How to deal with a teen who is using drugs or alcohol

If you believe your teenager is using drugs or alcohol, it is important to talk about it. Select a time when you are both calm. Talk about your concerns, such as the short- and long-term impact drugs and alcohol can have, with a focus on areas that may be important to him or her. For example, you may stress how substance abuse can affect health and athletic performance, motivation and academics, or mood and friendships.

Also, find out whether your teen is experiencing other problems, such as difficulties at school. However, remember to point out the positive aspects of your teen's life, not just the problems.

When trying to gauge whether your teen has a chronic problem with drugs or alcohol:

  • Ask what substances are being used, how often, and where your teen is getting them. Ask your teen why he or she is using the substance(s).
  • Ask your teen who he or she was with and where they were when they were using alcohol or drugs. Remember, most teens will try alcohol, cigarettes, or even drugs, often experimenting with friends in safe places. Parents should be more concerned if they discover their teen is using substances while driving or in unsafe environments.

If your teen has only been trying drugs or alcohol, he or she may agree to stop after your discussion. Stay alert to the signs of use, and be involved with your teen. Praise your teen's efforts not to use. Remember that your caring and concern for your teen will probably have a bigger impact on your teen's behavior than giving advice.

If your teen continues to use drugs and alcohol and is not willing to give them up, get professional help quickly.

  • Before choosing any professional, meet with the professional and discuss his or her point of view and approach to the problem.
  • Your teen also needs to visit his or her doctor. The doctor can check your teen's health and identify any physical problems.
  • If a treatment program is needed, be supportive and involved in your teen's recovery. Praise his or her efforts.
  • If needed, get into a recovery program for yourself. Substance abuse is often a family disease. However, do not blame yourself for all of your teen's problems. Your teen needs to be responsible for his or her actions.

Last Updated: April 22, 2008

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