think my teen has a substance abuse problem. What do
I do now?"
Teenagers frequently fear their parent's disapproval, while wanting to protect
their own independence. Teen's sense of invincibility often prevents them from
totally honest communication. Keeping this in mind parents get
a more realistic picture of their teen's life.
Have you asked your teen whether he/she uses drugs? It is important how you
pose the question, but the question needs to be asked.
Find a quiet, private place to have a conversation:
"I have something to tell you that you may not want to hear,
but I need to say it because it has been concerning me and I love you. It
bothers me that
recently things seem to be different between us. You appear edgy and have
more of a negative attitude more of the time. I realize that upon entering
school there are different pressures that are often difficult to deal with
and to understand.
I also know that feeling pressure often affects people's judgements and choices.
I wonder if some of the choices you have made include alcohol or other drug
The best way of communicating is to express how you feel in a non-confrontational
way (using "I" statements rather than "look what you did!").
This allows you to state how you see the situation without making the child
"It upsets me to have found what appears to be a marijuana pipe
in your pants pocket when I was doing your laundry."
Has someone else in either the school or community identified the problem? Parents need to pay close attention to the signals that come from outside the
family about a teen's behavior. It's natural for parents to justify and defend
their children against any and all perceived threats.
Things to be on the lookout for:
- dropping of school grades
- reports from school of unexcused absence and tardiness
- teacher concerns
- neighbors reports of you child's behavior
- police intervention.
Do you see the problem as a result of a change in your
It's important for parents to notice and discuss with their child:
- changes in attitude
- different friends
- changes in interests
- ignoring or stretching house rules
- changes in dress
See the self-assessment section for more signs that your teen is using drugs.
Ignoring what has
the problem go away, nor does it foster open and honest communication - something
that is necessary to create a healthy environment.
When should a professional substance abuse evaluation be done?
- If evidence of paraphernalia is found
- If negative behavior results from obvious drug use, i.e. police arrest,
school suspension, petty theft, car accident.
- Continued unexplained negative behavior that affects family members
- Any feelings of parental discomfort that continues to be unresolved
If a "check mark" is placed in any of the boxes, a substance abuse
evaluation should be the next step.