Stay steady and calm to support to your teen struggling with substance misuse. Avoid confrontation and instead start a conversation with your teen today.

Some parents feel awkward and uncertain about bringing up substance misuse. Other parents assume they already know their kids well enough and substance misuse wouldn’t be a problem. Chances are, many kids already know something about substance use by the time they are teenagers

What your teen needs most is loving guidance from you as a parent. This guidance is especially needed when teens start showing signs of substance misuse. Instead of avoiding the topic, learn effective tips on how to talk to your teenager about drugs.

Educate Your Teen About Drug Use

You set the tone for your child’s perception of drug use during your first conversation. Ideally, parents introduce the topic when their children are in middle school or even elementary school. However, it’s never too late to have a conversation about drugs. 

Considering the rising presence of drug use in middle school, kids need to learn the dangers of substance use at an early age. Most importantly, they need to hear about it from you. You may be tempted to use scare tactics to keep them from trying anything. However, educating your child about substance use in a calm manner is the more effective method.

Set the tone for an honest open conversation and assure them it won’t be a lecture. Start by asking your child what they already know about alcohol and illicit drugs. Find out if they know anyone who uses or has ever been offered any substances.

Whether you decide to have one long conversation or several smaller ones, be sure to cover some key topic areas, including:

  • Talk about what drugs are out there
  • Discuss the dangers of substance use
  • Help identify risky situations
  • Explain how to avoid peer pressure with drugs

If you feel comfortable, you can also talk about your personal experiences with substance use. By reminding your children that you’ve been in their shoes before, you can make the conversation more relatable.

How to Tell If Your Teen Is Using Drugs

No parent wants to face the reality that their teen is misusing substances. However, when the signs of teen substance abuse are clear, it’s time for a discussion. 

A teen with one symptom or troubling behavior does not necessarily have an addiction. However, parents can easily underestimate the severity of these symptoms and overlook signs of trouble. If you notice several symptoms of drug use in your teen happening together, an evaluation is needed right away.

Neglecting Normal Responsibilities

Teens who normally take care of chores, school and other responsibilities may skip them. Normally respectful teens may talk back and refuse to follow through when they misuse substances. Some teens find ways to use substances during school hours.

Noticeable Changes in Appetite and Weight

Teenage bodies grow and change over time, but dramatic weight loss or unexpected changes in appetite are not normal for a teen. These changes suggest something physically harmful is happening in their body.

Changes in Self-Care and Personal Hygiene

People who struggle with substance misuse often stop caring about their personal hygiene. Your teen may not be concerned or aware they’ve let their self-care slip.

Changes in Sleeping Patterns

Teenagers commonly stay up later than many adults and younger children. However, take notice of unusual patterns of sleep and a tendency to stay up all night, regardless of the consequences.

Signs of Intoxication

Physical signs of intoxication are clear red flags for drug and alcohol misuse. A person struggling to manage their use may show symptoms of intoxication at unusual times of the day. Symptoms may include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Difficulty walking and controlling body movements
  • Body tremors
  • Excessive drowsiness
  • Flushed face
  • Constant runny nose or sniffing
  • Excessive itching

Changes in Friend Groups and Social Behaviors

Substance misuse is often done within social groups that support the behavior. Be aware of whether your teen has suddenly moved away from stable friendships and is hanging out with a crowd which may negatively influence them.

Dramatic Mood Changes

While teens may experience mood swings during adolescence, a teen who misuses substances may have little control over their emotions. It may seem that every mood is exaggerated, regardless of the situation.

Problems With Money

A person misusing substances has to find ways to acquire and purchase them. Teens may resort to borrowing or stealing money, or spending all the money they get their hands on.

When it’s time to talk with your teen, you might find yourself overwhelmed with emotions. You might feel like being confrontational and showing your power as a parent. Instead, be sure you are calm and have a plan for staying that way. What your child needs most is a thoughtful and caring conversation about what you’ve seen and how their behaviors concern you.

Do’s and Don’ts about Discussing Substance Misuse

If you’ve observed warning signs of your teen using drugs, it’s time for an honest conversation. To make sure this goes well, do some planning and preparation. You don’t know how your child will react, but you can do whatever is necessary to remain calm and rationale. They may not act like it, but they need your stability and steady presence more than ever. 


  • Research the substance you believe is involved and the situation before the conversation
  • Speak with loved ones for emotional support
  • Choose a time and place that provides privacy and adequate time for discussion
  • Ask them straightforward questions
  • Listen carefully to them when they speak
  • Explain the changes you’ve seen in them
  • Discuss the risks of their substance habit
  • Show them how much you care
  • Offer your complete support in helping them stop using
  • Ask what you can do to support them as their parent
  • Go over possible options for treatment or rehab
  • Have somebody on-hand to call if something goes wrong


  • Have the conversation in a public place
  • Bring up the conversation when they’re under the influence
  • Assume you know what they’ve been doing
  • Raise your voice
  • Monopolize the conversation
  • Make them feel guilty or ashamed
  • Threaten them with punishments
  • Invite numerous people into your conversation
  • Become physical or violent
  • End the conversation prematurely
  • Belabor the point after it’s been made
  • Run after them if they decide to leave

Having one conversation may not change anything. You may need to approach your teen several times before they understand the seriousness of their situation. Be consistent and show your teen they can count on you to help them.

Does My Child Need Addiction Rehab?

Sometimes a one-on-one conversation with your teenager isn’t enough. If you have talked to your child about their substance misuse and they can’t stop on their own, they may be struggling with an addiction. This reality can be painful for families to face. However, specialized drug rehab for teens can provide essential support and therapy for your child.

Holding an Intervention

For many teens struggling with addiction, intervention is the first step toward recovery. An intervention is a gathering of friends and family with a person dealing with substance misuse. Each friend and family member has a chance to talk directly to the person.

These individuals take turns sharing how the person’s addiction has affected them personally. While this process can be upsetting to the person at the center of the intervention, each person speaks with care and concern. The intervention is meant to help the person recognize the need for treatment.

An intervention might be the right choice for your family, especially if your teen has not responded to conversations. Because a gathering like this can become emotional, you may wish to get help from an intervention specialist. These professionals can answer questions and calm concerns about your child starting drug addiction treatment.

Parents can feel helpless when their teen shows signs of drug addiction and resists help. The reality of addiction can be scary for the loved ones of a struggling teen. If this sounds like your story, you do not have to go through this alone. The Recovery Village is here to help you and your teen today. 

If you need help talking to your child about substance abuse or are considering an intervention, contact The Recovery Village. Your call is free of charge and our conversations are kept strictly confidential. Our lines are open 24 hours a day, so don’t wait to get your child they help they need.

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Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Erika Krull, LMHP
Erika Krull has a master’s degree in mental health counseling and has been a freelance writer since 2006. Read more

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What Are Signs of Drug Use in Adolescent[…]n Getting Treatment?” January 2014, Accessed June 26, 2019.

National Health Service. “How to Talk to Your Child About Drugs.” April 30, 2017. Accessed June 26, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.