I Think My Teen is Using Drugs: 6 Essential Tips on How to Intervene (Pt.2)

Knowing how to effectively intervene when you learn that your teen is using drugs and/or alcohol is vital for getting her back on the right track. The process can be an emotional roller coaster that tests the strength of you, your teen, and your relationship, but ultimately your actions will better ensure the health and safety of your child.

You’ve already acknowledged there is a problem and are seeking measures to address it. For some parents, this is the hardest step. You should be proud of that.

But there is more that needs to be done.

In our first article, we covered the absolute necessity that you don’t ignore the situation, taking time to prepare before you intervene, and what to say and do while you have a serious conversation with your teen. The following three tips will address establishing a plan moving forward after your initial discussion with your teen, embracing outside help for both him and you, and seeking stronger treatment options when needed.

Getting your teen to quit abusing substances will not be easy, but with these strategies and knowledge in mind, your teen’s future is already looking brighter.

#4 The Talk Part 2: Where Do We Go From Here?

After asking about the reasons your child turned to drugs, vocalizing your concerns, and honestly answering questions you are asked, the next essential part of the conversation with your teen is outlining your rules and guidelines for the future and what the penalties will be if those expectations are not met.

While no teenager is ever going to start celebrating a whole set of rules to follow, teens are much more likely to buy into and respect this new system if they have a say in its creation. Work together. Give them some agency. While you define your expectations of your teen, allow him to likewise express what he expects from you.

Of course, his requests must be reasonable. “Mom and Dad will let me get completely plastered just one night a week” isn’t going to fly.

But for every “I promise not to drink or take drugs” and “I promise not to drive while under the influence” that you require from your teen, permit him to make a rule such as “I promise to always listen to what my teen has to say” or “I promise to always be available when my teen wants to talk or needs help.”

When crafting these rules, consider incorporating opportunities where you will reward honesty even when another expectation has been broken. For example, say your teen smokes some weed at a friend’s house but comes clean about it to you afterward. Or maybe he is drunk at a party but calls for your help instead of trying to drive himself home.

In these and similar situations it is a good idea to respect this act of honesty and the courage it required from your teen. Allow for lessened consequences or perhaps a sit-down conversation instead of a punishment at all.

In this way, you keep in mind that nobody is perfect. Your teen is sure to make mistakes along the way to getting clean, but telling the truth shows he is genuinely trying to change. Furthermore, your child’s safety should be your number one priority—it’s why you want her to quit abusing drugs in the first place, after all—and these allowances help create an environment in which your teen is not afraid to reach out when she is a dangerous situation.

But speaking of consequences, how should you handle those? Punishments and the way you enact them can greatly impact your teen’s progression in quitting drugs and alcohol.

Consequences should be firm but reasonable, resonating and powerful yet age-appropriate and generally short-term. For instance, while a moderate offense might justifiably warrant a week’s grounding, grounding your teen for six months is far overboard.

Penalties must be able to teach your teen a lesson and show that you are doing this for his well-being; punishments too intense or long (given the transgression) will only ignite resentment, and what you are trying to teach her will be lost.

Also, you need to make sure that you will and can impose consequences that you previously stated will occur if your teen disobeyed a given rule. Failing to follow through on punishments will tell your teen that you aren’t truly serious about the rules—so he’ll continue to break them. Likewise, attempting a consequence that you have no ability to enforce will tell your teen that you can’t really do anything about his violation of the rules—so he’ll continue to break them. Both will reduce your authority and make future efforts at discipline much more difficult.

One often effective penalty is temporarily revoking a teen’s car or driving privileges, especially if you caught her driving under the influence or as a passenger of an impaired driver (punishments directly connected to the action tend to be more powerful). Suspending your teen’s driving ability will better prevent her from driving while drunk or high or traveling to meet a dealer.

Now that you have co-created a set of rules, expectations, and consequences with your teen, consider compiling them into an actual, physical document, a written contract complete with agreeing signatures from both parties.

For most teenagers, this makes the rules truly official or “real” and thus more likely to be respected, while also proving that you are equally committed upholding your end of the bargain. In addition, a tangible contract permits you to point to your teen literally agreeing to a certain behavior should he later violate it (and vice versa).

