How Worried Should I Be About My Child’s Drug Use?

    So your child has started vaping, drinking or using substances. Is this just what kids do? Is it going to lead to other drug use, or become another problem? Don’t leave the answers to chance.

    How worried should I be?

    Ninety percent of people with addictions started using substances in their teen years. Beginning at age 10 through the mid- to late-20s, massive changes are underway in the brain. This includes the development of capabilities related to impulse control, managing emotions, problem-solving and anticipating consequences. Substance use during this time period can prime the brain to be more susceptible to addiction and other mental health disorders, especially for kids who are vulnerable.

    How do I know if my child is vulnerable to addiction?

    Any substance use has negative effects on the teen brain. But your child is more vulnerable to addiction if any of these risk factors are present:

    • Mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and/or ADHD
    • Family history of substance use disorders or other addictions related to gambling, food, sex, etc.
    • Past trauma, such as a family death; divorce; or emotional, physical or sexual abuse
    • An “addictive personality,”* a term used by many parents to describe a child who often acts without concern for the consequences, has difficulty following or obeying rules, and is engaged in other risky behaviors

    *Although “addictive personality” is not a scientific concept, some of these behavioral characteristics do signal an increased risk of addiction in young people.

    If any of these are true for your child, it’s especially important to take any substance use seriously, and take action to address it.


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    Should I be worried if my child has an "addictive personality?"

    Even though there isn’t a true medical diagnosis of an “addictive personality,” there are certain risk factors that you as a parent can look for in your child to help understand if they’re more susceptible to problematic substance use.

    Start speaking up

    Many parents feel that there isn’t much more they can do beyond lecturing or punishing their child if they catch them smoking, vaping, drinking or using substances. But there are proven ways to motivate your child to dial back their substance use. You can have a conversation with your child about substance use without it imploding, and begin encouraging healthy behaviors you want to see and discouraging those that you don’t — especially those related to substance use.

    The tools and resources highlighted below are designed to help you help your child.

    Tools & resources to help you get started

    Free tools and resources are available to help guide your response to your child’s drug use at any time — even if you just want to assess whether or not it’s a problem in the first place.

    Prepare to Take Action if You Suspect Teen or Young Adult Drug Use

    Is your child using drugs? Use these tips to prepare for the conversation ahead, and lay the foundation for more positive outcomes.

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    If You Discover Your Child is Using Drugs: Start Talking

    Take action to address drug and alcohol use early. Learn how talk with your child and have a productive conversation addressing their substance use.

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    Addressing Substance Use: Set Limits & Monitor Behavior

    Limits show your teen that you care. The tricky part is finding a balance between your need for control and their need for independence.

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    Use Positive Reinforcement to Help Change Behavior

    Providing some kind of reward to increase the chances that a healthy behavior will be repeated is central to helping change your child's substance use.

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    Personalized support is available

    Whether you've only just discovered your child is drinking or using other substances, or there is known addiction, we offer support options for wherever you are in the process.

    Get Help & Hope by Text

    Have a concern about your son or daughter struggling with substance use? Get ongoing support and resources tailored to you and your child's needs.

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    Get One-on-One Help to Address Your Child’s Substance Use

    Parent support specialists are available to listen, answer questions and help you create a plan to address your child's substance use.

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    Parent Coaching: Get Support from Another Parent Who’s Experienced a Child’s Addiction

    Parent Coaching is a peer-to-peer program for parents looking for support from another parent who's dealt with a child’s drug or alcohol use.

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    Contact the helpline

    Personalized support for addressing your child’s substance use or addiction available in English and Spanish.

    Learn more

    Last Updated

    September 2020