What to Do If You Discover Your Teen is Using Drugs or Alcohol

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You likely talk to your teen about drugs and alcohol, and the risks associated with using these substances. But have you considered what you would do if you discovered drugs or alcohol in your child’s possession?

The realization that your teen has been using drugs or alcohol is a shocking and upsetting situation. You are probably feeling overwhelmed and have questions about what this means. Here’s what to do if you suspect your child is using drugs or alcohol.

Have a Non-Judgmental Conversation

Your first instinct may be to punish or tell your teen how wrong their behavior is. However, harsh words will only make your child react defensively and will shut down the lines of communication. Instead, have a non-judgmental conversation about your teen’s drug or alcohol use.

Ask questions like where they were first exposed to drugs, whether their friends use substances, how they feel about their current level of substance use, and whether they use drugs to provide relief from painful emotions. Many people start using substances to cope with symptoms of mental disorders like anxiety and depression. It could be that your teen has co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorder.

Set Firm Expectations

Your teen probably knows drug use is unacceptable, but it’s important to explicitly state this. Set firm expectations for your child’s behavior moving forward. After the initial discovery, take time to calm down. Then make a plan to minimize the risk of your child being exposed to drugs again.

A sample plan might include your teen checking in with you before and after visiting friends, letting you know exactly where they will be after school hours, and not leaving the house after a certain hour.

Lay Out the Consequences

Decide whether there will be any punitive consequences for past drug use. Your child may be more willing to open up about the extent of their use if you grant “immunity” for past mistakes.

Make it clear that you will not ignore future substance use. Inform your teen of the consequences for future use, but be sensitive to the possibility that an addiction is present.

Don’t Enable the Use

You may be tempted to believe your teen is just experimenting, or going through a passing phase, but this kind of thinking leads to enabling behavior. Parents often mistakenly enable their teen’s drug use by ignoring it, covering it up, or not following through on consequences. There is a difference between showing your teen compassion and allowing their substance use to continue.

Contact Your Primary Care Provider for an Evaluation

Regardless of how extensive the drug use appears, make an appointment with your primary care provider as soon as possible. A doctor can evaluate your child’s mental and physical health, and provide referrals if further treatment is needed. Involving a medical professional also lets your teen know that you take the situation seriously.

Consider an Addiction Assessment

If your doctor sees evidence of a potential substance use disorder, you will want to contact an addiction treatment center for an evaluation. An addiction assessment is a comprehensive exam that includes interviewing your teen about their drug use, performing medical tests, and completing a mental health evaluation. The treatment professionals will use this information to put together an individualized treatment plan for your teen.

If you think your teen is struggling with a substance use disorder or an underlying mental health condition, Rehab After Work has teen treatment programs that can help. Our Paoli, Lansdale, and Phoenixville locations are the main adolescent treatment centers, but we also offer teen programming at most of our other locations.

Call us at 610-644-6464 to speak with a compassionate professional today. We will talk to you about your concerns and recommend ways to address the substance use.