According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2018:
- Nearly 12.4% of high school seniors used illicit substances besides marijuana
- Almost 6% of 12th graders report daily marijuana use
- More than 30% of 12th graders drank alcohol in the last month
If you worry your teen is on drugs, learn the facts about drug use and create a strategy to address the concern effectively.
Signs Your Teen Is Using Drugs
Before deciding what to do when your child is on drugs, you must be reasonably sure that teen substance abuse is occurring. You may not get many opportunities to address drug use, so you’ll want to make sure there is a cause for your action.
Substance use triggers numerous changes in the mental, physical and social health of your teenager, but identifying the changes can be challenging. Someone using marijuana could appear very drowsy with slowed reaction times while someone using cocaine could show increased energy with an inability to stay still.
- Change their group of friends
- Show less interest in grooming and hygiene
- Struggle with performance in school, sports or work
- Lose interest in previous activities
- Get in trouble with the police
- Show a change in sleeping or eating habits
- Have paraphernalia like empty alcohol bottles, pipes and needles in their room
Mental Health Symptoms
When looking for signs of drug use in teens, be sure to consider the impact of mental health symptoms. Often, mental health symptoms can appear similar to signs of teen substance abuse. A teen who seems restless, stressed, isolative and resistant to leaving the house could be using substances or they could have an anxiety disorder.
What to Do If Your Child Is Using Drugs
If the signs of drug use and addiction are present, it is time for you to take action, but what should you do? In the beginning, there are essential actions to avoid, including:
- Ignoring or denying the problem
- Waiting for the problem to resolve itself
- Shaming your child for their actions
- Reacting with anger and hostility
Talk to Them
Good communication with your teen will be the center of your action plan. Having a conversation about drugs and teen addiction is intimidating, so you should:
- Pick a good time to talk: If your teen is intoxicated or you are too angry, the conversation will suffer.
- Limit distractions: Having a serious conversation in a noisy environment with a bunch of distractions will not produce a good result. Instead, find a calm place to discuss substance use.
- Have a plan: Practice and prepare for the communication to provide your evidence for their substance use and what you would like to happen next. If you want them to end use, help them seek outpatient treatment or go to rehab.
- Practice patience: If you are unsure how to talk to your teenager about drugs, always come from a place of love, support, patience and understanding. Otherwise, your teen could become angry and defensive.
Don’t Go Through It Alone
When your child is using drugs, you may feel alone and unsure of what to do next. Your teen’s substance use can make you feel isolated, so make the decision to enlist a team of addiction support people who will help you through the process of talking with your teen.
Your team can be comprised of anyone, as long as they are helpful, supportive and have the best interests of your child and yourself at heart. Pick a group of varied people with different life experiences and substance use knowledge. A variety of options and opinions can help your problem-solving abilities.
You may struggle when addressing substance abuse and the family, but your team of support people can provide the direction and guidance you need to make the situation more manageable.
If you feel like your friends or family are unwilling or not appropriate to add to your team, you could find success with support groups for families of addicts. These informal meetings can occur in person or online and allow you to interact with other parents in your situation. Some group members may have faced the same challenges with teen substance abuse and can share their lessons with you.
Don’t Enable Your Teen, Support Them Instead
Helping your teen addict is challenging and full of uncertainty. Are you truly helping your teen or are you only helping to enable addiction?
Unintentionally enabling addiction is a common mistake many family members make. When you enable your teen, you allow their drug use to continue by:
- Making excuses for them
- Blaming other people for your teen’s behavior
- Believing your teen’s outlandish stories
- Bailing them out of trouble
Instead of enabling your teen, it will be key to set and enforce appropriate boundaries and expectations. Establish consequences for their behaviors as a way to punish substance use. Though it may be heartbreaking, you must allow the natural consequences of substance use, including financial problems, trouble with the law and relationship issues to motivate your teen toward change.
Along with the consequences of behaviors linked to substance use, you can reward your teen when they engage in healthy behaviors. If they spend time with positive friends or attend drug-free activities, find ways to praise and reinforce these actions, so they are more likely to continue.
Does My Teen Need Professional Help?
Substance use disorders are significant mental health conditions that deserve medical treatment. If you would seek professional treatment when your teen has a broken bone, then you should seek professional help for substance use issues. Parents who do not encourage professional teen drug help may be enabling the behaviors.
Professional teen treatment for substance abuse issues is readily available in numerous locations. To determine the best level of treatment for your teen, an addiction professional may consider:
- The drug or drugs used
- The duration of use
- The frequency of use
- The dosage used
- The presence of other mental health or medical conditions
- The available supports and stressors in the teen’s life
People with lower levels of risky use could attend weekly therapy appointments to address their symptoms. Teens with higher levels of use may need teen drug rehab where they live at a residential treatment center for the duration of treatment, usually between 30 and 90 days.
Some parents choose to start the treatment process through an appointment with their child’s pediatrician or by calling the local mental health or addiction treatment center, but if you are concerned that substance use is a problem for your teen, you should call The Recovery Village. The Recovery Village has many substance abuse treatment options for teens to help them overcome addiction.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Commonly Abused Drug Charts.” July 2018. Accessed June 21, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Family Checkup: Positive Parenting Prevents Drug Abuse.” August 2015. Accessed June 21, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Monitoring the Future Survey: High School and Youth Trends.” December 2018. Accessed June 21, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What to Do If Your Teen or Young Adult Has a Problem with Drugs.” January 2016. Accessed June 21, 2019.