Is Your Child Drinking and Smoking in the Summer

There are many reasons I love the summer. One, in particular, is having the opportunity to work with my high school and college patients during a time of year when they’re less stressed, more relaxed and often open to making needed emotional shifts that they’re too anxious and overwhelmed to focus on during the school year.

But while this more relaxed time has its benefits, there’s a downside as well: Research has consistently found that kids are much more likely to try alcohol and drugs for the first time during the summer months. For those teens and young adults already interested in alcohol, marijuana, other illegal substances or prescription drugs, the summer is an invitation to party. They have no academic obligations, and for many, the summer is spent with very little structure or adult supervision. Even for kids that hold a job or who have some form of structure, there is plenty of downtime after work and on the weekends to relax, which for a great many includes drinking alcohol or doing drugs.

I am learning more and more about drinking on the beach, partying at the park and smoking or vaping during sleepovers. The warm weather makes it particularly easy to partake because there is no need for an indoor space – making it far less likely that kids will be caught by adults. Boredom and peer pressure are also contributing factors to teens using alcohol or drugs. They spend much more time with their friends in the summer doing absolutely nothing. Except for the serious athletes, there are no summer sports, and most other activities are suspended.

As a parent, it can be difficult to assess whether your child is using alcohol or drugs, especially if you are at work and they are without supervision most of the day. Even if you’re home, it’s not practical to keep older kids under a parent’s watch at all times. Nevertheless, it’s important to be open to the possibility that your child is using alcohol or drugs, if you can’t imagine your child would do so. I have seen countless parents in my last 26 years of practice who have insisted that their child would never do that, and then the teens of said parents tell me all their war stories.

Regardless of your suspicions, you must do your very best to limit your child’s access to alcohol and drugs. There are a few ways to do this. Note that almost all of these strategies work throughout the school year as well:

  • Keep all medications safely stowed away so that they can’t be easily accessed by your kids. Be particularly careful with anti-anxiety medications, pain killers and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder medications.
  • If you give your child money, keep track of how much you are giving them and how quickly they spend it. Most teens get their money for alcohol and drugs from their unknowing parents who think it’s being spent on food. Watch credit card bills, too. Sometimes kids will pay for a meal for all their friends, and then their friends will give them cash. All parents see is money spent on food. If the bill seems high, question your child.
  • Give your child chores or activities to do to keep them busy throughout the week.
  • Request that at least some evenings and weekends be spent with family, and schedule activities your teen will enjoy, such as going to the beach or out to dinner at a restaurant they like. Offer to bring a friend along.
  • Pay attention to how late your child stays out at night. For kids under college age, you can set a reasonable curfew and be up when they get home to see if they seem sober.
  • If you are suspicious, it’s within your bounds to limit sleepovers at other people’s homes.
  • Pay attention to how your child’s clothing and room smell. It’s not always possible to detect drug or alcohol use this way, but sometimes it is. In addition, check pockets when you do laundry. Many parents find clues to drug use forgotten in a pocket.
  • Check on your child at night before going to bed yourself. I repeatedly hear from high school and college students that they use marijuana at night, alone, before bed to just “chill out.” There are some who would argue that this is no different than having a drink to relax at night. But, until your child is 21, this is still illegal in all states in the U.S. And under no circumstances is it OK for your teen or young adult to be drinking alone in their bedroom.

The summer is a wonderful time for kids and parents to decompress and get ready for the next school year. However, this shouldn’t include letting even teens run free. A great deal of harm can come from kids drinking and using drugs regularly in the summer – and it could be the start of an addiction.