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Help approaching your teen about drug use

Mark Myers LCSW, CADC Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor Myers Counseling Group

What do you say to your child if you think they are using drugs? Parents frequently wonder what to say, when to say it, and how to say when it comes to their child’s drug use. This is an awkward subject that a lot of parents would prefer to avoid. The discussion you have with your child will largely be based on how you approach the problem.


Do gear your discussion based on age

The conversation you have with your eight year old child is going to be dramatically different then that of a sixteen year old. Most likely a eight year old will not have the exposure to drugs and alcohol as a sixteen year old would. At earlier ages conversations should be focusing on getting them to understand the dangers of use and your stand on drugs and alcohol. Conversations with older kids should focus more on problem solving, decision making, and the consequences you would enforce over their use.

Do educate yourself first

Children will most likely not see their parents as reputable information sources. This is inherent in many parent-child relationships. The more you know your facts, the more credible you will appear. If you are presenting outdated or wrong information, you will be dismissed by them. It is important as well for you to know the possible consequences of your child using drugs as well as the danger(s) each drug may present.

Do make yourself part of your child's life

Research supports that children benefit greatly from parents being involved in their lives. It is important for children to feel connected to their family. Also, the more involved you are, the more likely you will notice the changes they experience. Teenagers typically go through many adjustments at this stage in life. The changes may not indicate there is substance usage, but will at least give you some specific information to discuss with your child.

Do listen to what your child is saying

Open communication is extremely important in families. Children will be more likely to discuss issues and ideas with you if they feel they are being heard. This does not mean agreeing with them but showing interest in what they have to say. In addition, listening to your child will decrease the likelihood of them perceiving the discussion as being lectured or talked down to. It could also give you a clearer picture of where your child stands with their views about drugs and alcohol. If they appear to defend or justify drug use, a greater likelihood exists that your child may be involved in the use.

Do check up on your child

Parents always want to believe in their children. If you suspect use, look at grades, check their social media outlets, look around (if warranted, search) their room, and use whatever sources you can to gleam information that would support or negate your suspicions.


Do not flinch

This is an uncomfortable topic for most parents, to say the least. Don’t be shy about asking direct questions. Vague questions will lead to vague answers. Children shape their parent’s behavior by reacting negatively to inquiries. If a parent is afraid of a child's reaction to a question, the question will never be asked. When you do ask, give specific examples of what you are basing your concerns on.

Do not shift blame or responsibility to the other parent

Maintaining a united front is important. If your child sees inconsistencies in parenting, this will certainly lead to further problems down the road. Discuss a game plan with the other parent and make sure you are on the same page. A team approach tends to be most effective with teens, though your teen might prefer to divide you.

Do not present an inconsistent message

Children look to their parent’s for guidance. Evaluate your own substance use. A parent will not be seen as credible source if their own use is problematic. Furthermore, there is a better likelihood of a child abusing drugs or alcohol if they have a family history of drug or alcohol problems.

Do not bargain

Keep your rules clear and consistent. If you start negotiating rules, the rules become ineffective. Teenagers need to know what is expected of them and what the consequences would be if they broke the rules. Adults have different value systems then teenagers. To expect a child to buy into a value that is important to an adult is not realistic. To expect a child to abide by a rule (even if they do not find merit in them) is a more useful strategy to employ.

Do not assume it’s okay if it’s “only experimentation”

Substance abuse has to have a starting point. If you address it when you first suspect use, you are at least establishing a base line for your concerns. By confronting the issue when you suspect use, it will also give your child the message that you care. Often parents discover their child is using only when the use has been going on for awhile. Children may be more involved in drugs than you realize.

Jumping cartoon

Parents are presented a difficult task when addressing drug or alcohol use with their children. This is an awkward topic and most parents would rather avoid acknowledging the possibility their child may be using drugs or alcohol. However, the issue will not go away by itself. Some experimentation with teenagers is not unusual. If a child is using and their use goes unchecked, there is a good possibility the use could escalate. As much as parents would like to trust their child, they still need to monitor their children and guide them in making good decisions. Make it a habit to be involved in your child’s life.

More expert advice about Drug Addiction

Photo Credits: Daughter & Mother by Flickr: rolands.lakis; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Mark Myers LCSW, CADCLicensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor

Mark Myers received his Master of Social Work Degree from Loyola University. He has been practicing in the helping profession for over 20 years. He is an Illinois Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Certified Alcohol and Other Drug Counselor. ...

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