How to Approach the Subject of Substance Abuse with Your Teen

By the time they reach the age of 18, about half of all teenagers in the United States have abused a drug at some point in their lives. This is why it's so important for parents to talk candidly with their children about the realities and dangers of drug use at a young age. In fact, studies have shown that parents can reduce the risk of their teenagers using drugs up to 42% by simply talking with them about drug use regularly. However, what's a parent to do if he or she suspects a teen already has a drug problem? This can be a tricky situation, but by handling it appropriately, parents can ensure the best possible outcome.

Make Note of Warning Signs

If you're a parent or guardian who suspects that your child has a drug problem, it's important that you gather "evidence" before confronting your teen. After all, the last thing you want is to accuse your child of something he or she isn't guilty of. Therefore, before speaking with your child, be on the lookout for these common warning signs of a drug abuse problem:

  • Hanging out with the "wrong" crowd
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Lack of energy and change of sleep habits
  • Unexplained drop in grades at school

Make note of these warning signs by writing them down so that you can bring them up in the conversation you have with your child.

Being Calm and Assertive

When it comes time to actually have the conversation with your child, be sure to pick a good time for it, such as over a weekend and not before a big test or game. If you suspect that your child is under the influence, put off the conversation until you're sure he or she is sober.

Upon confronting a teen about drug use, don't ask your child if he or she has been using. Instead, tell your child that you have a strong feeling or that you know it's happening. This will make it clear up front that you won't tolerate being lied to and that you already know what's going on. During the initial part of the conversation, it's important to be both calm and assertive. Let your child know that you love him or her and that you only want what's best for his or her future. Tell your child that you also want to help him or her overcome the drug abuse problem in any way you can.

At the same time, make it clear that you will not tolerate drug use from your child. At this point, he or she may shut down on you and not want to talk about the subject any further. As a parent, however, you need to be persistent. Try to sympathize with your child and offer to seek professional help; if your child is under the age of 18, he or she may not have a choice, though you'll be off to a better start if you can get your child to admit to the problem and actually want to seek help.

It may take awhile for your teen to come around, but once he or she does, be sure to follow through on your promise by finding the outpatient treatment program that's best for your child and that will allow him or her to get the help needed without having to miss school.

Michelle Amerman
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