My child is experimenting with drugs. What should I do?

If you’ve just discovered or have reason to believe your child is using nicotine, alcohol or experimenting with 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:

Set the stage

Take a deep breath and set yourself up for success by creating a safe, open and comfortable space to talk.

Remain calm

As angry or frustrated as you feel, keep reminding yourself to speak and listen from a place of love, support and concern.

Start talking

You’ve collected your thoughts and steeled your nerves, but how do you actually start talking? And more importantly, get your child to talk too?

Work through barriers

It can be difficult to get past a flat-out denial of substance use. Some kids can’t bear to take responsibility for their behavior and want to look good at all costs.

Keep an open dialogue

Have you succeeded in having a productive conversation? Give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back, but don’t stop there. Keep the dialogue open.