When you have a
suspicion that your teen is "experimenting" with drugs, what do you
First, learn as much as you can. Click here for more Drug information. Or, you can call the National
Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI) for free pamphlets and
fact sheets. They'll even send it in a plain envelope if you wish. They can be
reached at 1-800-788-2800;
Spanish: 1-877-746-3764.(24 hours, 7 days a week).
Have The Talk - Let Them Know You Know
The next thing you can do is sit down and talk with your child. Be sure to have
the conversation when you are all calm and have plenty of time. This isn't an
easy task-your feelings may range from anger to guilt that you have "failed"
because your kid is using drugs. This isn't true-by staying involved you can
help his/her stop using and make choices that will make a positive difference
in his/her life.
Be Specific About Your Concerns
Tell your child what you see and how you feel about it. Be specific about the
things you have observed that cause concern. Make it known if you found drug
paraphernalia (or empty bottles or cans). Explain exactly how
his/her behavior or appearance (bloodshot eyes, different clothing) has changed
and why that worries you. Tell his/her that drug and alcohol use is dangerous
and it's your job to keep his/her away from things that put his/her in danger.
Don't Make Excuses
Although it's natural for parents to make excuses for their child, you're not
helping him/her if you make excuses when he/she misses school or family
functions when you suspect something else is at play. Take the next step: Talk
to your child and get more information.
Try to Remain Calm and Connect With Him/Her
Have this discussion without getting mad or accusing your child of being stupid
or bad or an embarrassment to the family. Be firm but loving with your tone and
try not to get hooked into an argument. Knowing that kids are naturally private
about their lives, try to find out what's going on in your child's life. Try
not to make the discussion an inquisition; simply try to connect with your teen
and find out why he/she may be making bad choices. Find out if friends or
others offered your child drugs at a party or school. Did he/she try it just
out of curiosity, or did he/she use marijuana or alcohol for some other reason?
That alone will be a signal to your child that you care and that you are going
to be the parent exercising your rights.
Here are some suggested things to tell your son or daughter:
You LOVE him/her, and you are worried that he/she might be using drugs or alcohol;
You KNOW that drugs may seem like the thing to do, but doing drugs can have serious consequences;
It makes you FEEL worried and concerned about him/her when he/she does drugs;
You are there to LISTEN to him/her;
You WANT him/her to be a part of the solution;
You tell him/her what you WILL do to help him/her.
Know that you will have this discussion many, many times. Talking to your kid about drugs and alcohol is not a one-time event.
Be Prepared. Practice What You'll Say
Be prepared for your teen to deny using drugs. Don't expect him/her to admit
he/she has a problem. Your child will probably get angry and might try to
change the subject. Maybe you'll be confronted with questions about what you
did as a kid. If you are asked, it is best to be honest, and if you can,
connect your use to negative consequences. Answering deceptively can cause you
to lose credibility with your kids if they ever find out that you've lied to
them. On the other hand, if you don't feel comfortable answering the question,
you can talk about some specific people you know that have had negative things
happen to them as a result of drug and alcohol use. However, if the time comes
to talk about it, you can give short, honest answers like these:
"When I was a kid I took drugs because some of my friends did. I wanted to in order to fit in. If I'd known then about the consequences and how they would affect my life, I never would have tried drugs. I'll do everything I can to help keep you away from them."
"I drank alcohol and smoked marijuana because I was bored and wanted to take some risks, but I soon found out that I couldn't control the risks - the loss of trust of my parents and friends. There are much better ways of challenging yourself than doing drugs."
You can begin to more closely monitor your child's
activities. Have a few conversations. Ask: Who? What? Where? When? Reflect with
your child on why he/she is using drugs and try to understand the reasons why
so that you can help solve the problem. When you get a better idea of the
situation, then you can decide next steps. These could include setting new
rules and consequences that are reasonable and enforceable - such as a new
curfew, no cell phone or computer privileges for a period of time, or less time
hanging out with friends. You may want to get them involved in pro-social
activities that will keep them busy and help them meet new people. For more
information about how to set and enforce rules, visit A Parent's guide to the Teenage Brain.
Getting Past the Fear
Remember, the longer you
wait, the harder it will be to deal with your child's drug use.
It is a critical time for your family once you suspect - or know - that your
son or daughter is using drugs or alcohol. This can be difficult to deal with,
and sometimes the situation gets worse before it gets better. There may be many
arguments, tears, and broken promises.
Know that many other families have had to work through these difficult times
just like you. They have been in your shoes and may even be able to help you at
this point. The most important thing is for you to take action on your child's
behalf the first time that you suspect drug or alcohol use. Don't make excuses
- your teen's future lies in your actions (or non-actions) right now.
