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What to Do if You Think Your Child Is on Drugs

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Teens sharing pills

Take a deep breath…

You’re not a failure as a parent. You’re not helpless. And you’re not alone.

If you think you’re a failure, consider this: There are many kids with neglectful parents who never use drugs. There are also children with seemingly model parents who do use drugs.

So the first thing to accept is that drugs, while indeed dangerous, are one more problem for your youngsters to handle. And they’ll do it better and faster if you’re aware, involved and don’t stick your head in the sand.

THE AWARE PARENT HAS THE SAFEST CHILDREN

Part of awareness and a major deterrent to experimentation is to talk to your kids about drugs.

But even with a lot of parental involvement, there are no guarantees. So it’s important to know the symptoms of drug use and to take action if you see your kid displaying them.

THE WARNING SIGNS OF DRUG USE

There are no symptoms that are absolutely reliable. But there are clues.

Most of these symptoms tend to be gradual which is why parental awareness is so important.

Don’t jump to conclusions, but do investigate any suspicions you have as fully as possible. Trust your intuition.

Many of the warning signs for drug use are the same as those for depression or for the ups and downs of being a teenager. There’s also the possibility it’s a physical or emotional problem.

But whatever the problem, we’re talking about a child who needs help. Right now.

START WITHIN THE FAMILY – BUT DON’T WAIT TO GET HELP IF THERE IS A PROBLEM

Nothing beats the power of love and family support. That has to start with frank discussion.

Don’t make it an attack. And don’t try to talk with your child if he or she seems under the influence.

Wait for a calm moment and then explain that you’re worried about a certain behavior (be specific) and give your child every opportunity to explain. That means really listening, not doing all the talking.

Use “I” messages — sentences that start with “I” — explaining how your child’s drug use affects you and your family.

At the same time, it’s important to speak frankly about the possibility of drugs. And it’s particularly important to talk about your values and why you’re dead set against drugs.

If your youngster seems evasive or if his or her explanations are not convincing, you should consult your doctor or a professional substance abuse counselor to rule out illness and to ask for advice.

In addition, you may also want to have your child visit a mental health professional to see if there are emotional problems.

FURTHER ACTION IS PROBABLY NECESSARY

Even if your child seems non-responsive or belligerent, if you suspect drugs are involved, immediate action is vital.

First, you’ll need an evaluation from a health professional skilled in diagnosing adolescents with alcohol or drug problems. You may want to get involved with an intervention program to learn techniques that will help convince a drug user to accept help. For the user, there are self-help, outpatient, day care, residency, and 24-hour hospitalization programs.

The right program depends entirely on the circumstances and the degree of drug involvement. Here, you’ll need professional help to make an informed choice.

Another point: If a program is to succeed, the family needs to be part of it. This can mean personal or family counseling. It may also involve participating in a support group where you learn about co-dependency and how not to play into the problems that might prompt further drug use.

If you don’t know about drug programs in your area, call your family doctor, local hospital or county mental health society or school counselor for a referral. You can also call a national helpline and get a referral, read our Treatment eBook for advice  or use the treatment locator.

WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T GIVE UP

That child who upsets you so much is the same little boy or girl who, only yesterday, gave you such joy. They’re in way over their heads, and they never needed you quite as much as they need you now.

No matter what they say.

8 Responses to this article

  1. Avatar of Mister Bob Man
    Mister Bob Man / April 13, 2013 at 7:12 am

    Just so you all know, being upset or nervous when you accuse them, or try to offer a drug test is NOT a sign that they’re abusers. I have never used drugs, and when my parents told me that they thought I did, I got really nervous and stuff. It’s perfectly normal.

  2. Avatar of Antoinette
    Antoinette / May 10, 2011 at 1:23 am

    I need some strong advice. I am a Registered Nurse and am sure my nephew has a serious drug issue, family has abandoned him and both of his parents are in denial. He is 20 and due to his age and the fact that I am only his aunt , I do not know what to do or who to call.

  3. Avatar of Carolyn Isaac
    Carolyn Isaac / February 22, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    So many in our rural area believe that once their loved one is addicted they have to “hit bottom” before they will turn toward recovery. Indeed the fire is an inferno if they possibly survive. The true message is that any intervention is better than no intervention. Waiting for your loved one to “hit bottom” is a risk that complicates the disease and exposes them to other long term diseases they will deal with for the rest of their lives. Spread the word to our parents that NOW is the time to ACT! Be aware and share about the resources in your area.

  4. Avatar of DrugRehabPros.com
    DrugRehabPros.com / February 4, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    This reminds me of an analogy that I use quite often with my clients. When talking with the parents of addicts, I often ask them to view their child’s addiction as a house fire. I then ask them to tell me how large that fire is. I ask them if they would compare it to a toaster in the kitchen that has a flame coming out? Or are flames shooting out of every window and the roof is collapsing?

    This gives them perspective. About 90% of the time, they say that the flames are shooting out of every window. I then ask them, if this were happening to your house, wouldn’t you put down the garden hose and call 911?

    The addict can’t see the fire. Or has convinced themselves that the fire is no harm to them. Many families find themselves standing on the front lawn screaming at the top of their lungs for their loved one to come outside. Meanwhile the addict is lying on the couch saying, “what is the big deal? I don’t see a fire”.

    At some point, the family has to take action. Many family members don’t want to hurt the addict’s feelings or muddy up the family waters. This is very common. Kicking the door in and pulling your loved one out of a collapsing inferno by their hair may very well cause a bit of conflict at first. Generally it won’t be for a couple of weeks, after the addict is sober for a while, that they will see that fire for what it was. It is then that they will thank you with all that they have for stepping up and possibly saving their life.

  5. Avatar of Rehab Counselor
    Rehab Counselor / January 29, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    This is a very good article and thanks for writing it. Often as parents the signs and symtpoms of addiction and abuse are right in front of our faces and we don’t know what we’re looking at until its too late. Immediate action is vital! Please keep up the good work and informing people.

  6. Avatar of Bob B
    Bob B / January 11, 2011 at 11:01 am

    It takes so little time to get started and sometimes a lifetime to get stopped. Stopping the starting is best.

  7. Dad 4 Truth / January 1, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    We, as parents, wait way too long before finding ‘appropreiate’ guidence and you are so right when you said, “they’re in way over their heads.”

    Thanks for your post.

  8. Cathy / January 1, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    Your tips are so important and great advice to parents. For us who are have had to deal with the consequences of drug addiction, I would think we all look back and wish we had listened more carefully to our instincts. Many times the signs are there, but we are not aware of the signs of drug addiction, or we are in denial. More education and awareness is needed for parents. I believe upper elementary and middle school are the keys years. By high school, it may be too late. Thank you for your post. Very informative.

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