Teenagers and Drugs: How to Confront Your Child About Their Addiction

teenagers and drug

By the time children in the United States reach the 8th grade, 28% of them have tried alcohol. 15% of them smoke cigarettes, and 16.5% of them use marijuana. These are children that are barely over the age of 13 using illicit substances.

There is nothing scarier than suspecting that your child is using drugs. As adults, we understand that drug addiction is a severe issue that can take an entire lifetime to overcome, and many stories of addictions don’t have happy endings.

We don’t want that for our children.

If you suspect that your child is using drugs, keep reading. We’re going to give you the lowdown about teenagers and drug use and how to talk to your teen if you think they’re using drugs.

The Truth About Teens and Drug Use

While many people, parents and children alike, believe that drug use is fine as long as it’s just “harmless experimentation,” drug use can lead to changes in your child’s behavior and cognition in the long term.

This is because a teenager’s brain is still in the midst of developing. In fact, our brains aren’t fully developing until we hit the age of 25! Our ability to completely handle impulses and rational thinking isn’t fully functional until we are well into adulthood.

That means that any and all drug use by teenagers needs to be taken seriously. Not only are children prone to falling into addiction but addiction will impact them much more severely because of the development of their brains.

Signs that Your Teen is Using Drugs

No one wants to find out that their child is using drugs. However, the worst thing you can do is turn a blind eye and refuse to accept that it’s your child who is using drugs. So it’s essential to recognize the signs and symptoms of drug use.

Not everyone who uses drugs is addicted to them. Sometimes all it takes is a little nudge in the right direction to get your child back on the right path. So recognizing these signs early is a good way to try and protect them fast.

Here’s a list of some of the behavioral signs to watch out for if you suspect that your teen is using drugs:

  • A sudden personality shift
  • Loss of interest in their hobbies and family activities
  • Hanging out with a different group of friends
  • Not showering as often
  • A drop in grades
  • Secretive behavior
  • Unexplained mood shifts
  • Stealing
  • Asking for large sums of money
  • Needing privacy at strange times

There are a number of different physical signs to watch out for depending on what kind of drug your teen may be using. But in general, here are a few visible markers of drug addiction:

  • Not enough or too much sleep
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Tremors
  • Strange walking
  • Red eyes

Different physical effects change depending on the drug that they use. If you think your child is using meth, their symptoms will be much different than if they were using heroin because the drugs are designed to do two very different things.

Confronting Your Teen About Drug Use

Without a doubt, the best time to talk to your child about drug use is before you suspect that they’re using drugs. It’s so important to teach your child about drugs and the dangers of addiction before their peers can push them into trying things out for experimentation sake.

However, sometimes even the best-laid plans don’t work out. And if you suspect your teen is using drugs, you need to act as soon as possible. But you can’t just rush in without knowing what you’re doing first.

Do Your Research

Before you even think about sitting down with your teen and talking about drug use, you need to know what you’re talking about. Do some research on the statistics of teens who overdose on drugs or wind up getting arrested for possession. You don’t want to use these statistics as scare tactics but as a way of showing your teen that it can happen.

You’ll also want to do some research on the different kinds of drugs your child may be on. Find out what their side effects are and what an overdose looks like, so you can be prepared if the worst were to happen.

Looking up different treatment facilities isn’t a bad idea. Not every teen who uses drugs is an addict who needs treatment. However, knowing what your options are should it come to that is a great tool to have.

Maybe you’ll talk to your teen and find out that it was just a one-time thing and they’ll never use it again. Or perhaps you’ll find out that their drug use is worse than you were expecting. Either way, it’s important to be prepared before you attempt to confront them.

Gather Loved Ones

Once you’ve done all of your research, the next step is to pick a few loved ones to talk to. Drug use and addiction are both isolating things. Most of the time, once drug use starts, it can feel like such a lonely place to be.

When your teen knows that, no matter what, there’s a whole host of people behind them, it might make them feel better about the prospect of quitting and getting treatment if needed.

Be selective about the people you want to invite to your discussion. This isn’t necessarily an intervention. You don’t want to bring a host of people who have grievances to air with your child.

Instead, pick a few close family members and friends that you can be absolutely sure aren’t involved in drug use as well. Siblings, cousins, and grandparents are great for these sorts of discussions, provided that everyone gets along.

Have both parents there, if possible. This way, your teen will know that you’re talking about something serious.

Pick the Best Time and Place

Selecting the right place to talk to your teen about drug use can be difficult. You don’t want to pick a super public place for fear of an outburst or the chance of losing your teen in a crowd, should they run away.

