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Confronting your Teen

"I think my teen has a substance abuse problem. What do I do now?"
Teenagers frequently fear their parent's disapproval, while wanting to protect their own independence. Teen's sense of invincibility often prevents them from totally honest communication. Keeping this in mind parents get a more realistic picture of their teen's life.

Have you asked your teen whether he/she uses drugs? It is important how you pose the question, but the question needs to be asked.

Find a quiet, private place to have a conversation:

"I have something to tell you that you may not want to hear, but I need to say it because it has been concerning me and I love you. It bothers me that recently things seem to be different between us. You appear edgy and have more of a negative attitude more of the time. I realize that upon entering high school there are different pressures that are often difficult to deal with and to understand. I also know that feeling pressure often affects people's judgements and choices. I wonder if some of the choices you have made include alcohol or other drug use?"

The best way of communicating is to express how you feel in a non-confrontational way (using "I" statements rather than "look what you did!"). This allows you to state how you see the situation without making the child more defensive.


"It upsets me to have found what appears to be a marijuana pipe in your pants pocket when I was doing your laundry."

Has someone else in either the school or community identified the problem? Parents need to pay close attention to the signals that come from outside the family about a teen's behavior. It's natural for parents to justify and defend their children against any and all perceived threats.

Things to be on the lookout for:

  • dropping of school grades
  • reports from school of unexcused absence and tardiness
  • teacher concerns
  • neighbors reports of you child's behavior
  • police intervention.

Do you see the problem as a result of a change in your teen's behavior?

It's important for parents to notice and discuss with their child:

  • changes in attitude
  • isolation
  • different friends
  • changes in interests
  • ignoring or stretching house rules
  • changes in dress

See the self-assessment section for more signs that your teen is using drugs. Ignoring what has been found does not make the problem go away, nor does it foster open and honest communication - something that is necessary to create a healthy environment.

When should a professional substance abuse evaluation be done?

  • If evidence of paraphernalia is found
  • If negative behavior results from obvious drug use, i.e. police arrest, school suspension, petty theft, car accident.
  • Continued unexplained negative behavior that affects family members and community
  • Any feelings of parental discomfort that continues to be unresolved

If a "check mark" is placed in any of the boxes, a substance abuse evaluation should be the next step.

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