[Click the link for an example of a teen-parent contract and suggestions for expectations to establish: http://www.drugfree.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Write-a-Contract-with-Your-Kids-2014.pdf]

However, even with contract in hand and all you have covered in your conversation today, remember that one talk will rarely be it. Very likely, this will be the first of many discussions you’ll share with your child as he quits using alcohol and drugs.

Some will occur when your teen comes to you on his own for guidance, and some will be after you catch him breaking the rules. Don’t be discouraged or feel like you aren’t making a difference; each and every one of these talks are a helpful and necessary part of the recovery process.

#5 Call in the Cavalry

One aspect that can be difficult for parents but will immeasurably help in confronting your teen’s drug or alcohol use is reaching out to others for help. There are two main categories of outside assistance: Help for yourself and help for your teen.

The first of these might seem out of place. Help for me? Isn’t my teen the one that needs help?

This line of thinking, however, ignores the turmoil many parents undergo when their teen uses drugs, feelings that only increase with the severity and consequences of the teen’s substance abuse. The emotional distress can be monumental, leaving a person mentally and physically exhausted.

Some parents keep their feelings bottled up, thinking it’s not appropriate to tell others what their teen is going through or are too ashamed to let anyone know. Their pain and frustration eventually eat away at them.

It is perfectly okay and normal to feel this way. However, you also need to realize that you cannot ignore your own struggles as you deal with your teen, if for no other reason than you can’t adequately help her if you yourself are emotionally unwell.

Don’t let the fear of shame force you to keep this a secret. Always communicate your feelings to your spouse as you help your teen together. Confide in a close friend or relative what you are going through. While you shouldn’t tell absolutely everybody what is happening, sharing with a few people you trust for support and to vent your emotions is encouraged.

Also, remember that you are not alone in this problem. Countless others are dealing with teenagers who abuse substances as well, and some people might find it easier to discuss their feelings to others whom they know are in the same boat.

Just as there are peer support groups for people facing addiction and recovery, so too are there meetings for parents, siblings, and others who are close to someone with drug use issues. Groups such as Al-Anon and Families Anonymous help lessen the stigma of the situation with your child, proving you are not alone while giving you a chance to share your story and listen to the experience of others.

Another resource that can both help you and aid in your teen’s recovery is toll-free helplines. These numbers, most of which are open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, put you in contact with professionals trained to assist individuals and families prevent, cope with, and overcome drug and alcohol abuse. Some of the many helplines include:

Similarly, reach out to other professionals that you or your teen can meet with in person. The easiest way to begin is to contact people already connected to your or your teen’s world, such as school counselors or the family doctor/pediatrician.

These professionals can assess the extent of your teen’s drug abuse, root out and discuss underlying or compounding issues such as family struggles or mental health disorders, and develop a treatment strategy. Also, they will be able to connect you with more advanced specialists if needed. Doctors can administer drug tests as well.

Finally, it can be beneficial to share your teen’s issues with another adult who she admires and respects such as a coach, another relative, teacher, or religious figure. This adult can both monitor your child’s condition and behavior when you are not around and strengthen the argument that your teen should quit using drugs. Hearing that substance abuse is dangerous and should cease will hold greater power if multiple people who care about your teen, not just you, tell her. In addition, your teen might feel more comfortable opening up to this person than you, giving her an alternative person to seek guidance from and talk to in the face of making poor decisions.

#6 Advanced Recovery Treatment

In communicating with drug and healthcare professionals, they may determine that your teen requires a more advanced treatment strategy.
While teenagers with less extensive substance issues can recover with a combination of family support, discussions with parents and trusted adults, and a system of rules and consequences, those with more extreme abuse problems and addictions will require more intense treatment methods.

