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If you’ve just discovered or have reason to believe your child is using drugs, the first thing to do is sit down and take a deep breath. We know it’s a scary time, but you’re in the right place. Before you intervene, take time to prepare yourself for the important conversation ahead, and to lay the foundation for more positive outcomes.
We’re all familiar with the trick of turning to one parent when the other says no. It’s best if you and your spouse come to a common stance on drug and alcohol use before raising the subject with your child.
You’re likely to be asked whether or not you’ve done drugs, and there are ways to answer honestly that keep the emphasis less on you, and more on what you want for your son or daughter. You could explain that you tried drugs in order to fit in, only to discover that’s never a good reason to do anything. Or you can focus on the fact that drugs affect everyone differently, and just because your life wasn’t harmed by drug use, you’ve seen it happen to too many others.
Don’t let your response become a justification for your child’s drug use. Focus on the issue at hand – that you don’t want your son or daughter drinking or using drugs.
There are many ways to approach a conversation about drugs with your kids, even if your past is less than ideal. Get our free PDF ‘How to Talk to Your Kids About Drugs if You Did Drugs’ to find out how.
It’s understandable to have some reservations about snooping in your child’s room or through their belongings, but remember, your primary responsibility is to their well-being. As you gather evidence, try to anticipate different ways they might deny using, like the excuse “I’m holding it for someone else.” Even if you don’t have an airtight case, you’ll be better prepared for the important conversation to come.
Common hiding places include:
If you think the conversation will be uncomfortable for you, imagine how uncomfortable it will make your son or daughter. Be prepared for them to say things to shock you, deny even the most convincing evidence, accuse you of distrust, and worse. Think about how you’ll handle an angry or resentful reaction from your child.
Things will go more smoothly if you have a desired outcome in mind. It’s OK – and probably for the best – to keep expectations low. It may be unrealistic to expect your child to admit to use and pledge to stop. A more reasonable objective, like simply expressing that you don’t want him or her to use, can be a win.
Before the conversation starts, think through which rules you would like to put in place, and what the consequences of breaking them will be. This can help clarify the goal of your conversation, and help you set a clear next step. For more tips, see advice on setting limits.
Don’t deny addiction in your family. Use it as a way to talk to your child and regularly remind him or her of their elevated risk. Drug and alcohol dependence can happen to anyone. But if there is a history of addiction – cocaine, alcohol, nicotine, etc. – in your family, your child has a much greater risk of developing an addiction.
Explain that while they may be tempted to try drugs, the odds aren’t in their favor. Their genes make them more vulnerable to developing a dependence or addiction.
You can never be too safe or speak up too soon – even if you think they’re just “experimenting.” Download the Intervention eBook, our comprehensive guide to taking the first important steps to address your child’s drinking or drug use.