1. Make observations.
Note changes in your teen’s usual behavior, appearance, personal habits, health and school work. The teenage years are a physical and emotional rollercoaster, so no one change is a definite indication of drug or alcohol use. However, if your child has ditched their friends for a new crowd, let their good grades slip or stopped caring about their looks, these are warning signs that may be cause for concern.
2. Take notes.
Note — whether in your head or in a journal — when and how often your teen breaks the rules or does something suspicious. For example, if your teen comes home way past curfew, jot down the date so you can reference it later. You may also want to keep track of the alcohol and legal drugs in your home. If you know you have exactly 20 prescription pills in your medicine cabinet, it will be easy to tell if some have gone missing. If you suspect your child is taking prescription drugs from your home, lock your medicine cabinet and dispose of pills you are no longer taking.
3. Search for drugs and paraphernalia.
Some parents are against snooping, while others believe they have the right to look through their children’s things. There is no correct answer, but if you want to collect concrete evidence of substance use before your intervention, here are some good places to look: dresser drawers, desk drawers, backpacks, the glove compartment of the car, the back of closets, corners of bed sheets, under the mattress or bed, small boxes, books or bookcases, makeup cases, over-the-counter medicine bottles and empty candy wrappers.
Remember: if you do find substances in your child’s room or car, you will be accused of invading your teen’s privacy. Be prepared to defend your actions.
4. Talk with your spouse or partner.
If they do not share the same beliefs and values that you do when it comes to substances, it is likely that you will hear about it from your teen. Get on the same page as your spouse or partner before you intervene with your child. This doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing – it means committing to present a united front, even if the two of you disagree on the issue.
Remember: this is a stressful situation for both you and your spouse, and you will need one another’s support. Do not blame your partner for the substance use, or allow them to blame you. The situation is no one’s fault, but you and partner will need to work together to address it.
5. Recognize the significance of addiction in your family.
For some, trying drugs or alcohol once or twice may just be part of the teen experience. However, if there is a history of addiction in your family, your child is much more likely than other kids to become addicted.
6. Understand the risk.
Think about how you are going to explain this to your child in a way that will make them listen.
7. Set a desired outcome for your intervention.
The “drug talk” is actually not one talk – it’s a series of conversations. Chances are, your first intervention will not resolve all problems – and that’s okay. But if you set a goal before you start talking — even a small one — you will know where you want your conversation to ultimately lead. Would you like your teen to see a therapist? Stop binge drinking at parties? Obey curfew? Come up with a specific purpose for your intervention, and then work toward achieving it.
Remember: don’t set your expectations too high. Your teen may not even admit to substance use the first time you intervene, let alone pledge to stop using substances or get help. Set reasonable goals, and realize that just expressing to your teen that you don’t want them using drugs or drinking is a small triumph.
8. Prepare yourself for your teen’s reaction.
Your teen will not be happy that you’re approaching them about drug or alcohol use. That’s to be expected. What you might not expect is to be called a liar, hypocrite or snoop. Think about how you will handle these accusations if they come up.
You don’t need hard evidence to begin the conversation – your intuition telling you something is wrong is reason enough. However, having past incidents or observations to reference in your conversation will help you encourage your teen to tell the truth about whether or not they are using substances.
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