Being the parent of a child who struggles with addiction is a devastating experience. You may feel like you’ve tried everything possible to help your child, but they still struggle with substance misuse. If your son or daughter has an addiction and you don’t know where to turn, help is available. With the right coping tools and knowledge, you can help your child in the most effective way possible. 

How Can You Tell if Your Son or Daughter Is Using Drugs or Alcohol?

Perhaps your child’s behavior has changed, and you wonder if drugs or alcohol might be to blame. Or, maybe they have a history of addiction, and you’re concerned they may have relapsed. Whatever the case, there are some instances in which you may need help identifying whether your son or daughter is using drugs or alcohol. 

Certain physical, emotional and social signs can point toward drug or alcohol misuse, including:

Physical signs of substance misuse include:

  • Bloodshot eyes or changes in appearance of pupils
  • Repeated nosebleeds from snorting meth 
  • Lack of appetite
  • Unexplained injuries or bruises 
  • Jitters and tremors
  • Slurred or incoherent speech 
  • Odor of alcohol on the breath 
  • Evidence of drug paraphernalia like pipes, spoons or needles among their belongings 
  • Paint stains around the mouth from huffing
  • Burned mouth and fingers from smoking 

Emotional signs of substance misuse include:

  • Sudden changes in overall mood, personality, or attitude 
  • Frequent mood swings, such as outbursts of anger or sudden crying fits 
  • Episodes of hyperactivity followed by periods of lethargy 
  • Suddenly appearing anxious or suspicious 
  • Frequent lying 
  • Lack of motivation and trouble focusing 
  • Losing interest in hobbies or time spent with family and friends 

Social signs of substance misuse include:

  • Withdrawing from social activities 
  • Giving up old hobbies 
  • Establishing a new friend group (especially if the friend group has difficulty at work or school)
  • Isolating from other people 
  • Staying away from home for long periods of time, or sneaking out 
  • Stealing from family members or frequently asking to borrow money 
  • Sudden complaints from teachers, friends, or coworkers about their change in behavior 
  • Stealing medication or alcohol

What Do You Say When Your Child Is Using Drugs or Alcohol?

If your son or daughter is using drugs or alcohol, you may be unsure of what to say to them. If you want to discuss your concerns, the following tips can be beneficial:

  • Prepare to express your concerns to your child using specific examples. Instead of making vague statements, such as, “You’ve changed since you started using drugs.” you might say, “We used to spend so much time together as a family; now we rarely get together.”
  • Avoid blaming or criticizing your child; instead, come from a place of love and concern.
  • Be prepared to tell your child you love them and want them to recover. 
  • Learn about the nature of addiction to express that you understand what they’re experiencing when you talk with your son or daughter. 

Beyond talking with your child, reaching out for support for yourself can also be beneficial. Having a child with addiction can seriously affect your physical and mental well-being. You might benefit from telling a trusted friend or family member that you’re struggling and seeking support. 

It can also be helpful to seek support groups and other services for the loved ones of people with addictions. Family-based services play an important role in addiction recovery because these services can link you to support groups, where you can learn from others coping with similar challenges. In family therapy sessions, you can also learn more about addiction, develop coping skills and understand how family behaviors and communication patterns can contribute to addiction.

What To Do if Your Son or Daughter Doesn’t Want Help?

Ideally, your son or daughter will agree to seek addiction treatment, but if this isn’t the case, you will need to determine how to respond. Often, one of the best things you can do is seek support for yourself. Even if your child chooses not to seek treatment, you can take steps to heal your emotional pain. 

If your son or daughter refuses help, setting firm boundaries is important. This may include telling them you will not engage with them or offer monetary or other forms of support unless they seek treatment. Sometimes, setting a firm boundary motivates a person to seek treatment. 

Types of Treatment 

Several different care levels are available if you are exploring treatment options or your child has agreed to enter a program.

  • Medical Detox: A medical detox program is the beginning of addiction recovery in many cases. When a person becomes addicted to a substance, they often develop a dependence on it, meaning they will experience withdrawal symptoms when not using the drug. A medical detox program can provide medications to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms and keep patients as comfortable as possible as they undergo withdrawal. 
  • Inpatient Rehab: Inpatient rehab programs require patients to live on-site at a treatment facility while they recover. These programs are intensive and provide around-the-clock care. While in an inpatient program, patients participate in multiple services, such as individual and group counseling, medication management and support groups. Inpatient care is a suitable option for people who have a severe addiction or are unable to stay committed to recovery while living at home and being exposed to triggers for drug use. 
  • Outpatient Rehab: Outpatient rehab programs allow patients the opportunity to live at home and continue to attend work and/or care for their families while in treatment. Instead of living on-site at a facility, patients in outpatient rehab live at home or another community setting and attend appointments at a facility or clinic. Outpatient programs provide multiple services, such as case management, individual and group counseling, support groups, medication management and mental health treatment. 
  • Dual Diagnosis: Dual diagnosis is designed to meet the needs of people with a co-occurring mental health condition and substance use disorder. These programs are qualified to treat both conditions simultaneously. If your son or daughter has a mental health diagnosis and an addiction, it is important to seek a treatment center that offers dual diagnosis care because treating both conditions together is considered best practice. If a substance use disorder goes untreated, mental health symptoms may worsen, and vice versa. 
  • Aftercare: Aftercare services are provided after a person completes a treatment program. These services offer ongoing support so people can remain committed to recovery. Aftercare may involve participating in support group meetings or ongoing counseling sessions to assist with relapse prevention. 

Teletherapy: Teletherapy allows patients to participate in treatment from home, using technology such as video conferencing and web cameras. With teletherapy, a person can participate in individual and/or group counseling sessions as long as they have a working computer or SmartPhone and an Internet connection that allows them to use video conferencing services. A review of the research on teletherapy services for addiction shows that most patients are satisfied with this treatment method.


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American Psychiatric Association. “What Is a Substance Use Disorder?“>What Is […]Use Disorder?” December 2020. Accessed November 16, 2022. 

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Co-Occurring Disorders“>Co-Occur[…]ing Disorders.” September 27, 2022. Accessed November 16, 2022. 

Lin, Allison; Casteel, Danielle; Shigekawa, Erin; Soulsby Weyrich, Meghan; Roby, Dylan H.; McMenamin, Sara B. “Telemedicine-delivered treatment interventions for substance use disorders: A systematic review“>Telemedi[…]ematic review.” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, June 2019. Accessed November 16, 2022. 

Legal Information Institute. “29 CFR § 825.119 – Leave for treatment of substance abuse“>29 CFR �[…]bstance abuse.” Accessed November 16, 2022. 

Rahman, Abdul; Paul, Manju. “Delirium Tremens.“>Delirium Tremens.” National Library of Medicine, January 2022. Accessed November 16, 2022. 

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.