What Can Parents Do?



Even with the recent downturn in opioid drug use in young adults, parents are still searching for ways to shield their adolescent children from the risk of addiction. Half of the risk of becoming an addict is determined by the genetic material we inherit. Other than telling your kids they may be at higher risk because a close relative has struggled with addiction, there’s not much we can do about that. But the other half of the risk of addiction is environmental, and these risks can often be modified, reduced.

Parent who give strong and consistent anti-drug messages to their children help reduce their risk for addiction, while overly permissive or overly authoritarian parenting styles increase their risk. Involving children in drug use rituals, like fetching beers or mixing drinks, increases the risk of earlier experimentation and thus the risk of addiction. The younger a child is when he or she begins drug experimentation, the more likely that child will develop addiction. Even a short delay in experimental drug use reduces risk a great deal.

Children of divorced parents have higher risks of alcohol and drug use, but high levels of conflict in the family home also increases risk for drug experimentation and addiction. Older siblings can have a strong influence on their younger brothers and sisters, both in positive and negative ways. Older siblings can reduce their younger sibling’s risk by endorsing and enacting anti-drug attitudes, or can increase their younger siblings’ risk by using drugs and being permissive toward drug use by their younger siblings. In some cases, sibling influence may be stronger than parental influence.

Outside of the home, peer group use of drugs and alcohol is one of the strongest predictors of drug use by an adolescent. With younger children, parents have more influence over drug experimentation and addiction, but in older adolescents, peers are usually the stronger influence.

School experiences can either increase or decrease risk: academic failure increases risk of drug use, as can an attitude that school is unimportant. Conversely, performing well in school decreases the risk of developing addiction, and having friends who support anti-drug attitudes can be a protective factor.

Children with high levels of participation in religious activities have lower rates of drug addiction.

Young adults with after school jobs have higher rates of addiction, likely because they have more disposable income, and come into contact with older people who already use drugs.

When we know facts such as these, we can make better choices about regulations affecting access to drugs and alcohol in our communities.

For more great information for parents, I highly recommend, “How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid: The Straight Dope for Parents,” by Joseph Califano. This book is based on research, and includes sections on how to talk to your kids about your own drug use, how and when to talk to your kids about drugs and alcohol, and how to prepare your young adult children for college.


  • Jean Kinney, Loosening the      Grip: A Handbook of Alcohol Information, (Boston, McGraw-Hill, 2009)      p 478
  • Richard K. Ries, David A. Fiellin,      Shannon C. Miller, and Richard Saitz, Principles of Addiction Medicine,      4th ed. (Philadelphia, Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins,      2009) ch.99, pp1383-1389.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by JR on December 5, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    I stumbled across your blog searching for books on methadone, and I am very pleasantly surprised. Advocates for methadone patients seem to be few and far between. I should know-I am a 35 year-old mother (to a wonderful 10 year-old son) and a graduate school student. I went back to school after I had gotten situated on MMT and felt confident in my recovery. I am now 3/4 of the way through my coursework to obtain a Masters in professional counseling and am looking for an internship. This brings me to my concern over prejudice towards methadone patients-I am terrified that no one will want to take me on as an intern because I am a methadone patient. My drug tests have been clean for years and I have a 3.97 GPA, but I am extremely worried that I will be negatively judged because of my methadone use.

    I also appreciated your information on safeguarding children against drug abuse. I am constantly worried about my 10 year-old because I have noticed that he has my tolerance for opiates. He has had several surgeries for a childhood condition, and his reaction to the opiates he receives for pain-management are definitely not typical. He is not tired after being medicated, in fact, he seems energized. It is very difficult to tell that he has taken anything, even after a significant dose has been given. To start with, I have explained to him (in an age-appropriate way) the reasons that I am on methadone and I have educated him about drug and alcohol abuse. In short, I appreciate your blog and the information you are providing. Many thanks, and I will certainly be a return visitor!


  2. Posted by Chenoa Brown on December 27, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    Hi Dr. Burson,
    Thanks for sharing this information on raising a drug-free child. There were a few things on here that I was unaware of that made complete sense such as the after school job putting a child at greater risk for substance use. I know as my son gets older, I will continue reading more on ways to preventive substance use/abuse. Prevention is definitely the best treatment approach!


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