him/herself that getting high is worth the risk, even while acknowledging negative consequences.
With that said, the teenage brain is very susceptible to developing addiction, because when a drug like cannabis goes in, it floods the brain with this stuff called Dopamine. Dopamine tells our brain, “OOOOOOOHHHHHH, I LIKE THAT, LET’S DO THAT AGAIN!!!!” It’s a bit more complicated than that, but to sum it up, you should know that the amount of dopamine released from laughing with a friend is a normal amount, the amount that our brain is built to handle, the amount that is healthy for us. But, when a teenager smokes some pot, the amount of dopamine released is far beyond what should be in the brain at any given time. It gets overwhelmed with that feeling of “LET’S DO THAT AGAIN!!!” So, the teenager is extremely motivated to use more pot. That is where the cycle of addiction can begin. If the teen likes it and uses pot again, then the experiment is over, and they have moved onto the next stage which is drug abuse. Seems quick, doesn’t it? It is! Watch this great illustration - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUngLgGRJpo&feature=youtu.be
You may be wondering what, if anything, can be done if you suspect your teen is using pot. The good news is catching drug use early can save your teen from a lifetime of addiction issues, as he or she learns to cope with life through healthy means, rather than through escaping into cannabis or other mind altering substances.
Here are a few tips to follow:
Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries: It is your house, so set the rules and follow through with the consequences. Putting a family contract in place that clearly states the rules, the rewards for following them, and the consequences for breaking them can be really helpful. Remember, the second your child turns 18 he/she will face much larger punishments than grounding or getting their phone taken away, especially since only adults over age 21 can possess pot legally in California.
Drug test! I know it seems harsh, but remember that Dopamine I mentioned? It is far more powerful than you and will win every time to convince a teen that getting high is worth it. Drug testing provides accountability for both your teen and yourself as you follow through with your family contracts.
Talk about it: The old saying ‘just say no’ does not work. It’s been proven over and over again--when we tell our kids that, we are leaving out all the important stuff, including acknowledging that getting high can be fun, and some friendships may be lost when they quit using.
Get professional help! There are plenty of Drug and Alcohol Counselors, Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists, 12-step Sponsors, and Drug Support Group members that will be happy to lend a hand when you are ready. If you find that your teen has started using pot or other drugs, don’t wait for she or he to ‘grow out of it.’ Take action and reach out. Even if it is just an experiment, and it may very well be, your teen is better off learning healthy alternatives to coping with life than potentially developing an addiction.
Please call if you need support with this. It takes a community effort, and we are here to help!
Seija Zimmerman, LMFT specializing in substance abuse treatment
Thrive Therapy & Counseling
1614 X St., Suite A
Sacramento, CA 95818
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