My Child Is Using Drugs or Drinking Alcohol—What Should I Do?

Nightclub scene with people on the dance floor

You thought your son was just “experimenting” with drugs, but had stopped. Now he’s failed a drug test for his work–study program at school, and you know: this is serious. Your teen daughter is hanging around with kids who are notorious for drinking and partying on the weekends. She’s come home drunk twice this month. This morning you found vodka in her room. What do you do? The following is an excerpt from Life Over the Influence, a new program created by Kimberly Abraham LMSW and Marney Studaker-Cordner LMSW, therapists and experts in helping families who are struggling with substance abuse issues.

There is a difference between rescuing your child and going to the other extreme of giving up.
If you’re reading this article, you’ve got pretty good reason to believe your teen is abusing substances. Rather than focus on getting your teen to admit he’s using, or the degree of his use, we’re going to focus on what you can do to respond to the issues that result from that substance use.

Teen–proof Your Home

The first thing you can do is be proactive. Remember when your child was a toddler and you put baby gates across the stairs, locks on the cabinet doors and you put all your breakables out of his reach? Well, it’s time to teen–proof your home now. If you drink or use substances, lock it up. Or better yet, get it completely out of the house. If you have prescription medications, lock those up too. Don’t assume that just because your teen is using one substance, he’s not open to getting high in a different way.

You may be thinking, “This is my home, I shouldn’t have to lock things up.” Would you have said that when he was a toddler? “This is my home! I shouldn’t have to put the poisonous cleaners in a locked cabinet just because he’s two.” Your teen is still a minor, and whether you should have to teen–proof the home is beside the point. It’s still a part of parental responsibility, and it’s something you can actually control.

I’m Afraid of What I Might Find in His Room. Besides, it Smells in There….

Parents often wonder where to draw the line with privacy when a teen may be using substances. Remember, this is your home. Privacy is a privilege. Is it a good idea to read your thirteen–year–old’s diary just because you’re wondering if she’s mad at you? Of course not. But if you suspect your teen is using substances, privacy goes out the window. It’s your home, and your right and responsibility to make sure illegal substances are not in your house, because you will be held responsible. That’s real life. If you had a tenant, and thought he had drugs in the room, would you say, “Oh, I don’t want to upset him by invading his privacy.” Of course not!

If you find substances in your child’s room, you will have to decide what course of action you’re going to take. You know your child best. It’s a judgment call as to whether or not you should call the police. If it’s the first time you’ve discovered the substance, you may decide to flush it and let your child know, “Look, I found pot and I flushed it. If I find it again, I’m calling the police.” If you’re concerned the substance abuse has reached a level where the court should be involved, you may choose to call the police the first time you find it. The type of substance found may also play a role. If you find liquor, that may strike you differently than if you find heroin. Even with liquor, he can be charged as a minor in possession. Make sure you are prepared for the court to be involved if you call the police.

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