There are several different options that may help, and it is up to you and the professionals involved to decide which option—or, more likely, which combination of options—will be best for your teen. Some of the treatment strategies include:

  • Support Groups: Group meetings can build a community network that helps teenagers realize they are not alone in their struggles. They have other people rooting for their recovery and can see the value of recovery in others. Different types of groups will be more or less beneficial to each teen. Some will do well in a group composed only of similarly-aged peers, whereas for others this would lead to a negative atmosphere of reminiscing over “fun” memories of doing drugs. Some teens might have a better experience in a varied age group or a group made of teenagers and their family members.
  • Medication: Most often, medication is reserved for adults but may be prescribed to teens in some circumstances. Various medications are used for treating addiction or co-occurring conditions, withdrawal symptoms, and relapse prevention.
  • Talk Therapy: Also known as behavioral counseling or behavioral treatment, talk therapy has your teen meet regularly with a health counselor. This counselor aids your teen in modifying her behavior and attitudes toward substance use; focusing on positive life skills; and recognizing, avoiding, and coping with “triggers” and situations which commonly lead her to use drugs. The intensity and frequency of these meetings typically coincide with your teen’s progress.
  • Inpatient Rehab: One important aspect of your teen’s treatment that you must decide is whether to pursue outpatient or inpatient rehabilitation. Deciding which system is best for your child depends significantly on the severity of her substance abuse.The primary difference between these two programs is in where your teen will live as they undergo recovery. Whereas in an outpatient plan your teen still resides at home and may attend a rehab facility for specific sessions or meetings, he lives at the facility during inpatient treatment. Both involve support groups, counseling, medication, or any other treatments your child needs.

Outpatient rehab, which is typically recommended for people at a lower risk or are already recovering well, allows patients to continue to go to school, work, and any other activities or responsibilities; maintain a semblance of their normal lives; and have frequent contact with friends and family for support. On the other hand, by remaining in the “outside world,” your teen might still be exposed to people and scenarios that trigger substance use, as well as have access to alcohol and drugs.

Meanwhile, inpatient treatment is a full-time commitment that requires your teen to live on-site, where he will receive support 24 hours a day, seven days a week from a multidisciplinary team of professionals fully devoted to patients’ health and recovery. Inpatient programs are advised for users who would be exposed to substances at home, cannot commute to outpatient centers, were not previously successful in outpatient treatment, or also have a mental health condition, such as depression or bi-polar disorder, alongside their drug abuse.

Most initial inpatient programs last 28 to 90 days. The first part of treatment will be a detox to clear your teen’s body of drugs and start returning her bodily systems to normal. Although every inpatient treatment center is different, most days will typically begin by checking vitals, screening for illicit substances, taking any prescribed medication, and completing simple chores like making the bed, followed by several
therapy sessions (both individual and group meetings), and ending with quiet free time. Teens can receive tutoring to keep up with their schoolwork.

To discover treatment centers near you visit https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/locator.

Not every person should be treated for alcohol or drug use in the same way. These methods of combating substance abuse should be discussed with a counselor and/or health professional, in order to decide what is the best option for your teen’s specific circumstances.

Even once the best course of action has been determined for your teen, it is only the beginning. Now the recovery process must start. A long and difficult road may lie ahead for your family, but you must stay committed despite this adversity.

Just as one talk about drugs and alcohol may not be your last, so too can the path to recovery include missteps, re-dos, and times where it seems like your teen is backtracking on his progress. This is not uncommon; don’t feel like the whole process is a failure.

Keep working at it.

Stay vigilant.

Continue loving and supporting your teen.

Researching the topic and reading this article already proves you are a dedicated, concerned, and caring parent doing the right thing. Keep it up, and you and your teen will get through this.

*          *          *

By Tyler Wroblewski

Click here the first three tips on how to intervene when your teen is using drugs or alcohol.

Click here for warning signs that your teen may be using drugs or alcohol.

Pictures From

Consulting with a Counselor: From at U.S. Department of Agriculture at https://www.flickr.com/photos/usdagov/19664890044

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Just Breathe: From chintermeyer at https://www.flickr.com/photos/twentysevenphotos/5349693235

I Think My Teen is Using Drugs: 6 Essential Tips on How to Intervene (Pt.1)

It can be one of a parent’s worst fears, something you dread and hope never happens. You’ve discovered (or highly suspect) that your teen is using drugs and/or alcohol.

