Not all kids are at equal risk when it comes to drug & alcohol use. So how can you tell if your child is one of the ones you need to worry about?

Not my child: Why parents often delude themselves about their children’s drug or alcohol use

In general, parents “tend to underestimate their children’s use of drugs.” (Hanson et al., 2004, p. 378) Even if they see drug and alcohol use as a major problem among teenagers, they tend to assume that it is a problem other kids have, certainly not their own son or daughter. In one study, only 14% of parents thought that kids had tried pot, while in actuality, 38% of teens had admitted to doing so. In addition, S2% of teens reported being offered drugs, while only 34% of parents thought this had happened. (Wren, 1996) And this isn’t even accounting for the rates of underreporting that often occur in such surveys, which might push these margins apart even further.

One of the reasons for this belief is the idea that drug or alcohol use is only something that delinquent or troubled youth get into. Or that it only happens in poor, inner-city neighborhoods. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Smart kids use drugs too
One of the things that might surprise parents is that youngsters with higher IQs can actually be more susceptible to drug and alcohol use. A 2008 study by Dr. G. David Batty found that children with higher IQ’s at age 10 are actually MORE likely to have alcohol problems as adults. In young girls, a IS-point IQ bump increases the risk of alcohol dependency in adulthood by 38%; for boys, it’s 17%. (The Week, 11-7-2008)

Differences between urban and rural youth
Rates of drinking and drug use among youth are actually higher in rural areas than they are in metropolitan counties. (Hanson et al., 2004) In many places in the U.S., 8th-graders in rural areas use more drugs than urban youth. (Briske, 2000) A lot of this may be due to boredom: there’s fewer other things for kids to do, so they end up resorting to drugs and alcohol for entertainment.

Other factors that determine a teen’s drug use
You may think that because your child is shy and quiet, or a “goody two-shoes,” that they aren’t as likely to get involved in drugs or alcohol. Yet it’s often these shy and quiet kids who have the hardest time holding up against peer pressure. Not only do they tend to have lower self-esteem, which means more susceptibility to peer pressure and the false sense of significance substances .offer, but they are also less assertive, which makes it harder for them to decline if someone offers.

When it comes to different classes of teens, “for many drugs the differences in use by socioeconomic class are very small, and the trends have been highly parallel.” (Johnston et al., 2017)

Students who aren’t college bound are more likely to drink and use drugs. (Johnston et al., 2017)