Teenage Defiance and Drug Use

Rebellion is the natural state of being for many teens who are learning to separate from their parents and forge their own paths. When this phase leads to drug use, however, defiance can become more than just a parental annoyance. If you’re wondering how to deal with a defiant teenager, take these steps to help your kids make healthy choices and discourage substance abuse and other risky behaviors.

Practice Acceptance of Your Child

One of the most difficult parts of raising a teen is letting go of the ideas about the hopes and dreams for our children in favor of their own hopes, dreams, and identity. Make sure your child knows that you accept him or her right now, exactly as they are. Avoid pushing your child to pursue activities and goals he or she is not interested in, in favor of supporting their independent interests and pursuits. At the same time, set boundaries about risky behavior. For example, drinking alcohol could result in a loss of driving privileges.

Understand Brain Development

Adolescents have a higher propensity for anxiety and fear than adults and younger children, and they also have a more pronounced reward center. That’s because the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for fear, and the part of the brain responsible for rewarding pleasurable behavior, mature much more quickly than the center of reasoning and self-control (the prefrontal cortex). As a result, teens have difficulty stopping themselves from pursuing risky actions such as trying drugs, especially if these behaviors help them feel more connected to their peers.

Provide Choices

Nothing makes a defiant teenager rebel faster than when he or she feels like you are trying to exert unfair control. Remember how you gave your toddler a limited number of choices to help stave off tantrums? The same strategy can work for your defiant teen. For example, you can let them select one chore to do before going out with friends instead of mandating a specific chore. By the same token, choose your battles. If you nitpick about every small action, your child is more likely to rebel. Be strict about the important things, like homework, and relax about smaller things like clothing choices and video game time.

Have an Open-Door Policy

A nonjudgmental attitude can go a long way toward keeping your child from dangerous behavior as he or she matures. Make sure your teen feels comfortable bringing friends home or offering to drive the group around to the mall or movies. Not only will you get to know the kids who are most important to your teen, but you will also create a safe haven for your child to talk about what’s really going on at school and with friends.

Use the Media

Listen to the music and watch the shows your teen is into. Showing an active interest in his or her life will help forge a healthy relationship with your child through adulthood. What’s more, you can use media as a jumping-off point to honestly discuss tough topics like drug use and sexual activity.

Know the Signs of Mental Health Issues

Mental health and trauma play a pivotal role in the development of substance abuse. If your teen has lost interest in friends and activities, shows dramatic mood changes, or experiences a traumatic event, make an appointment for him or her with a mental health professional. Those who receive treatment and therapy for issues such as depression and anxiety are less likely to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.


The Anthony Louis Center specializes in substance abuse rehabilitation for teens ages 13 to 18. If you suspect your child may be experimenting with alcohol or drugs, help is available. We provide drug screenings, abuse assessments, and both residential and outpatient treatment programs designed to promote a healthy, substance-free lifestyle. Get in touch today to schedule an appointment with our professional staff.

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