Catching your teen using drugs or drinking can, in itself, be a hard pill to swallow. Taking the time to let that reality sink in, acknowledging the fact that your son is going against your will and putting himself at risk, can be the most difficult part of all for many parents. If you have just discovered that your teen is using alcohol and/or drugs, your mind is more than likely racing with thoughts: how can he be doing this? How long has he been doing it? How do I react? What am I supposed to do next?
The fact is, most teens today have already tried drugs or alcohol before their high school graduation. And accordingly, many adults accept these risky behaviors as “normal” or another “phase” of adolescence. For that reason, a part of you may want to simply accept the situation, talk to your teen, and move away from it. The problem with that is you may miss a significant part of the larger picture.
While you may have only caught your child smoking once, or partying a few times over the summer and punished him respectively, you may not know the entire scope of his substance use. One time use can actually be an indicator of a developing habit, one that can be extremely detrimental to your son’s mental and physical health. Adolescents are especially prone to addiction, and teen drug use is nothing to ignore.
As a parent, you need to be prepared for this situation. You need to not only prepare to talk, but also to listen. Most of all, you need to prime your reaction, and decide your next steps moving forward. There are many steps you can take if you have just caught your child using drugs or alcohol. As you begin to plan for a conversation with your child, consider the following.
- The most important thing you can do first is simply listening to your child. Your child may not be ready to talk, and if you find that this may be the case, prepare a list of specific questions regarding his recent behaviors. Ask him why he’s been out late, who he has been hanging out with, and where he has been when he comes home smelling like smoke. Ask him when his substance use began, and how exactly is he getting the drugs or the alcohol. Is he being pressured by anyone?The point of this conversation will not be to lecture your son, but rather, to get all the facts about his situation. Your goal in “talking” to your son should be to have him do most of the talking.
- Try not to react right away upon catching your teen using drugs. Of course, a huge part of you is going to want to be upset and angry at the situation. Your immediate reaction may be to yell at your son. According to research on the adolescent brain, though, this sort of reaction will not have much impact on your son or his behaviors that follow. In fact, lashing out at the situation may actually promote even more misconduct moving forward.The best thing you can do in this moment is remain calm. This is a reaction that may need to be prepared. Tell your teen you need time to take everything into account, but that you would like to discuss this situation later on. Explain that you need to think about everything he has told you, and perhaps confirm some facts with his friends, their parents, or even his teachers before you decide your next move.
- Before you can fully assess the situation, you will need to know all of the facts about your teen’s drug and alcohol use. These are facts that you may not get from him right away. Chances are, your teen is not going to tell the whole truth immediately. This is not necessarily because he wants to lie to you, but because he is anticipating your reaction. No child wants to disappoint a parent, and in his heart, he is probably most worried about letting you down. As you begin this conversation, emphasize the importance of honesty and give him an opportunity to tell the whole truth, without immediate judgment or repercussions.As a parent, it is your responsibility to not only get the facts about your teen’s drug use, but also about teenage substance abuse on the whole. You can then deliver what you know and what you learn to your son. Get the facts on the detrimental effects of teen drug addiction, and the warning signs of the popular drugs used by young adults.
- Whatever you do, do not let this go. If you have done your research, you will know that drugs have a damaging impact on adolescents. Drugs and alcohol react differently in the adolescent brain than they do in the adult brain, making a young person much more vulnerable to addiction. Your son’s drug use now may lead him towards a downward slope if you do not intervene right away. Teens who begin using an addictive substance before age 18 are six and a half times more likely to develop a substance use disorder, and your son is no exception.Whether it is asking your son directly, monitoring his behaviors, or uncovering the facts yourself about his drug use, it is critical to establish whether or not he has developed a habit of substance abuse. Even if he doesn’t admit to regular use, or show signs of a drug addiction, he may still be at risk of developing one later in life.
- Consider professional help. We know more than ever that drugs and alcohol affect the teen differently than they would at any other age. We also know, however, that drug addiction in adolescents and young adults can be successfully treated. If you believe your teen is addicted to drugs, Drug treatment program for young men may be his right next step. Early intervention is critical to maintaining his health and his wellbeing, and helping him achieve a sober, drug-free lifestyle in the future.