Maybe you’ve found a hidden stash or some drug paraphernalia or simply noticed a string of new and unusual behaviors and personality changes inconsistent with typical teenage development. Perhaps you’ve overheard your teen and her friends talking about “Texas Tea” or caught her high after a party.

The circumstances don’t really matter. What matters is what you do next.

You don’t want to push your teen away, yet you also need to steer him toward safer and healthier behavior. Knowing the right things to say and do—as well as what to not say and not do—will better ensure these outcomes, while still maintaining a positive relationship between you two.

Even with the best resources and help at your side, this process of confronting your teen and getting him to change his ways will probably be hard. It might be scary.

But it’s something you need to do.

Now stop, take a deep breath, and read our top six tips on what to do when your teen is using drugs. 

#1 Don’t Ignore the Problem

You might be thinking to yourself (perhaps in a voice eerily similar to your teen’s when she talks to you), “Well duh! [Cue eye roll]. Of course I wouldn’t ignore my teen drinking or using drugs.”

But how many times, in both real life and popular media, have you heard adults make excuse for teenagers such as “they’re just experimenting,” or “it is okay as long as they only drink at home,” etc.?

It’s not uncommon for parents to downplay their teen’s substance-using behavior. They may do this because they think the problem will go away on its own in time. Some may have dabbled in the same actions in their youth and suffered no long-term consequences and thus would feel hypocritical or that stepping in is not necessary.

Still others might choose to ignore the signs and refuse to act, because intervening admits the problem is real. Acknowledging your son or daughter abuses drugs can easily bring up feelings of guilt, shame, regret, anger, and more. Parents may fault themselves or each other and feel like failures. Some would rather live in denial.

But ignoring the issue, no matter the reason, only further puts your child at risk, as even minimal usage of drugs or alcohol can be highly dangerous.

Some substances, such as inhalants, can cause severe long-term damage or death upon first-time use. Moreover, alcohol and drugs play a significant role in all of the top three leading causes of teenage fatalities: Accidents (including auto crashes and drowning), suicide, and homicide. Anytime a teen is high or drunk, impaired judgment and motor skills leave them more susceptible to these dangers, as well as an increased risk of fighting, unsafe sex, risk-taking, and sexual assault.

Finally, dismissing your teen’s “experimentation,” hoping it will fade in time, risks that the drug use will only become more regular and detrimental. The younger people first begin to abuse substances, the more likely they are to develop a dependence or addiction that lasts throughout their life, because brains do not stop developing until the age of 25. No one knows how many hits or drinks it takes to trigger addiction and it is not the same for everyone; addictions can develop suddenly and unexpectedly, and once your brain is hooked it is never the same.

At this critical time, it is important not to blame yourself. This reaction is normal, but your focus should be on ways to move forward. Teens drink
and do drugs for a multitude of reasons, and you are far from the only parent dealing with this difficult issue. Playing the blame game and imagining “What If” scenarios about the past only distracts from finding solutions for your teen in the future.

#2 Be Prepared

When you discover that your child is abusing a substance, talking with him is one of the most important, effective, and certainly first steps you should take.

But don’t just rush in there half-cocked, guns blazing. With a situation this delicate and crucial, you need to step back and take the time to make a proper plan.

First and foremost, setting aside time to prepare allows you to reign in your initial, more volatile emotions. You shouldn’t approach your teen while blinded by anger, sadness, or the like, as it won’t do either of you any good. Reel in those intense feelings and do your best to remain level-headed. Taking preparation time will aid in that.

You may also want to mentally ready yourself for the trying tribulations ahead. Confronting drug or alcohol use can be an intense experience for you and your teen. Though you can never fully anticipate or prepare for the emotions you may undergo, prepping your mind and heart beforehand will keep you from becoming overwhelmed.

If applicable to your family situation, the next step is to ensure you and your spouse, partner, or other heads of the household devise and maintain a united front. Think, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

No strategy to solve your child’s substance abuse will work if one or both parents blame or contradict the other, fail or refuse to enforce established rules, or enable the teen’s behavior.

Teenagers will immediately recognize any division between the two of you, leaving them confused or ready to exploit these discrepancies. Instead, you must both be equally vigilant in your disapproval of and tactics against drinking and drug abuse.

