3 Tips to Prevent Teen Substance Abuse During Summer Break

3 min read

It may sound alarmist, but all across the state of Michigan, teens are abusing drugs in record numbers.  In 2012 Michigan began the process of banning a new synthetic drug called Phenethylamine, due in large part to the growing use of it among teens.  Bath salts & K2/Spice have also done a fair amount of damage in the community, largely due to the mistaken assumption that they’re a “safe alternative” to drugs such as cocaine, marijuana, and ecstasy.  Concurrently, heroin addiction is on the rise with Metro Detroit teens, with prescription opiates often serving as the gateway due to their ease of acquisition.  Startling, across the board it’s seen that fatal overdoses from prescription drugs are on the rise, and many of these are prescribed directly to a teen and consequently abused.

So why are southeastern Michigan teens increasingly turning to drugs?

Idle time is the devil’s playground

The answer may lie in the lack of healthy alternatives available, particularly after school and during summer break.  In a relatively large city like Livonia, only one community center serves the 35.86 square miles of bustling suburbs- this leaves a large portion of the teen population unlikely to use it, primarily because they can’t walk to it or don’t have anyone to drive them there.

When people have few options or nothing to do with their time, they’ll find a way to fill that time- and it won’t necessarily be with something good or healthy. This is especially true of teenagers, who are freed from the demands of a daily school schedule when they’re let out for summer break.

With a wide open schedule, there is a significant risk that teens will experiment with drugs and alcohol, or begin abusing them habitually and turning to an addictive & high risk lifestyle. For example, a 2006 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report showed that during the summer months of June, July and August the highest rates of fatal car accidents among teens aged 15-19 years old occur, and roughly 31% of these can be attributed to alcohol use.

As a parent, how can you keep your teen safe and drug free this summer? Here are 3 tips:

1.)    Help them find a summer job:  something of a rite of passage, a summer job is a wonderful way to keep teens occupied and prepare them for life after grade school.  They’ll have a new set of obligations, peers, and breadth of knowledge- all while earning money to spend on the newest trend.  Additionally, even a part –time job can boost a teen’s self-confidence, as they suddenly become part of the “adult world” and are able to afford things that were previously unattainable.

2.)    Structure their idle time: before school breaks for the summer, take some time to review your options.  Is there a summer camp your teen might enjoy?  Are there opportunities for your child to continue their education through structured home tutoring?  Often, your teen’s school is an invaluable source of information, and may have a handy list of activities you can choose from.  Additionally, if you find yourself lacking options outside the home, a viable alternative is to structure your teen’s day at home.  Chores & summer learning are effective ways to increase your child’s accountability and sense of purpose.

3.)    Spend more time with them: while your teen may have free time, it’s likely you as a parent still have to work through the summer.  However, creative structuring of time spent together after work and on the weekends increases your overall presence in their life, as well strengthening the bond of family.  Taking a family camping trip, playing sports together, or even working on a puzzle together will let your teen know that you care for and support them, and increase the chances of them coming to you for help and assurance. Let your teen know your stance on drug & alcohol abuse.  A teen that feels a strong parental influence within the confines of a nurturing, respectful relationship is less likely to turn to drugs & alcohol, particularly if it would disappoint or hurt their parents.

For more information or to find a qualified counselor specializing in teen therapy, please visit