What the family can do to prevent drug use in adolescence


Adolescence is a key period in development. Among other things because it is very likely that, during this stage, most adolescents have to make decisions about the consumption of alcohol, tobacco or cannabis while sharing leisure time with their friends.

If we look at the most recent data on the prevalence of substance use in Spain, we find that alcohol and cannabis are, respectively, the legal and illegal substances most consumed by adolescents. In the last 30 days, 53.6% consumed alcohol and 14.9% used cannabis. A usual practice is the concomitant use of both substances , finding prevalences of 54% in the last year and 8.75% in the last month.

The scientific literature shows that this practice is related to a greater frequency and amount of consumption of both substances than when they are consumed alone, as well as a greater probability of driving under the influence of drugs, engaging in risky sexual behaviors or presenting long-term mental health problems .

However, although there are circumstances that adults cannot control, we can act in these situations. Parents can make decisions and educate children in certain skills that help them stay away from drugs and learn healthy behaviors.

Our way of communicating, our opinions, the affection we show, the rules we establish and, above all, our model of behavior will help them reduce the probability that they will consume alcohol, tobacco or other illegal drugs or, on the contrary, will contribute to more likely to consume them.

The context is essential: less conflict, less consumption

To understand this phenomenon it is necessary to consider the context of the person. The family is the original environment in which we learn values ​​and develop a sense of belonging. This means that parents can exert a great influence on their children during the various stages of development. In fact, the association between substance use in adolescence and the relationship with the family is well established by the scientific literature .

A greater presence of conflict in the family predicts a more prolonged and problematic use. On the contrary, support and good communication are related to a lower risk of consumption.

Another widely studied family factor is the norms regarding one’s own consumption. There is consensus that when adolescents do not have clear rules or perceive that their parents approve of their use, their frequency of substance use is higher.

Currently, the joint use of alcohol and cannabis in adolescence is of interest . It seems that this practice is more frequent in boys, but there are no previous studies that examine its relationship with family functioning based on gender. This analysis would be interesting, since, depending on the socially established gender roles, parents could encourage different behaviors in their sons than in their daughters. And adolescents, depending on their gender, could interpret the family context differently.

An article has recently been published that aims to address these issues. The objective was to examine the relationship between communication, support, the presence of conflict in the family and the establishment of rules and consequences, with the consumption of alcohol and cannabis in a sample of Spanish adolescents. The differences were examined according to sex and in the time frame of the last month.

According to this study, 23.9% of the boys and 29.2% of the girls had consumed alcohol in the last 30 days, while 9.9% of the boys and 7.6% of the girls consumed alcohol and cannabis together. The girls indicated the presence of better communication and more social support in their families than the boys.

Consistent Consequences for Breaking the Rules

What were the results found on the relationship of family variables with the consumption of these two substances? Non-consumer adolescents presented better family functioning, better communication and social support, less presence of conflict, and the consistent presence of consequences for breaking the rules.

In addition, some differences were found based on gender. Boys with greater family conflict were more likely to be consumers of both alcohol and alcohol and cannabis together. Regarding girls, better family communication and the application of coherent consequences for breaking the rules were associated with a lower probability of consumption.

After all, the family is also a key player in other problems during adolescence, such as suicidal behavior . Therefore, just as there is a responsibility to attend to and care for the development of children and adolescents, it is essential to take the family into account in the elaboration of both prevention and intervention strategies in substance use and other initiatives that address your well-being.

Not too stiff and not too loose

But let’s go back to the question that gives the title to this text: what can the family do to prevent drug use during adolescence? A family environment where clear and honest communication is encouraged, parents are available as a source of support, there are clear rules, and conflicts are resolved with care and respect, decreases the probability of consumption, also teaching adolescents a repertoire of skills that will will accompany you throughout your life.

Adults are unlikely to be a perfect role model. But it is worth knowing that not supervising what our children are doing, the absence of clear rules in family functioning or the imposition of very rigid or very lax discipline increases the probability of having behavior problems and, therefore, of drug use.

Benjamin Franklin already said it many years ago: a few grams of prevention are worth more than a pound of cure.

Author Bios: Delilah Slav is a PhD student in the Department of Psychology at the University of Oviedo, Carmela Martinez Vispo is a Professor of the Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychobiology at the University of Santiago de Compostela, Susana Al-Halabi is a Professor of the Department of Psychology at the University of Oviedo and Victor Jose Villanueva Blasco is Director of the Master’s Degree in Prevention of Drug Addiction and Other Addictive Behaviors, at the International University of Valencia