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What To Do When You Think Your Teen Is Using Drugs

"Our son is 17 and out of control, we have noticed lately his rudeness is getting worse. I fully intend to implement your methods but I am worried at the moment that he may be experimenting with drugs. I have found something in his room and have organised to have some tested. I have spoken to a few organisations and have a meeting with one this afternoon but they are so wishy washy with their advice. If we confront him, he may lose trust in us and not communicate etc. I want to take your direct approach but the feedback I get is I need to be careful with that.

I know I need to find out what the substance is before I get too upset, but if I gather some more info and involve a family friend who has done counselling and run our approach by you, would you be able to advise if you think it is along with your methods? I am preparing a contract at the moment and trying to find out all the legalities within Queensland so I know my rights (as he is now threatening to be emancipated from us, and we will have to pay him till he is 18). Does this sound like I am following the method? If I push too hard and he runs on the streets and becomes involved in harder drugs, are there intervention programmes to rescue him? Please advise."

I think you may be a bit too panicky at this point. Let’s start with some very specific tips to help keep your son safe. We will try this first, and then address your other questions as needed. Simply implement the following strategies for now:

1. Begin to more closely monitor your son’s activities. Have a few conversations. Ask: Who? What? Where? When? Reflect with your son on why some teens may be using drugs – and try to understand the reasons why. When you get a better idea of the situation, then you can decide on the next steps. These could include setting new rules and consequences that are reasonable and enforceable (e.g., a new curfew, no cell phone or computer privileges for a period of time, less time hanging out with friends, etc.).

2. Especially ask questions when your son makes plans to go out. Who will he be with? Where is he going? What will he be doing? Then check up on him. Call the other moms and dads, and do this together.

3. Be a role model. If you drink, drink responsibly (and of course, don’t ever use illegal drugs).

4. Be party smart. If your son’s party is elsewhere, confirm with the mom and dad of the teenage host that a responsible adult will supervise to ensure that no alcohol will be served. If the party is at your house, set the rules in advance and make sure your son knows what’s expected. Limit attendance, and set a time for the party to end. Keep your alcohol locked up. Know your legal responsibilities. Invite other moms and dads to chaperone, and do not hesitate to call the police if things get out of control.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

5. Be specific about your current concerns. Tell your son what you see and how you feel about it. Be specific about the things you have observed that cause concern. Make it known if you found drug paraphernalia or empty bottles or cans. Explain exactly how his behavior or appearance (e.g., bloodshot eyes, different clothing) has changed and why that worries you. Tell him that drug and alcohol use is dangerous, and it’s your job to keep him away from things that put him in danger.

6. Be there for your son when he needs to get out of a bad situation. For example, be the parent who will pick up your son without repercussions if he finds the party he’s gone too has drugs available.

7. Connect with your son by doing things together as a family. Make this a routine outing and have your son help plan it. Also, eat family meals together. Studies have shown that kids who enjoy dinner together with their mom and dad on a regular basis are less likely to become involved with drugs.

8. Consider finding a therapist who specializes in teen substance abuse. I’m only giving you some very general ideas. It is no substitute for talking with someone who can help you take a look at the total situation. If your son won’t go, go yourself. An experienced therapist will be able to help you figure out how to approach your son and what you can do for him - and for yourself.

9. Figure out what you will and won’t do if your son gets into legal trouble. Will you get a lawyer to help, or is he on his own? Calmly tell him what those limits are – and mean it! Then be prepared to follow through. Some kids seem to need to test all the limits. You can’t force him to be a law-abiding citizen, but you can go with him to court and quietly be there for him while he deals with whatever the justice system decides to do. Although I would never recommend jail time as therapeutic, it’s an unfortunate truth that it is what it takes for some kids to “get it.” Maintaining the relationship with your son in the event he is jailed for possession of a controlled substance will give you a shot at helping him turn things around when he gets out.

10. Find out who the other moms and dads are. It generally helps when parents band together. There are probably at least a few of his friends with a mother or farther who is as concerned as you are. Get together and brainstorm ways to get your kids busier with positive things. Take turns taking the kids to events, or tutoring them, or coming up with jobs. If you can agree on consistent rules about curfews and responsibilities, the kids will be less able to use the old excuse of “everybody else’s parent let’s their kid go to parties until midnight.”

