Teenagers may be faced with unknown situations and tempted by new experiences, such as drinking alcohol, using drugs or gambling. For most young people, these experiences are short-lived and do not occupy an important place in their lives. For others, they can become a very big deal.
As a parent, you can help your teen make informed choices about alcohol consumption, drug use and gambling. You can also intervene if his or her alcohol consumption, drug use or gambling becomes problematic.
Alcohol, Drugs and Gambling: Types of Consumption and Practices
The fact that your teen has consumed alcohol or other drugs or gambled does not mean he or she has a problem. Most people have experimented in this way, often simply out of curiosity.
For most teens, bouts of alcohol or drug consumption are temporary and will not be a major focus in their lives. In such cases, the costs, effects, fear of consequences and harm done to their health are convincing enough to keep them in control of their consumption.
Some teens like to drink, use drugs or gamble with friends. They repeat the experience, but they choose when to drink, use drugs or gamble and know when to stop.
Young people who occasionally drink, use drugs or gamble experience few very negative consequences, or even none at all. This type of consumption:
- Does not cause them problems with their family and friends
- Does not affect their studies
- Does not cause them problems with the law
- Does not cause them financial problems
Problems related to alcohol, drug use and gambling
For some teens, drinking, using drugs or gambling becomes a priority in their lives. Their social activities, such as parties and encounters with friends, revolve around one of these habits.
These young people experience various problems with family, friends, school or work. Much of their pocket money is spent on the purchase of alcohol or drugs or on gambling. Over time, they can feel a certain psychological suffering associated with their consumption of alcohol or drugs or their interest in gambling. These activities stop being fun. They continue to drink, use drugs or gamble, despite the problems caused by these habits.
To learn more about the problems associated with alcohol, drug use and gambling, or to get help, consult the Help and Resources section.
Help your teen make informed choices
Even if teens show no signs of trouble associated with substance abuse or gambling, you can help them make informed choices. For example:
- Encourage them to express themselves. Teach them to say “no” when necessary
- Put them in a decision-making position: Allow them to buy their own clothes, manage their pocket money, etc.
- Teach them how to:
- Manage difficult situations
- Set goals
- Wait to get what they want
- Accept rejection once in a while
- Help them develop a sense of judgment. For instance, ask their opinion about a current event, an advertisement or a TV show
- Teach them how to solve their own problems: Help them find solutions to difficulties and how to choose the best option and apply it
- Encourage them to ask for help if they need it, for themselves or for someone else, and praise them if they do
- Tell them what their qualities are and help them to develop them. Support them in their efforts and highlight their successes so that they are able to build self-esteem
- Help them acquire healthy lifestyle habits regarding diet, physical activity, sleep, relaxation, etc.
- Encourage them to engage in leisure activities that make them feel good
- Instead of trying to frighten them about alcohol, drugs and gambling, help them find pertinent information. Listen for what they wish to experience and hear on the subject
- Educate them objectively. This way, they are more inclined to believe you and you will preserve the bond of trust between you
As a parent, you play a determining role in your teen’s life. Your relationship with him or her is different from those he or she has with friends.
Advice for Parents Whose Teen Drinks, Uses Drugs or Gambles
You suspect or have proof that your teen is drinking, using drugs or gambling frequently. You know that one of his or her friends does so and you are worried about their influence over your teen. Instead of getting angry or setting ultimatums, find a way to bring the subject up with your teen.
Even if your teen challenges your words and actions, your attitude as a parent still matters. It is still your role to set limits and let him or her know what your expectations of him or her are. Even if it seems as if your teen does not listen to you anymore, you have a lot of influence over him or her. Most importantly, try to understand why he or she is drinking or using drugs and thank him or her if he or she confides in you.
Do not hesitate to bring up the risks of driving while impaired by alcohol or other drugs.
Know how to respond if your teen is under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- In most cases, it is best to wait for the initial effects of alcohol or drugs to wear off before broaching the subject. Be patient, and stay calm
- It is best not to contradict your teen if he or she says strange things. They are a reflection of how he or she feels
- Allow your teen to experience his or her “high” in a quiet place. It’s no use starting a long discussion because he or she is not in a state to understand what is happening. You can ask what drug he or she took and how much of it
- If your teen shows signs of acute intoxication, avoid leaving him or her alone. If you fear for his or her health, call 9-1-1. If you are uncertain of the degree of intoxication, call Info-Santé 811 or the Centre anti-poison du Québec (poison control centre) at 1 800 463‑5060. A nurse will tell you precisely what to do depending on your teen’s condition
Do not shy away from having a discussion with your teen
If you want to have a discussion with your teen, do not be afraid of taking the lead. Calmly broach the subject when he or she is not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Say that you suspect him or her of drinking, using drugs or gambling. If you know it for a fact, say so. Instead of criticizing, explain how you feel about your teen’s habit; tell him or her that you are worried or that you do not understand, etc.
