A summer warning for parents and teens

  • Zach Levin

    Zach Levin

By Zach Levin
Guest columnist
Posted7/31/2017 1:00 AM

Did you know that teens are most likely to experiment with alcohol and drugs for the first time during the months of June and July?

According to surveys by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), on an average day in those summer months, more than 5,000 youth smoked cigarettes for the first time, over 11,000 adolescents tried their first alcoholic drink and 4,800 teens smoked marijuana.


I know this all too well. As a junior at Schaumburg High School with what I thought was a promising future as a baseball player, I was suspended for violating my team's alcohol and drug policy.

As a result, I missed the first quarter of my baseball season that year. Not learning from my own mistakes, on the first day I was eligible to resume playing, I was again suspended. By then I was both a user and a dealer. In fact, I got caught stealing my peers' belongings that I planned to sell for money and then use for dealing purposes.

The second suspension ended my high school sports career and any hopes of playing baseball in college. Fortunately, I sought treatment and have been on path to recovery since that very day. I am not proud of what I did, but I am grateful for my recovery and for a second chance. For the past 10 years I have been sharing my story and message of hope, healing and prevention with high schools -- and parents -- throughout the world.

Alcohol and drugs don't discriminate. I know this firsthand. I came from a healthy family. My dad was a captain with the fire department, my mom a nurse. Both my sister and future brother-in-law were in their residencies on their way to becoming doctors, and my brother was in school and is now working for the fire department as well.

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With many teens home from college and high school during these summer months, parents need to take extra steps to look for signs that their children might be using alcohol and other drugs. This can be especially challenging when a teen is using for the first time, displaying symptoms not previously seen.

Here are some warning signs to look for:

• heightened secrecy

• fishy-sounding excuses or outright lying

• difficulty thinking or keeping focus

• resistance to discipline or feedback

• paranoia, irritability, anxiety, fidgeting

• changes in mood or attitude

• significant weight loss or gain

• loss of interest in hobbies or activities

• decline in school performance (see recent report card for clues)

• abandonment of long-time peer group.


These are tough issues because teenagers are already undergoing changes. Some of the signs listed above can even be normal teenage behavior. Parents need to be aware that even seemingly innocuous experimentation can be dangerous.

The latest edition of the Hazelden Betty Ford Institute for Recovery Advocacy's Emerging Drug Trends report indicated that among a 2016 national sample of young adults who had used heroin in the past month, 97 percent also had used cigarettes, 89 percent also had used alcohol and 82 percent also had used marijuana. And, roughly 90 percent of people admitted to treatment with a primary opioid problem in 2014 also had another type of drug problem at the time they were admitted.

Prevention messages are the best way to help avoid addiction to alcohol and drugs. However, when signs of use and misuse are recognized early, intervention and treatment are just as important. Looking back, I was fortunate. My second suspension led me to seek treatment.

Zach Levin is the supervisor of Structured Housing Recovery at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation's facility in Chicago.

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