11. Get your son involved in extra-curricular activities. Schools offer sports or clubs and community organizations offer classes and youth groups. These will help him mold his identity in a positive way and give him less time doing nothing and becoming bored. Studies have shown teens that have less time to just hang out are less likely to do drugs.

12. Keep connected in the after school hours. If you can’t be home with your son, call and leave notes. Have another adult supervise your son, or sign him up for an after school program. If these things aren’t possible, establish a routine for him and keep him busy during this time.

13. Know your son’s friends. It may not be your job to parent his friends, but they will influence your son's decisions.

14. Let your son know, calmly, that the rules are the rules. You don’t want him engaging in illegal and risky behavior. Remind him that it is a parent’s job to help their kids grow up physically healthy and emotionally strong, and you intend to do your part. You don’t want him to go to jail, overdose and get sick, or die. You will therefore never get off his back about drugs or alcohol.

15. Limit unsupervised time. Teens are great at finding parks, woods, open fields, or other places to hang out. These unsupervised areas provide opportunities for drinking and drug use, so try to limit the times your son has to explore such areas on his own.

16. Pick a curfew that is reasonable for both you and your son. Make sure he knows there will be consequences for violating curfew, and then follow through if rules are not followed.

17. Try to find out if friends or others offer your son drugs at school. Did he try it just out of curiosity, or has he used marijuana or alcohol for some other reason? That alone will be a signal to your son that you care, and that you are going to be the parent exercising your rights.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

18. Unite your family against drugs using strong family beliefs. Establish that your family doesn’t use drugs. Not that you will shun your son should he make a mistake, but that your family believes there are other healthier ways to enjoy life and fix problems rather than escaping into a drug haze.

19. Be prepared for your son to deny using drugs. Don’t expect him to admit he has a problem. Your son will probably get angry and might try to change the subject. Maybe you’ll be confronted with questions about what you did as a kid. If you are asked, it is best to be honest, and if you can, connect your use to negative consequences. Answering deceptively can cause you to lose credibility with your son if he ever finds out that you’ve lied to him. On the other hand, if you don’t feel comfortable answering the question, you can talk about some specific people you know that have had negative things happen to them as a result of drug and alcohol use. However, if the time comes to talk about it, you can give short, honest answers like these: 

“When I was a kid, I took drugs because some of my friends did. I wanted to in order to fit in. If I’d known then about the consequences and how they would affect my life, I never would have tried drugs. I’ll do everything I can to help keep you away from them.”

“I drank alcohol and smoked marijuana because I was bored and wanted to take some risks, but I soon found out that I couldn’t control the risks — the loss of trust of my mom and dad and friends. There are much better ways of challenging yourself than doing drugs.”

20.    Lastly, here are some suggested statements to tell your son:
  • “If there is a problem, I want you to be a part of the solution.”
  • “I love you and I’m worried that you might be using drugs or alcohol.”
  • “I know that drugs may seem like the thing to do, but doing drugs has serious consequences.”
  • “I am always hear to listen to you whenever you need to talk.”
  • “We will have these discussions many, many times. Talking to you about drugs and alcohol is not a one-time event.”
  • “I feel worried and concerned about the possibility that you may be using drugs.”

I trust this information will get you started on the right track in dealing with this issue.


==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Best Comment:

I'd like to add about getting to know their friends. A good way to do this is to invite 1-2 of their friends over for lunch. Keep it simple, but where it takes some time to eat, as opposed to a simple sandwich. Let them know, once they're there, that you're inviting them over just to chat, and to get to know each other better. Ask him/her to help cut something up for you, like a tomato or lettuce. Sometimes they won't know how -- that's fine! This gives you bonding time. Did I mention that this works best for their worst influence friends? Sometimes they're missing out on something in their family life to begin with, and them coming to you will trickle down into their relationship. This way, when your child does something wrong or talks bad about you, it's their friend that will say something about you. I've seen this first hand. At 14 I ran away. My parents despised my best friend, but I was oblivious back then. I knew that they were concerned that maybe she was doing drugs (she might have been), but they never spoke badly of her. Instead, they'd invite her over for lunch sometimes, would ask about her mom, her siblings, etc., taking a real interest. Well, when I ran away and my friend secretly knew where I was hiding, she came to me and said, "You need to go home. Your mom is so heart-broken." Really consider feigning an interest in your teen's friends, instead of sounding negative to your teen. It will only make them fight back, even if they agree. 

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

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