If your child has some of these risk factors, he or she is NOT doomed to become a substance abuser. Even kids at high risk may never develop an addiction. By taking steps now, you can help your child avoid -- or delay -- any drug experimentation. And delay is key: Kids who start experimenting at an early age are at considerably higher risk for developing addictions. Someone who makes it to age 20 without abusing drugs/alcohol is less likely to develop a substance abuse problem. Here are just a few of the things you can do:
1. Do a family history to determine whether your family has shown signs of alcoholism or other addiction. If so, your children are especially vulnerable. Let them know they can take steps such as abstaining from substances that cause addiction.
2. Evaluate your own use of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. If you walk in the door at night and grab a beer, or light up a cigarette every time you get tense, what are you conveying to your child about how to cope with life and its stresses?
3. Foster strong family bonds to help counter powerful peer influences. If kids have a sense of belonging within their own families, they will be less likely to seek it elsewhere.
4. Set clear expectations for behavior. In a major survey, thousands of teens reported that their biggest reason for choosing not to drink -- or drinking less than they would have -- is that their parents would be upset by it.
5. Let your kids know they can talk to you about anything, without harsh judgment or lectures. And be on the look-out for "teachable moments," like when your child raises the subject of drugs, or when an anti-drug commercial comes on TV.
6. Expose your children to activities like sports, art, music, reading, or drama, so that they develop avid interests. When kids are bored, they are more likely to experiment.
7. Help your child feel a part of his or her school. Go to school functions with your child whenever you can. Research shows that children who feel bonded with their school are less likely to use substances.
8. Teach your child to make independent decisions. Allow your kids to make some of their own decisions, so that, when faced with offers of drugs or alcohol, they can resist pressure.