What To Do If You Think Your Teen is Drinking or Using

What To Do If You Think Your Teen is Drinking or Using


I have had some moms and dads ask me how I would react if one of my (underage) kids were using drugs or drinking, based on journeying down the path with my eldest son. So, I thought I would write about the subject since I know so many parents of middle-school and high school age kids worry about what they would do if they found out their child was drinking/using.

While I have learned a lot about teens and substance use/abuse, parenting an addict, and heck, parenting in general over the past five years the most important thing I have come to understand is I cannot be naive to the idea this issue could never again come up under our roof.

That being said, this is how I would approach the problem (hindsight being 20/20) if I discovered one of my kids was drinking/using:

  1. Remain calm (which would be the first, and biggest challenge). Discuss whatever the circumstances are with my husband so we could come up with a plan we could agree on in order to approach the child in question.  Being on the same page will be key.
  2. “The plan” would include gathering evidence (ie:  paraphernalia, social media images if applicable, list of behaviors noticed/friends that have changed, information off of their phone, possible changes in academics).  Come up with a time, as soon as possible, to talk with child when he/she is sober.  Not an interrogation, but a serious, heart-to-heart.  If you child shows up drunk or high at home there will be no reasoning or comprehension, therefore no point in attempting to discuss the situation until you can get reliable (coherent) information (or at least as accurate as your child will give you anyway).

I would probably believe half of what he/she told me…my husband would likely not believe a word.  Based on the information received, and how much evidence we have as to how far into trouble this kiddo might be, I would immediately call our insurance company and get a list of local treatment facilities to have a substance use evaluation done.  Then, after calling around and getting information about their programs, I would set up an appointment as soon as possible.  Once we have recommendations in place, we would continue to make plans.

What I would most need to remember in the situation is I love my child very much, and I want to protect him/her from the hazards of using, however actions speak louder than words (just like any other situation life presents us with).   And even if I want to believe this may be a “first time” offense or a “rarely happens mom” situation, realistically I know I am only getting half the truth.  It will be a balance of trying not to overreact, while letting the child know his/her use is not something our family will tolerate.  I might be tempted to give the benefit of the doubt and impose consequences we feel would be appropriate to a first offense (kid gets caught smoking pot = fewer, more closely monitored social privileges, loss of phone…whatever my husband and I might deem fair) but, I will be on high alert, both eyes wide open, to conversations/behavior/attitude developments from that point on.

I know if there is trouble, it won’t take long to show up.

If there are multiple episodes or a significant event (child comes home puking his/her guts out on more than one occasion, child is caught drinking/using alone, room search reveals a multitude of substances or paraphernalia such as spoons/needles/synthetic marijuana (K2, Spice packets, legal issues and/or truancy) I wouldn’t hesitate to have an evaluation done.  The age of first use, the intensity of the drugs being taken, as well as the amount/method of ingestion and number of times used all play a part in how quickly addiction can develop.

The other thing I would remember in this situation is it is a family problem.  What I mean by this is if your child is messing with drinking or drugs on a regular basis, there is likely a bigger issue going on.  The way you approach the situation is going to be crucial to how successful the child is at changing course.  Yes, a lot of it will come down to his/her own personal decision-making but, if parents and siblings are loving, supportive, encouraging…not blaming, shaming, enabling then there is a greater chance to turn things around.

I believe the longer we can keep our kids from trying alcohol and drugs the better shot they have of not getting caught in the web of addiction.  Fully realizing I cannot keep my kids in a box, we have taken steps as parents to help our kids learn to cope with inevitable life stresses and challenges in relationships.  Adolescence is a difficult time in life, there can be a great deal of pressure from many sources (academics, sports, extracurriculars, parents, friends, self-imposed, body/hormone/psychological changes…) so while our job as parents is to protect and prepare our kids, it is also to model respect, unconditional love and regard for them as well.

Our children have been brought into the world through us, not to serve our own agenda but to live out their own unique destiny with us as their guides.

I work hard everyday as a mother to make authentic connections with each of my kids.  I try to limit my distractions (which is no easy task), and to make hearing them a priority.  We make every effort to eat together each night and to ask one another about their day.

One of the other choices my husband and I made several years ago, which I believe has helped and will continue to be the right choice, was to eliminate sleepovers.  Mainly because I want my kids in their own bed at night, then I can never blame another parent if my child was using at their home.

In addition, I don’t go to bed until all kids (underage, living under our roof) are home, and everybody knows I won’t go to bed later than midnight.  My mom always told me “nothing good ever happens after midnight”, and she was right (not that I would have told her that during my teenage years).

This post originally appeared on Kimberly’s site.

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Kimberly Muench

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