My child tried drugs, what should I do?

If you’ve just discovered or have reason to believe your child is using nicotine, alcohol or drugs, the first thing to do is sit down and take a deep breath. We know this is scary, but you’re in the right place. Take a beat and prepare for the important conversation ahead. Some brief preparation now can lay a foundation for more positive outcomes ahead.

Get on the same page

We’re all familiar with children’s trick of turning to one parent when the other says no. It’s best if you, and anyone who shares parenting responsibilities with you, can get on the same page about substance use before raising the subject with your child.

Prepare to be called a hypocrite

Your child may ask, “Have you ever tried drugs”? There are ways to answer honestly that keep the emphasis less on you, and more on what you want for your child. For instance, you could explain that you smoked, drank or tried drugs in order to fit in, only to discover that’s never a good reason to do something. Focus on the fact that substances affect everyone differently. Just because your life wasn’t harmed by substance use, you’ve seen it happen to too many others.

Don’t let your response become a justification for substance use. Focus on the issue at hand. You want to keep your child healthy and safe, and this means avoiding substance use.

Gather any evidence

It’s understandable to have some reservations about snooping in your child’s room or through their belongings. Remember that your primary responsibility is to protect their well-being. As you gather evidence, try to anticipate different ways they might deny responsibility, 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 ahead.

Common hiding places include:

Expect anger, resolve to remain calm

If you think the conversation will be uncomfortable for you, imagine how your child will feel. Be prepared for them to say things to shock you, deny even the most convincing evidence, accuse you of distrust or worse.

Prepare for how you’ll handle an angry or resentful reaction from your child. Read further on How to Have a Conversation, Not a Confrontation.

Set a realistic goal

Things will go more smoothly if you have a desired outcome for the initial conversation with your child. It’s okay – and probably for the best – to keep expectations low. It may be unrealistic to expect them to admit to use and pledge to stop. A more reasonable objective, like expressing that you don’t want them to use, can be a win.

Establish clear rules and consequences

Before initiating the conversation, think through the 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. Read further on Setting Limits and Monitoring Behavior.

Recognize any addiction in the family

It’s important for your child to understand that a family history of addiction puts them at higher risk of substance use disorder or addiction. You can explain that their genes make them more vulnerable, creating even more reason to avoid substances.