For The Parent
Of an Alcoholic or Addict

Children and teenagers are subject to significant peer pressure. As a parent you need to be aware and concerned of the urge to experiment with drugs and alcohol. If you suspect that your child is using drugs or alcohol, there are things you can do.

What can I do if my teenager is using drugs or alcohol?

  • Confront your child with your concerns as soon as possible.

  • Engage your child with love and compassion. It is not your teen that you are objecting to, but their behavior. Make sure that they know the difference and that they know you love them.

  • Discuss their possible drug or alcohol use only when they are not under the influence. Let them know that such behavior will not be tolerated.

  • Be aware of aspects of your child’s state of mind that could contribute to them experimenting with alcohol or drugs:
    • Boredom
    • Guilt
    • Worries
    • Stress (are they experiencing problems at school, peer pressure, family problems, etc.)
    • Depression
    • See more causes of alcoholism here and drug use here

  • Develop a plan for addressing the identified causes of your child’s drug or alcohol use. If possible, engage professional help. If the causes of their substance abuse are not addressed, abstinence is much less likely.

  • Set a regular time where you and your child talk. Often it doesn’t matter what you talk about, as long as you make the effort to communicate with you child in a non-judgmental, open-minded way. Make it a two-way communication. As much as you need to hear what is going on in their lives, and how they feel about it, they need to hear what you feel about what is going on in your life. If you child avoids these communication times, this might indicate that there are problems or issues that your child is hiding from you. It might also mean you are not listening to them in an open and compassionate way.

  • When your child shares problems with you, don’t judge them or their problems. Be interested. Don’t try and solve the problems, unless they ask for help. Acknowledge that the problems are real and then ask them how they think they might address them. Be open and accepting of what they come up with. They are just beginning to learn how to address life’s issues. Their initial ideas may not be the best, but if they won’t cause harm, encourage them to try them out and then to tell you about the outcome. They will learn a lot more from trying to solve their own problems, even if they fail, than they will by having you do it for them.

  • Seek outside, professional help. In your child's eyes you are always a parent first. Even if you are a qualified counselor, you can't successfully counsel your own child.

  • Consider instituting random drug tests. This gives your child the opportunity to resist peer pressure to use drugs by explaining to their friends that they are being tested.

  • Be compassionate. Your teenager is doing the best they know how. They may not be doing great, but it is still the best they know how to do.

  • Let your child know the consequences and repercussions of drug or alcohol use. Be specific as to exactly what they can expect to happen and in what circumstances.

  • Set a policy of zero tolerance for drug or alcohol use. Make sure that they know that every time your teen appears to have used drugs or alcohol or hangs out with people using alcohol or drugs, then implement the consequences promised – no exceptions.

  • If you believe your child has been using, and they deny it, have them take a drug test. If they were telling the truth, acknowledge that you were wrong and, depending on the specific circumstances, grant them a one-time privilege. If they were using and then lied about it, impose a severe consequence. Any parent that doesn't believe their child would ever use drugs is kidding themselves.
  • Things not to do:

    • Don’t make false promises or threats. Parents should always follow through if they are to be believed.

    • You are the parent. You are responsible. Don’t encourage your teen to bring their friends over to drink at your home. You may think you are helping by making sure that they are engaging in risky behavior in a safe environment. However, you are:
      • Breaking the law
      • Putting your family at risk of being sued and losing your home
      • Encouraging your child to break the law
      • Teaching other people’s children that it is okay to break the law

    • Don’t punish your child for telling you the truth. If your child comes to you and admits to using, acknowledge their honesty. However, make it clear that telling you doesn’t make it okay. Have a lesser set of consequences that are implemented when they own up to using. The consequence may simply be that they make a serious effort to discuss with you why they used and discuss what they can do to avoid that circumstance in the future. If they are not able to do that, then select some other consequence from the list that is still significantly lighter than the most dire of the consequence choices.

    • Don't preach at or lecture your child. They will simply tune you out anyway. They will also be much less likely to come and tell you about their problems if they fear that you will begin lecturing. Instead, engage them in an open, non-accusatory exchange by asking them questions, carefully listening and responding to their fears and concerns.

    Being a parent is likely the hardest job you will ever have. Raising children that have alcohol or drug issues is even harder. Do the best you can with compassion and love. They are doing the best they know how. And remember, as awful as they can be in the heat of the moment, you do really love them. Really, you do, or you wouldn’t be looking for information about how to help them.

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