Encourage your teenager to think and help him or her find solutions to his or her problems
If drinking, using drugs or gambling appears to be an escape for your teen, help him or her find other ways to solve problems. Reaffirm your support.
Help your teen become informed
Help your teen find credible information on the effects of drug use or gambling. Encourage him or her to take responsibility: An informed person makes better choices.
Remember that teenagers tend to communicate better and understand the situation well if all sides of the issue are addressed:
- If you yourself are open to learning more on the subject
- If you allow your teen to express his or her ideas on the subject
Let your teen deal with the consequences of his or her actions
This could mean, for example, letting your teen explain his or her absence from school or his or her poor grades or making him or her pay off any debts.
Act as if your role is to train or guide your teen
With younger teens, intervene by monitoring outings, friends and use of pocket money.
When your child becomes a teenager, your role changes as he or she evolves. You are no longer there to give orders, direct and protect the same way as when he or she was a child.
Your role as the parent of a teenager can be summed up as such:
- Listen to what he or she is experiencing
- Maintain a good rapport regardless of what he or she does
- Share your joys and concerns about him or her
- Be receptive to the problems he or she faces
- Share your values and what is important to you, even if he or she appears to ridicule them at times
Advice for Parents Whose Teen Has a Substance Abuse or Gambling Problem
If it is obvious that your teen is in a bad situation, here are a few suggestions to help you manage it better:
- You are not the cause of your teen’s substance abuse or gambling problem, just as you cannot control him or her. Instead of searching for the cause of the problem, focus on what actions you can take
- You may be inclined to believe that the problem will solve itself, but ignoring the problem will only make it worse
- Do not expect to be perfect. If you make mistakes, see them as ways to improve the next time
- Recognize the difference between behaviour that encourages drinking, drug use or gambling and behaviour that does not, even if sometimes the line between them is blurry. For example, going to pick up your teen when he or she calls you because he or she is too intoxicated to drive does not encourage substance abuse. It also ensures your teen’s safety
Facilitate communication between you and your teen
- Through gestures and words, let your teen know that you are listening; this may encourage him or her to talk more
- Encourage your teen to express how he or she feels. Check with him or her to be sure that you have understood what he or she is trying to say. Several discussions may be needed in order to come to a mutual understanding
- Do not try to fill the silences in the conversation; they can be significant moments of reflection
- Be yourself. Do not be afraid to admit to your teen that you have made mistakes too. However, be careful not to fall into a monologue, and limit references to what was done “in my day”. This often only serves to interrupt the discussion
- Recognize the importance of what your teen tells you. Do not minimize his or her remarks
- It may happen that you feel confrontational with your teen. This frequently happens when a parent tries to show a teen that he or she is wrong
Set limits and rules
When your teen’s behaviour, alcohol consumption, drug use or gambling affects your well-being and that of your family, it is time to set limits about what you are willing to accept. Establish rules that you are comfortable with and that reflect your values and lifestyle choices.
Avoid certain behaviours
Certain behaviours can facilitate and encourage your teen to continue drinking, using drugs or gambling. You should avoid the following:
- Covering up your teen’s wrongdoings and blunders, tolerating inacceptable behaviour or simply ignoring problems. Even if such behaviour is done with good intentions, it can be damaging to your teen
- Spending your time apologizing for his or her behaviour. This will only make the problem persist. It is important to let your teen take responsibility for his or her actions
- Downplaying the seriousness of your teen’s substance abuse or gambling problem, especially in front of others. It is better to confront the situation in an honest and realistic way. If there is a problem, you must acknowledge it; only then can you begin to solve it
- Giving him or her money. Let your teen solve his or her own financial issues with regard to substance use or gambling
Help and Resources
If you would like to get help or information about substance abuse and gambling, there are people available to help you and listen to you and offer solutions without judging you, regardless of the type of drinking, drug use or gambling your teen is engaged in.
- Your integrated health and social services centre (CISSS) or your integrated university health and social services centre (CIUSSS). To find contact information, go to Finding a Resource.
- Ligne Parents (toll-free helpline, website in French only, with toll-free services available in English): 1 800 361-5085
- Drugs: Help and Referral : 1 800 265-2626
- Gambling: Help and Referral : 1 800 461-0140
Last update: February 5, 2019