Many teens engage in risky substance abuse, which can create a number of unwanted physical and mental effects, so parents should recognize the problem and take action.

Remain Calm

Substance abuse can tear families apart. Addressing a serious drug or alcohol abuse issue within the family puts parents to the test as much as anything ever will. But it’s important that, above all else, you remain calm. If you suspect there’s an underlying substance abuse issue with your teen, it’s not the end of the world.

No matter what, this is still your child; how you react can mean all the difference in their recovery.

  • Respond with love.
  • Don’t blame yourself.
  • Determine what needs to be done.
  • You are not alone.

Talk to Them

The subject matter is extremely delicate, and teenagers with a substance habit are already in a fragile state. Don’t assume you know everything that they’re going through and struggling with. It’s okay that you don’t inherently “get them.” Just always keep lines of communication open so that it’s constantly reinforced that you’re someone they can trust and come to with anything they’re going through.

When you decide to start talking to your children about drugs, remember that there’s a huge difference between confronting addiction versus having a conversation about it. Avoid confrontations at all costs.

Psychologists often recommend that the best approach to getting a teenager to open up about the topic is to ask them about their friends. By finding out what they think about friends who are using or getting in trouble for using, you may gain insight into how they feel about the topic.

Don’t act on pure emotion. Don’t judge them. But understand that where the conversation goes will likely determine your next steps.

How To Tell If Your Teenager Is Using Drugs

Your teenager goes through changes that are a normal part of adolescence. But some changes are windows into more sinister things — like experimentation with drugs or alcohol.

Take note of obvious changes to their behavior, appearance and overall health. Be aware of the major signs of substance abuse. Look for alcohol or drug paraphernalia (physical evidence) in their room, their laundry, their school supplies or around the house. Some teens are better than others at keeping their habits a secret and covering up their symptoms. It’s up to you to be diligent in your observations, without jumping to many conclusions.

Don’t Do This Yourself

You’re not a superhero. Nobody expects you to be. As signs start to build, reach out for help in the matter. Assuming you can help your teenager by yourself can be overwhelming in situations like these, and can set you — and more importantly, your teen — up for failure. Realize you are not alone, and the challenges ahead can start to appear more and more conquerable.

Help can be in the form of:

Building a support network will help you keep a level head, get various perspectives on the situation and make the best decision for moving forward.

Don’t Enable Them

Often, parents of teens wrapped up in substance abuse slip into enabling. This is when the detrimental behavior is implicitly accepted and allowed to continue because a parent is in denial of the circumstances their teen finds themselves in.

Enabling looks like this:

  • Ignoring the addict’s negative or potentially dangerous behavior
  • Difficulty expressing emotions
  • Prioritizing the addict’s needs before her own
  • Acting out of fear
  • Lying to others to cover the addict’s behavior
  • Blaming people or situations other than the addict
  • Resenting the addict

Does My Teen Need to See a Professional?

If you notice signs of substance use in your teen, contact a professional right away. The longer that substance abuse is allowed to take place, the more difficult it becomes for your teen to kick the habit. Your family doctor can screen your child and determine whether they’re simply experimenting or a suffering from a substance use disorder. Teens with mild substance issues can often recover through outpatient treatment, but deeply-rooted substance use disorders usually require inpatient rehab treatment.

When you’re considering which treatment option would be best, be sure to talk to a professional who is well-versed in addiction recovery. Our advisors at are available to speak to you for free. There are no obligations associated with calling and getting help from us, and anything we discuss is kept strictly confidential. We’re able to answer questions about addiction, rehab, paying for treatment, and any other matters relating to your child’s substance use issues. Also, if you simply need someone to talk to about the situation, our compassionate advisors are here for you.

Take the first step towards recovery for your child — call us at today, and we can help you get started helping your child. This call could change the course of your teen’s life. Don’t wait.

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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 – Eric Patterson, LPC
Eric Patterson is a licensed professional counselor in the Pittsburgh area who is dedicated to helping children, adults, and families meet their treatment goals. Read more
Sources, Margarita. “How to Talk to Your Kids When You Think They’re Using Drugs.”World of Psychology. Psych Central, 2 May 2013. Web. 21 Jan. 2016.“Enabling Addiction.” Families Against Narcotics. Families Against Narcotics, n.d. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.[…]-from-health-care-r/Join Together staff. “New Data Show Millions of Americans with Alcohol and Drug Addiction Could Benefit from Health Care.” Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, 28 Sept. 2010. Web. 23 Jan. 2016.

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.