Finally, you must plan for the actual conversation with your teen. Decide an appropriate time and location, a place where your teen will feel comfortable. Review what evidence you have of her drug use. Know what you want to say and what questions you will ask, as well as formulate responses for common questions that may be asked of you (more on these three points in the next section). All of this preparation will help keep the discussion focused and retain your authority during the conversation.

#3 The Talk Part 1: What to Say and Do

Now that you’ve sufficiently prepped, it is time to sit your teen down, address his alcohol or drug use, and outline what your expectations are in the future.

To get the most out of this time, limit distractions by putting away or turning off cell phones, televisions, laptops, and other electronics (I can hear your teen gasping in shock already). As previously stated, choose a place to talk where your teen feels at ease but make sure it has minimal distractions and is not in a public setting.

Also do not try to have a serious conversation with your child while she is drunk or high. For instance, should she come home late at night after party, clearly intoxicated, you may want to talk right then and there. But in this state your teen will be more prone to anger, sleepiness, and not remembering your conversation the next day, all of which will render your message ineffective.

Begin your talk by presenting evidence of your teen’s substance use so it does not seem like you are randomly accusing him. Share the signs you have noticed such as changes in behavior, personality, and friends, and bring in any confiscated drugs or paraphernalia. Teens will undoubtedly deny using drugs and say they have no idea what you are talking about, but that’s a lot harder to do when they are staring down a clearly-used pipe pulled from under their bed.

On the other hand, don’t assume you know everything and avoid direct accusations. Perhaps you misinterpreted the changes in her attitude, which are actually the result of a different issue like depression or puberty.

On the other, other hand—hang in there, this is a complicated process—teens will make up stories and try to wriggle out of admitting their actions. It’s up to your instincts, judgment, and knowledge of your child and the acquired evidence to discern fact from fiction.

Do not tolerate lies but reward honesty. Let your teen know you want to work together, and that telling the truth will make everything easier. You may want to give some sort of short-term immunity or lessened consequences for honesty or, at the very least, tell your teen you are proud of him for telling the truth.

As you continue, clearly define what actions you do and don’t approve. Teenagers often misunderstand or take advantage of grey areas, and you should not just assume they know your stance on every issue, even those as basic as not using alcohol and drugs.

Address why these risky behaviors worry you. Here you can reference some of the dangers of substance use, anything from drunk/drugged driving to the increased likelihood of violence and unsafe sex.

However, only mention a few of these potential consequences and stick to topics relatable to your teen. You don’t want to overload her or refer to dangers too long-term or otherwise obscure for her to care about.

And never, ever, ever start listing statistics. Teens will zone out faster than you can say, “half of all traffic fatalities among 18-24 year-olds are alcohol-related.”

Ask your teen questions to root out the reason(s) why she turned to drugs. As an act of rebellion? Peer pressure from friends? Loneliness or depression?

When you understand the specific contributing causes of your teen’s substance abuse, you’ll be able to better tailor your approach to get her help according to her personal needs.

Additionally, to acquire a better understanding of your child’s world, ask about his friends. Doing this will also divert some of the pressure your teen may be feeling due to all of the focus on her. However, because people usually hang out with like-minded individuals, you can learn a lot about your kid based on what you learn of his friends.

What are their attitudes toward drugs and drinking? What do they think of people who do and don’t use? Are there friends that push your teen into doing things he’s uncomfortable with?

Let it be up to your teen whether to reveal specific names. Otherwise she’ll feel like you are demanding her to rat on her friends and will shut you out. Likewise, never say you don’t like one of your child’s friends or pass judgement (“I don’t like Kimberly, she’s a pothead”). This will only anger your teen and cause her to lash out or divert the discussion away from her behavior.

Throughout your talk always keep in mind the internal struggles your teen could be facing. Perhaps the reason he turned to drugs is because he is depressed or emotionally vulnerable. Maybe he wants to quit using but has become physiologically addicted and cannot stop on his own. Or he could be deeply ashamed and embarrassed by his behavior and that you found him out.

