Help! My grandchild is using drugs!
By Susie Vanderlip for GRAND Magazine
I remember when I was in eighth grade, spin the bottle was about as racy as life got. Most of my friends were having harmless flirtations and first boyfriends. No one I knew drank regularly on the weekend; no girls were providing gratuitous oral sex to the boys; no one was cutting on their arms with razorblades or smoking pot. Today, adolescence is very, very different, and far more difficult than in our day.
Our grandchildren face significantly more dangerous options, and they have peers modeling such choices in their faces every day. Of all the options a teen can choose to act out, drinking alcohol is by far the most common. Alcohol is very much legitimized in our culture as a tasty brew, fine wine, a way to relax and socialize. Sadly, our grandkids have been socialized to believe the same.
Unfortunately, preteens and teens have easy access to alcohol today and are starting to drink at younger and younger ages: one out of every two eighth graders has tried alcohol. More kids use alcohol than use tobacco or illicit drugs. Nearly 90 percent of tenth graders and 75 percent of eighth graders think that alcohol is either “fairly easy” or “very easy” for them to get. Underage drinking is a serious concern and will certainly be something your grandchildren will have to make ongoing decisions about. So how can you help them make wise choices?
Start by gathering the facts and sharing information with your grandchildren by fourth and fifth grade. Don\’t assume that your grandchildren\’s parents know the facts or have discussed the issues with your grandchildren. And don\’t wait until a problem arises to talk to your grandkids about drinking alcohol.
“What parents may not realize is that children say that parental disapproval of underage drinking is the key reason they have chosen not to drink,” says Charles Cure, SAMHSA Administrator, US Department of Health and Human Services.
Disapproval of a grandparent can be equally powerful!
I remember when my niece, Brianne, and nephew, Beau, were in middle school and high school. Their grandparents (my parents) regularly chatted with Brianne and Beau about “life,” asking what they thought about this or that. And eventually they asked them what they thought about their friends drinking. Then they would add a dose of “family culture”: “We don\’t think it is right for teenagers to drink or drive drunk. We want more for you. We want you to have a good future and be safe to enjoy all the things you like to do. So we hope you\’ll think about how we feel when you are around friends who offer you something to drink. It\’s OK to say you\’re not interested. We\’d be very disappointed to find out you were drinking.”
Years later, when Beau and Brianne were in their mid 20s, I asked them why they actually hadn\’t gotten into drinking or using pot in middle school or high school. Their reply: “Because Grandma and Grandpa would have killed us! Actually, because we didn\’t want to let Grandma and Grandpa down.”
Interactions like these go far in families where the parents and grandparents are close and involved with the kids and even further when parents model moderate drinking behavior. (For adults who choose to drink, moderation is defined as no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men.) But what if your grandchildren\’s parents or you as grandparents have a history of drinking too much or are in recovery for alcoholism?
Then it is important that your grandchildren know that they are at a greater risk for problem drinking. Many grandchildren are being raised by grandparents because of parental alcoholism and/or drug addiction. These children need a safe and supportive grandparent to discuss what drinking responsibly means. They need help to understand that some people are unable to drink alcohol without drinking to excess. Learn all you can as the parent of a problem drinker about the progressive disease of alcoholism—the physical addiction and the mental obsession with drinking. Help your grandchild grasp that parents who are problem drinkers are not just relaxing or coping but that they have a disease that can also be the cause of a parent\’s verbal and/or physical abuse. Be sure to emphasize again and again to your grandchild that it is not their fault that their parent drinks or gets abusive.
Teens often drink to alleviate their own emotional burdens, especially when they have seen adults in their lives use alcohol to do likewise. As a grandparent, be conscious of your own drinking habits in front of your grandchildren. You are a powerful indicator to your grandchildren of what is appropriate and acceptable in your family.
Lastly, reinforce your grandchildren\’s sense of self-worth by always letting them know how pleased you are when they make wise choices and respect your family\’s rules. And if you are your grandchildren\’s primary caregiver, be aware that after-school hours, holidays and summers can become serious opportunities for experimenting with alcohol and other drugs when children are left unsupervised. Be present and keep communicating with your grandchildren. Avoid harsh directives and critical conversations. Instead, model compassion, patience, kindness and courtesy so your grandchildren grow to know they are valuable and can come to you with problems and questions.
When and if drinking becomes a problem in a grandchild, learn the facts about alcoholism and recovery by seeking out support at local meetings of Al-Anon Family Groups, the self-help support organization for families and friends of problem drinkers (www.al-anon.org).
Youth and family expert Susie Vanderlip tours to middle schools, high schools and communities across the United States with a one-woman theatrical presentation, Legacy of Hope, which dramatizes the serious consequences of underage and problem drinking/drug use. She has spoken to one million teens, parents and grandparents across America. She is author of 52 Ways to Protect Your Teen: Guiding Teens to Good Choices and Success, available from her Web sites: www.legacyofhope.com or www.WaystoProtect.com. She can be contacted at
Susie@legacyofhope.com or 800-707-1977.