But you also don’t want to choose a place that is excessively comfortable for them either. Nothing puts an intervention on hold, quite like your teen hiding in their room and refusing to come out.

Don’t Beat Around the Bush

When you talk to your teen about their drug use, you want to make sure that you use clear language and get straight to the point. Don’t expect your teen to lead you; you need to know where the conversation is going.

Don’t use scare tactics that are meant to get your teen to change their behavior based on fear. This will earn you an eye roll and probably discredit much of what you’re going to say next.

Instead, be compassionate and understanding. Let your child know that you’re there for them, but also make it clear that you don’t approve of their drug use and you want them to stop.

Listen Better Than You Talk

This is the number one thing you can do as a parent when it comes to any issue, but it is especially helpful when discussing matters of drug use and addiction. So often, teenagers feel as though they’re being talked at.

Whether they’re at school, at work, at home, or with their friends, many teenagers feel like they aren’t being listened to. It’s incredibly challenging to go through their whole day without feeling like they have a solid ear to talk into.

That’s where you need to come in. Your child may resist telling you important things at first, but as long as you make sure they know that you’re a safe place for them to land, soon they will feel like they can come to you with anything.

You can make use of this during your discussion as well. Give your teenager time to talk and make sure that you actively listen.

Tell Them the Risks

This is where all that research you did earlier comes in handy. It’s important that you stress to your child what kind of risks they take when they use drugs. The idea of permanent brain damage down the line is often not concrete or immediate enough to give your child something to think about, so you need to come prepared with other facts as well.

Let them know what happens if their grades are to drop or if they were to use a dirty needle. Tell them about the increased risk of dangerous activities. Show them what addiction looks like.

Give them all the facts so they can make the best choice possible.

Give Them Treatment Options

If this is the first time you’ve had to have this discussion with your teenager, maybe you won’t need to worry about a treatment facility. Sometimes a simple wake up call from a parent or other loved one is all a kid needs to get back on the right track.

However, not everyone is so lucky.

If you think your teen’s drug use is more severe than a little marijuana and believe they may need help, have some treatment plans available to talk about.

You may meet some resistance when it comes to treatment and therapy, but this is where being the adult in the relationship comes into play. You know what’s best for your child and if you believe that getting them into a safe treatment center for teens, that’s what you should do.

There are many different kinds of treatment centers out there, both inpatient and outpatient. Discuss all the available options with your teen and try to work together to find a good plan, if you can.

Always Have a Plan B

As we mentioned before, even the best plans can wind up going to waste. Sometimes, when a teenager is using drugs and already struggling with impulse control, all it takes is one negative thought to cause them to run or get violent or shut down completely.

That’s why it’s a good idea always to have a plan B. Make sure someone is there to watch the location, just in case your child takes off. If you think violence may be an issue, consider asking an officer of the law to assist you as well.

Things to Avoid When Talking to Your Child About Their Drug Use

The critical thing to remember when dealing with teenagers and drug use is that a discussion doesn’t equal an intervention. Often parents will go all out for a discussion and will wind up pushing their child even further away.

Here are some of the things you should avoid when talking about drug use with your child.

Don’t Take it Public

As we mentioned before, moving your discussion to a super public place could be dangerous. If your teen thinks that they’re going to get in trouble or taken to a treatment facility against their will, they could bolt.

Instead, choose a place like a relative’s home or a hotel meeting room. Keep it small and simple.

Don’t Talk Until They’re Sober

Another thing you should avoid doing is talking to your teen while they’re high. In this state, you likely won’t get much out of them in the first place. They also probably won’t remember much of what’s said either.

If your teen is using drugs regularly, choose a time when you know that they haven’t had access to drugs and talk to them in that time window, that way you know you’re getting the most clear-headed version of your teen possible.

Teenagers and Drug Use: The Next Step

When it comes to teenagers and drug use, the most important thing is to never give up. Teenagers are persistent and it’s so easy for them to fall in with the wrong crowd. What you need to do is stay consistent with your rules, make sure they know that you’re there for them, and always keep an open line of communication.

If you’re looking for a safe and comfortable drug and alcohol detox center for yourself or a loved one, contact us today.

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Content Reviewed by Jacklyn Steward

Jacklyn StewardJacklyn is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and an EMDR trained trauma therapy specialist with over 6 years of experience in the field of addiction. She has a Masters Degree in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counseling from Nova Southeastern University.