Helping Your Addicted Child: Teens and Substance Abuse

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Richard Capriola worked in the mental health and substance abuse field for over two decades. He talks about the signs of teenagers who are abusing drugs and alcohol, what parents can do if they suspect their child is using drugs or alcohol, and how to effectively talk to your teen about it.

The following is an overview of our conversation. For the complete interview, listen to Episode 60 of Grace for Single Parents Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts.

Richard’s book: “The Addicted Child: A Parent’s Guide to Adolescent Substance Abuse”

Richard talks about what led him to write this book about children and substance abuse. He worked in the mental health and substance abuse field for over two decades. And often parents would say they had no idea their child was using. They missed the warning signs because nobody told them what to look for.

His book is a quick read – about 100 pages to give parents the facts and support they need.

Related: Help Me Parent My Teens!

His goal is to equip parents with knowledge, feel empowered after reading this book less paranoid about teen substance abuse, and be confident if they have to confront it.

What kind of drugs are popular with teens today?

Teenagers are still attracted to alcohol and marijuana as their primary substances. Richard explains what substances teens are vaping.

Two things that are driving teenagers to abuse substances:

Availability. Teenagers know that these drugs are readily available and that they have no problem getting them if they want them.

The other issue is a sense of harmlessness or harmfulness. Only 22% of high school seniors say using marijuana on a regular basis is risky.

Because of the pandemic, the percentage of teenagers using substances has gone down dramatically.

what warning signs should parents look out for with their children?

Pay attention to the changes you see in your child. You know your child better than anyone. So pay attention to changes that you see, don’t assume that what you’re seeing is just a normal adolescent acting out. It might be an indication that there’s something else going on underneath the surface that you want to know about.

Related: How Single Dads Can Cultivate Their Relationships With Their Daughters

Examples of Warning Signs:

  • a child whose grades are starting to decline
  •  a child who’s getting into disciplinary problems at home, or at school
  • a child who used to participate and enjoyed participating in sports no longer shows any interest in participating
  • a child who used to introduce you to their friends
  •  any strange odors in the house, particularly your child’s room
  • you find any substances around the house

how do you confront your teen when you have a suspicion of drug use?

  • Have a conversation with your child
  • Don’t threaten the child, don’t accuse the child.
  • Express what you’re seeing, what you’re feeling, and ask the child to give you feedback.

Next Steps After talking with your child

Get assessments: addictions assessment and a neuropsychological or psychological assessment to see if there’s an underlying issue that your child might be struggling with.

Who to turn to for the assessments:

School counselors school, social workers, or psychologist or neuropsychologist. a school psychologist, or social worker, or a social worker in private practice.

how should Parents talk to Their kids about drug use when they think it’s not a big deal?

Richard talks about how it doesn’t do much good to tell them drugs are illegal or how it can affect their grades, sports, job. But instead, talk to them about neuroscience. He gives some great examples of how to do this both in the podcast and in his book.

What I found in working with teenagers is that it doesn’t do much good to tell them drugs are illegal. What I found does work is a neuroscience approach. Kids are very interested in the neuroscience. They’re interested in how their brain works. And they’re very curious as to how drugs affect the brain.

Questions from Parents About Drug Use in Their Kids:

How should I answer my teen when he asks what drugs I did in high school?

Richard says this is a decision each parent should make for themselves based upon their child. If you do decide to tell your teen about what drugs or alcohol you used in high school, use it as an opportunity to talk about the consequences you experienced as a result.

Should I be concerned about marijuana when it’s legal in our state?

Absolutely. You should be concerned. Where marijuana is legal, it’s for adults, not adolescents. And there’s a very good reason for that. The brain is developing. You have a very vulnerable adolescent and brain that is developing until age 24.

Richard talks about the effects of marijuana on the adolescent brain he saw while working in the mental health field.

Related: 14 Ways to Encourage Your Tween To Love Reading

What do you say to parents That Let their child try alcohol or marijuana in their home? The thought of “If they’re gonna try it anyway, I might as well give them a safe environment.”

Richard talks about how the research was done on parents who have taken this approach and what their research showed was that those kids later went on and left the home and went off to college and they ended up smoking or drinking a lot more than kids who came from homes where it was discouraged.

Richard leaves parents with a word of hope.

“I encourage parents to not be paranoid about this issue, not be afraid of it because it is a scary subject. We tend to shy away from it but learn as much as you can. Learn the basics, feel empowered, feel better prepared to deal with this, and hope and pray that you never have to, but feel confident that if you have to deal with it, you will recognize the warning signs early.”

“if you’re going through this, we often forget the parents. We often don’t recognize that the parents are going through a crisis, too. It’s not just the kid. So build a support system around you and reach out and get some support for yourself. Because as a parent, you deserve that and you’re going to need it.”

Where can listeners find more?

Richard’s Website:


The book is divided into 17 chapters. The text educates parents on everything from the types of drugs kids are
abusing and what drug use does to the adolescent brain, to the kinds of treatment available for substance abuse. At the back of the book is an extensive list of resources that parents can tap into to find support for their child and the rest of the family.


Helping Your Addicted Child: Teens and Substance Abuse