Risk Factors and Protective Factors: Teens and Drug Use

Written by Laurie Lafortune
Every caring parent worries about their children, especially as they approach the teen years and are exposed to the availability of drugs. As parents, we wonder why some children are able to avoid the many influences and dangers, while sadly, others become involved in drug use.

What makes the difference?

Researchers and psychologists have looked at this question and have identified what they call risk factors and protective factors. Risk factors are those experiences and conditions which make it more likely that a child will become involved in dangerous drug use or become addicted. Experiences such as parental abuse or neglect, lack of parental supervision and involvement, poverty, school difficulty, association with drug-using peers, and poor social skills have been identified as factors that increase the likelihood of a child using drugs.

Other risk factors are a family history of addiction, impulsive personality, stress, and having an undiagnosed mental health condition. It also is more common for males than females to become addicted to drugs.

Drugs are easily available everywhere, at every school, and in every community. Don’t be in denial that drug addiction happens only to ‘other’ families, or in other communities. Even the most careful and involved parent cannot keep a teen from the widespread availability of drugs in our society. Your child WILL have the opportunity to use or obtain drugs if they decide to. So, how can a parent help their child avoid the tragedy of teen drug abuse and addiction? It can happen in any family, but fortunately, there are protective factors, which can make it less likely that a teen will use drugs. These protective factors are found in the individual, family, peer, school, community and societal domains. The factors include, academic accomplishment, good peer relationships, and a sense of belonging, through being engaged at school, or in other contexts such as sports teams, employment, religion and culture. The sense of belonging and involvement in positive, healthy activities is important to address the issue of boredom which is another risk factor for experimenting with drug use.

Other factors are having clear rules and expectations in the home, with consistent, positive (not punitive) discipline. A teen who follows rules at home, school, and in public is less likely to experiment with drugs. The support of extended family members is another protective factor.

Parents who are involved in their child’s life and who supervise and monitor their activities will decrease the likelihood of drug use. A teen who has a trusting relationship with his parents with good communication, respect and love is less likely to become involved in drug use.

Because of the widespread availability of drugs, parents need to have conversations about the dangers and consequences of drug use. Don’t assume that your child will not be in situations where drugs are available, no matter how closely you supervise. Open, informed conversations and of course being a good role model for your kids is very important. In your own home, don’t forget about prescription drug abuse, and take care that your own prescription drugs are safely stored and monitored.

Seek help from health care or other professionals as needed.