My Child Is Using Drugs or Drinking Alcohol—What Should I Do?
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?
There is a difference between rescuing your child and going to the other extreme of giving up.
The following is an excerpt from Life Over the Influence™, an online learning program created by Kimberly Abraham LMSW and Marney Studaker-Cordner LMSW, therapists and experts in helping families struggling with substance abuse issues. Life Over the Influence is a part of The Total Transformation® Program Online Package.
If you’re reading this article, you’ve got a 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 their use, we’re going to focus on what you can do to respond to the issues that result from his or her substance use.
Teen-Proof Your Home if Your Child is Abusing Substances
The first thing you can do is be proactive. Remember when your child was a toddler? You put baby gates across the stairs, locks on the cabinet doors, and 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 control.
I’m Afraid I Might Find Drugs in My Child’s Room
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 13-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 it’s your right and responsibility to make sure illegal substances are not in your house. After all, you will be held responsible. That’s real life.
Related content: Teens and Privacy: Should I “Spy” on My Child?
Should I Call the Police If I Find Drugs in My Child’s Room?
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 say to your child:
“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 alcohol, that may strike you differently than if you find heroin. Even with alcohol, 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.
Related content: When to Call the Police on Your Child
Prepare for Your Child to Be Angry
Many teens will actually have the nerve to be angry at their parents for flushing their stash. They may even tell you, “Hey, you owe me money for that!”
You can respond calmly and say to your child:
“Would you tell the police they owed you money if the police took it? This is real life. If you bring it into my home, you’re going to lose a lot of money, so make an informed choice.”
By doing this, you are starting to make substance use uncomfortable for him in your home. And you are establishing a firm boundary.
Cut Off the Cash Flow to Your Child If He’s Abusing Substances
If you know or suspect that your child is using substances, one of the best ways to put a wrench in her buying is to cut off her cash flow.
Now is the time to close the First National Bank of Mom & Dad. Don’t give cash for things like movies, lunch, or clothes. Write a check or pay the school directly for lunches, or let her brown bag it. Buy her clothes yourself. Don’t give cash for birthdays, or holidays, or big-ticket items he can pawn or exchange for drugs.
That doesn’t mean you can’t do anything for her for special occasions. You could offer to take her to a movie or an event—something she can’t convert to cash to support her use.