How to Start Addressing Your Teen’s Drug or Alcohol Use

When you hear “intervention,” you probably conjure images of a planned group confrontation. When we talk about intervention, we’re simply referring to the process of addressing your child’s drug use, and it needn’t involve a formal confrontation. In fact, it’s most beneficial to focus on having a conversation instead.

How to Step In and Speak Up

If you have good reason to believe your child is using drugs, the sooner you begin addressing the issue, the better. And you can begin with the steps outlined below.

Discuss — and agree to — a plan of action with your spouse or your child’s other parent or guardian. Not sure what type of action plan is appropriate given your child’s particular drug or alcohol use? Call our Helpline at 1-855-DRUGFREE to speak with a trained counselor who will listen and work with you to form one.

Pick a time to talk to your child when he or she is not high or drunk, or extremely upset or angry.

Make it clear that you love your child, and that by addressing their substance use you are showing your concern for his or her safety and well-being.

Point out to your child that, as a parent, it is your job to make sure he or she reaches adulthood as safely as possible.

Spell out the warning signs or evidence of alcohol and drug use that you’ve observed or found. You may want to detail any negative effects their substance use has had on you and your family; however, it’s important to remain neutral and non-judgmental in tone. If applicable, you should add that the pursuit of substance use despite adverse effects on yourself or others is actually the definition of “drug addiction,” although don’t press your child to agree on this assessment.

Actively listen to anything and everything your child has to say in response. The listening step is crucial to establish empathy and to convey that you really see and hear your child. If he or she brings up related problems, they should be listened to with a promise of being addressed separately. Reiterate that what you are addressing at the moment is substance use, which is serious and can complicate or cause other problems.

To empower your son or daughter to think about their substance use in a new way, ask questions about what he or she wants out of life and how things are going with school, friends, siblings, extracurriculars, etc.

Prompt your child to consider the link between substance use and where his or her life is not matching up to goals and desires.

Ask — in light of what he or she is concluding about the effects of substance on his or her life — to reassess the situation. Set a goal for improving the situation and getting well. Together, plan some concrete next steps and identify any necessary, professional treatment needs.

Understand that the conversation you just had is actually a successful “intervention,” a first concrete step toward interrupting the progression of the problem and getting well. It’s a good idea to reiterate your love and concern for your child. Acknowledge each other, knowing that you need and deserve strong encouragement and support, and have the power to solve this problem together.

Download the Intervention eBook

Want more details? Download our free Intervention eBook for more detailed guidance and to more fully explore the principles of a productive intervention strategy.

Intervention eBook