It’s important to start talking to your son about marijuana and alcohol early–perhaps even earlier than you think. One survey of underage individuals admitted for drug and alcohol treatment found that fourteen percent had started using cannabis before age 13. Studies have found that boys generally start using a little earlier than girls and, when they do, use it at a higher frequency.
It’s hard to be a teenager growing up and hearing can’ts. Teens are constantly trying to assert their independence vs. your control. If you’re worried about your son’s risk of turning to marijuana (due to friends, mental health troubles, or any other risk factors), here are some things to talk to them about.
1. It’s Illegal
Okay, this one might seem like a given–but sometimes it’s hard for teenagers to really accept how much of a risk they’re getting into.
In North Carolina, marijuana possession has been decriminalized. However, that doesn’t mean there are no risks.
For possessing anything less than half an ounce, your teen will be slapped with a misdemeanor and a $200 fine. (If it turns out an adult shared the marijuana with your underage child, or sold it to a minor, that is a felony charge worth 3-8 years imprisonment.)
The legal risks only increase from there; carrying up to 1.5 oz comes with 1-45 days in jail and a $1000 fine, while anything more than that is a felony charge in NC.
And legality isn’t just about fines and jail time. A $200 fine and a misdemeanor charge may seem like a slap on the wrist to some boys; remind them that a misdemeanor has far-reaching consequences. It will hurt his ability to get a job or go to college. In addition, it’s likely that their misdemeanor charge will be part of the public record. Any future friend or partner could Google his name and find out about these charges.
2. It increases his risk of future addiction
It’s a fairly common misconception that marijuana is non-addictive; on the contrary, cannabis use disorder is very real, and like any addiction, can be hurtful to the user and anyone close to them. Starting marijuana early increases the risk of your son developing a substance use disorder later.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Psychiatry found that the odds ratio of cannabis use disorder when you start using at 22 to 26 years old is 3.9%; however, the risk when you start using at 12 to 18 years of age climbs to 7.9%.
3. It’s not worth it
Another common misconception about marijuana is that it is perfectly healthy and safe. The truth is that since marijuana is a Schedule I substance according to federal law, research about the effects of marijuana (both good and bad) is difficult to obtain.
However, we do have some research, like a 2017 research review by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. By reviewing other literature, this body of evidence found substantial evidence of marijuana’s efficacy in treating chronic pain. However, it also found that marijuana use poses a greater risk of motor vehicle crashes, as well as respiratory or bronchial issues. Whatever benefits your son believes he might get out of marijuana may not be scientifically sound.
Tip: Your family should talk about substance use often–including when your son starts driving. Talk to him about the risks of driving while drunk or high. Assure him that you’d rather he admit to you that he’s under the influence and you need to come pick him up, than to get a call that he’s been in an accident.
4. Boys’ mental health is important
One of the reasons that boys turn to cannabis use is low satisfaction with one of the factors in their lives–family, friends, or school. This may in part be due to toxic masculinity–the traditional male gender roles that allow for limited expression of emotions. Notions such as “man up” and “boys don’t cry” are unhelpful, and can lead boys to believe that mental health is not important.
But of course, mental health is important for everyone. We all have feelings and sensitivities, and we all need ways to express and work through those feelings.
Conversations about substance abuse with your son need to start with his emotional state. Does he seem happy? Does he sleep and eat normally? Is his academic performance OK? Does he have friends at school? Has he been a victim of bullying? Gone through a hard breakup (including a friendship breakup)?
Two of the best lessons that you can teach your son are the value of support systems and coping mechanisms. If he doesn’t have any hobbies that relax him or make him happy, find some. (Yes, video games count!) If he doesn’t have any friends, brainstorm solutions with him.
Above all, be a support system for your son. Even if you don’t have an emotional bond with your son right now, it’s never too late to start. These will make him a more well-rounded adult–and make him more likely to stay away from drugs and alcohol.
(And if you’re noticing changes in your son’s behavior–increased depression, anger, and/or changes in eating and sleeping habits–please consider your son’s risk for a mental illness. Adolescents get depressed, too, and early intervention is key!)
5. It’s OK to say no
Peer pressure is a very real reason why many teens turn to marijuana, and some research suggests that this peer pressure is more prevalent in boys. It’s hard to imagine that your friends might lose respect for you (or even bully you) if you don’t do what they’re asking.
There are many strategies that your son can use to turn down an offer of substances. However, those strategies are a lot easier to accomplish if your son has a strong sense of self-respect and self-esteem–that he can feel confident that he can handle the emotional repercussions of saying no, including losing a friend.
That’s another reason why boys’ mental health is so important. Giving your son the confidence to set boundaries will put him way ahead of many of his peers in terms of emotional intelligence.
Maybe your son learns better from evaluating the risks or consequences of his actions; or maybe he just needs your support to keep him away from drugs and alcohol. Either way, know that this will not be just one conversation; you and your son should continue talking about his mental health, his friends, and his hobbies. If you limit the stress your son is under, he will feel more empowered to stay away from drugs and alcohol until he’s old enough–and to use them responsibly when he comes of age.