With that in mind, don’t heap on guilt or call your teen a failure. Certainly stress that you severely disapprove of her drug use, but continually emphasize that you love her and will be supportive in all her efforts to get clean and make better choices.

Even if your teen was not driven to substance use because of some deep-rooted vulnerability and does not show any signs of regret over his actions—he is brazen or proud of them, even—be firm but still handle the situation with compassion. Bringing in anger or attempts to shame will only evoke the same responses from your child, further pushing him away, leaving him no closer to pursuing more positive behavior. The goal of intervening is to stop your teen’s drug abuse, not to yell and emotionally punish for the sake of it. Issuing (tangible) consequences can be a tactic in service of the former but is not itself the objective.

Your talk should be a conversation, not a confrontation.

Take the time to genuinely listen to her answers to your questions and try to see her point of view, as well as encourage her to ask questions of her own. Check yourself throughout the conversation.  Are you talking a lot more than you are listening?

Keep in mind, however, that periods of silence are okay.  Teens need longer to think and express themselves than adults.  And remember, while you have been thinking about this conversation for some time, your teen has not.

Teenagers will likely ask about your personal experiences. Did you feel peer pressure growing up? Did you ever go through ______ like me? And, of course, the main one they’ll want to know: Did you ever drink underage or use drugs?

If you didn’t partake in substance use as a teenager, that’s great. Handling this situation will be no problem. However, if you did consume either in your youth, you might panic upon hearing this query, fearing it will unravel everything you are now trying to do.

First, know that you do not have to answer the question if you don’t want to. You are not on trial, and it is not your behavior that called for this conversation. This talk is about your teen, and it is his actions that need to change. Responding to your teen’s asking can lead teenagers to think you are unfair and commanding them to do as you say, not do as you do.

Instead, recognize that your child is asking you for a reason. For the majority of teens, when they ask if you have tried drugs, the heart of their question is what should they do?

What you were like when you were his age matters to your child, even if she doesn’t show it or realize it herself. By asking about your behavior, your teen hopes to justify her own actions or learn how to do things differently, based on your example.

Whether or not you drank underage or used drugs, share with your teen ways to handle peer pressure and specific methods avoiding or saying no to drugs and alcohol.

Again, you are not obligated to respond to your teen’s initial question; however, if you choose to, keep your answer short and simple. “Yes, I tried pot a few times,” or “Yes, I sometimes drank at parties,” are more than sufficient. There’s no need to go into any more detail than that.

Furthermore, preface your answers by saying that you wish you had made better choices, the dangers of drugs and alcohol (especially to youth) were not as well known when you were young, and many drugs are much stronger today than they were in the past.

Make sure you do this before you give your answer, though. If you attempt to give these qualifications after you’ve admitted using substances, your teen will interpret them merely as lame excuses. All he will hear is that you got to do it, but he cannot. You can explain some of the consequences you suffered because of drinking or doing drugs and how situations would have turned out better if you had made different choices, but, unless you underwent something truly traumatic and life-altering, even this can fall on deaf ears.

Therefore, re-directing your teen’s question about your past, instead of answering it straightforward, is often the best strategy. Put the focus on her and what she needs.

Remember the fact that reading this article shows that you are a caring and responsible parent who only wants the best for their teen.  No one has all the answers and no one always says the right thing.  If the conversation doesn’t work the first time, keep trying.  Continue reading and researching and don’t give up.

*          *          *

By Tyler Wroblewski

Click here for our Part 2, which covers tips on establishing rules and consequences, reaching out for help, and treatment centers.

Pictures From

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Depressed Girl in Corner: From Baker131313 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Shouting Silhouettes: https://pixabay.com/en/arguing-female-male-man-shouting-1296392/

Talking on Bench: From https://pixabay.com/en/west-friends-sit-bench-peace-826947/

On Trial: From https://pixabay.com/p-1587300/?no_redirect

Teen Hugging Parent: From Tulane Public Relations (Move-In Day  Uploaded by AlbertHerring) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

THC Levels: Original Image from Pauk (Transferred from ru.wikipedia) [CC BY 1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Text added by author.

Talking to Teens: From Shane Global Language Centres at https://www.flickr.com/people/shaneglobal/?rb=1