Do you hear yourself saying ... "Well, I won't say anything now since it's only his/her first time using." - If parents don't set
rules and a clear policy against drugs by having clear and consistent
conversations, they enable their teen and encourage continued use. It is never
too early or too late to take action regarding your teen's drug use. Parents
are the most important part of a kid's life; your actions now can make all the
difference. For advice about what you
can say to your teenager, read these conversations tips.
"If I'm too tough, my daughter will push away. I want her to like me." - Overcoming your own fears is an
important step in getting help for your child. Some parents feel that their
children will push away if they are firm, set restrictions, or talk to them
frankly about not using drugs or alcohol. But parenting is about setting
boundaries in order to keep your child safe. For advice on setting clear boundaries with your children, read these tips.
"I'm a failure as a parent. Where did I go wrong?" - Many parents are ashamed or feel they've somehow failed when their son or daughter is using drugs. Don't be paralyzed by your own feelings of inadequacy. Instead of feeling bad, do all that you can now to fix the situation.
"I don't want to talk to anyone about this. It could cause more trouble for my child." - Some parents
feel that if they ask for help or reach out to professionals that their child
will be labeled a trouble maker and that it may affect his or her ability to
qualify for scholarships or get a job. Turning this problem around requires a
lot of parenting muscle. So reach out for support in your family, community or
at your child's school. Find someone to talk to that can offer confidentiality.
For advice on talking with other
parents or professionals about this problem, visit Get Outside Help.
"My kid doesn't have a problem. I drank and I turned out OK." - Unfortunately, some teenagers are
predisposed to drinking and drug use throughout their childhood years if their
parents have an abusive relationship with drugs and alcohol. It's critical that
parents take an honest look at their own drug and
alcohol use before they can help their children with a substance problem.
"I don't know what to do about this problem. Where do I begin?" - It's easy to feel overwhelmed with emotion, guilt,
anger, and insecurity when you discover your teen is using drugs. If you don't
think you can handle this problem yourself, there are people in your area ready
to help. Contact someone at your child's school, a coach, a counselor who
specializes in working with families, a local prevention agency, or member of
your church for advice. See if there is an informal or formal parent support
group in your area. This problem is more common that you think. While it may be
difficult to get past the feelings of shame and failure, the truth is, asking
for help may be the only way to get the assistance you need. For advice on talking with other parents or
professionals about this problem, visit our Get Outside Help.
"I'm a single parent and I'm having trouble keeping things together. I'll let my ex-husband deal with the problem."
- Your son or daughter is relying on you even more if you are a single parent.
You are his or her compass. In some cases, parents find their teen involved
with drugs as a way to escape the challenges of dealing with a divorce or not
having another role model. It's not your fault. You're doing the best you can,
but now is the time to engage your child in a discussion and let him or her
know you care enough not to let this slide. If possible, seek support from your
ex-spouse or another family member to reinforce the commitment to a drug-free lifestyle.
It's only once you get past your own fear about these issues that you can
then help your family. Remember, you are your child's most important advocate
and, whether they realize it or not, he or she needs you to guide them during
this difficult time.
The key step in dealing with a substance abuse problem is finding a trusted,
professional counselor. They are trained to listen and can help you find
solutions to your problems. Most communities have established local coalitions
that can support your family through this difficult time. Whatever path you
take at this point, know that there are many caring professionals that want to
help you successfully work through the situation. Although it may be difficult
to make the call, the earlier that you seek help for your child the better.
These are community and
health specialists who can guide and inform you:
School counselors and student assistance professionals
Employee assistance professionals
Family doctors or pediatricians
Community health centers
Adolescent prevention or treatment professionals
Local community anti-drug coalitions
Ask your child if there is someone they trust
(like a coach or student adviser) and feel comfortable talking to. They
shouldn't necessarily make the final decision, but they are more likely to be
an active participant if they have a say in what happens.
Seek advice from a health
Take your child to the doctor or talk to the school nurse and ask him or her
about screening your child for drugs and alcohol. This may involve the health
professional asking your child a simple question or it may involve a urine or
blood drug screen. Sharing your concerns with your health professional can help
you get the advice and assistance you need. If you have an appointment with
your child's doctor, call ahead to make time to discuss this issue.
Other Parents Can
Talk to other parents.
It may also help to talk to other parents who have experienced what you are
going through. Some communities have parent action groups or parent peer groups
that meet informally to discuss parenting issues and discuss solutions. You may
also find support via online parenting groups and community message boards. Other Resources