What to do if you suspect your child has an addiction

Teen addiction isn’t obvious. You may wonder if your child is involved with drugs because of a thousand little ‘maybe’ moments that snap into a larger picture.

Maybe it was the faint scent of marijuana you smelled on your child’s jacket when they came home one Saturday night. But they were home at the time you asked them to be, so you dismissed it. Maybe it was the time you went to make a drink for a friend and thought that the vodka bottle looked a little emptier than you remember it being the last time you used it. But it’s possible you were misremembering, so you dismissed it. Maybe it was the time you reached into your wallet to pay and noticed the $20 bill that was there the day before was now missing. But maybe it fell out in your purse, so you dismissed it.

Situations that once seemed so innocuous, you may now recognize as early warning signs. Looking back, it’s easy to be angry with yourself about teen addiction.

If you’ve just discovered or have reason to believe your child is using drugs, the first thing to do is to sit down and take a deep breath. We know it’s a scary time, but you’re in the right place. You’re seeking out information. Before you intervene, take time to prepare yourself for the important conversations that need to be had and equip yourself with everything you need to know about drugs and teen addiction. Then take another deep breath.

If you have a spouse or partner that is involved in your child’s life, it’s important to talk to them about your concerns before going to your child together. As many of us know, if you and your partner aren’t on the same page, when one parent notoriously says ‘the answer is no,’ your child will go to the parent who will say ‘yes.’ So, it’s best if you and your spouse can come to a common position on drug and alcohol abuse before talking to your child teen addiction.

You can anticipate that your child’s first reaction when you raise the subject of drugs or alcohol to be one of two:

Reaction 1: Anger

Expect your child to deny the most convincing evidence you have. Expect to be called out for snooping in their drawers. Expect them to accuse you of distrust. Expect to be called a hypocrite. Expect your child to say things that will shock you. You can’t predict exactly what your child will do/say, but you can prepare how you’ll handle their anger:

  • No matter what your child says, REMAIN CALM. We cannot emphasize that enough.
  • Don’t let your child bait you into responding with your own anger.
  • Don’t forget to tell your child that you love them, and this conversation is only taking place because of that fact.

Reaction 2: Silence

When your child reacts with anger, it’s not easy. But at least they’re talking. If they react by, well, not reacting, what do you do? You do your darndest to make it a two-way conversation.

  • Ask what they think.
  • Ask if it’s a subject their friends talk about.
  • Ask what they think of celebrities who use drugs.

Just keep asking questions, even if they remain silent. The hope is that ONE of the questions will strike a chord and open up a dialogue. When they do answer, LISTEN TO THEIR ANSWERS. This conversation should be about listening to your child rather than just talking to them about teen addiction.

Active Listening

Whatever happens during this conversation, try to remain calm. If you do lose your temper, try to catch yourself. It’s OKAY to admit that these conversations aren’t easy for you, either! Once your child does start talking (no matter the tone, volume, or context), try to listen actively. DrugFree.org is full of great resources, and we’ve highlighted some of their points on active listening below. Active listening means to listen without interrupting…no matter what. Once they’re done talking, sum up/repeat back to them what you heard, and ask them to confirm. You may start with something like:

  • It seems like you’re feeling…
  • I’m hearing you say that you’re feeling…
  • Am I right that you’re feeling…

Then, describe the emotions you heard:

  • I hear you saying that you’re feeling angry and hurt. Am I right about that?
  • It sounds like you’re feeling overwhelmed. Is that true?

If you can’t pinpoint the emotions you’re hearing, maybe something along these lines would work better:

  • It seems like you’re at the end of your rope. Is that right?
  • Are you feeling like this/that situation is out of control?

Don’t worry about whether you are right or wrong. Your child’s responses will guide you. This is where the real connection begins.

If you suspect your child has an addiction problem, whether it’s a budding issue or fully fledged teen addiction, talking about it openly and honestly is the first step towards recovery. Please feel free to reach out to us directly for any additional questions you may have. We know what you’re going through, and we’re here for you. At Harmony Place in Woodland Hills, California, we provide a relaxing, comfortable environment for addiction treatment and recovery with many addiction treatment program options, including our Medication Assisted Treatment program. Contact us today at 1-(855)-652-9048 to learn more about our services and how you or your loved one can prepare for a successful rehabilitation from drug and alcohol addiction at our California treatment center.

Additional Resources

For more information on teen and child addiction, signs of drugs in the home, and tips for talking with your kids, check out these resources:

Warning Signs of Drug Use in Teens and Young Adults

Signs Parents Should Look For

How to Spot Drug Use in Children

Addiction: When You Just Can’t Stop

Warning Signs of Teen Drug Abuse

Four Traits That Put Kids at Risk for Addiction

Early Signs of Risk That May Predict Later Drug Use

Early Detection of Illicit Drug Use in Teenagers

Substance Use Disorder Basics

Combating Substance Abuse in Schools

Effects of Alcohol and Drug Abuse

Addiction and Addictive Behaviors

Talking About Drugs with Kids in Middle School

How to Talk to Your Child About Drugs and Alcohol

10 Conversation Starters to Spark Classroom Conversations About Drugs

Talking to a Young Person About Illegal Drugs

Medication Abuse and Diversion

Talking to Teens About Drugs and Substance Use

Tips for Talking with Your Teen

How to Talk with Your Kids When You Think They’re Using Drugs