How to Confront a Teen Using Drugs

Three Methods:Talking to the TeenStaging an InterventionAvoiding Common Mistakes

If you are an adult who has learned about a teen's drug use, you may be tempted to fly off the handle or punish him or her severely. This is a very complex circumstance, so it's important not to rush your reaction. Learn how to constructively confront a teen who is using drugs and guide the teen towards a drug-free future.

Method 1
Talking to the Teen

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    Take a breather. Your first reaction after learning that your son/daughter, nephew/niece, student, or athlete is using drugs is probably one of anger or frustration. As a parent, relative, teacher, or coach, you have invested a great deal of time and energy into ensuring that this young adult has a bright future. Drugs can be a major roadblock along a path to greatness, so it's understandable to be upset. Just don't show your initial reaction to the teen. Take a moment to calm down first.
    • Deep breathing can be done anywhere, anytime. Place one hand over your abdomen and the other on your chest. Pull in air through your nose for about 4 counts. Your belly should expand beneath your hand. Hold the breath briefly, then exhale through your mouth for 4 counts. You should feel your belly deflating like a balloon beneath your hand.[1]
    • Repeat the cycle for a few minutes until you feel your body's natural relaxation response kick in.
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    Use the cool-down time to learn more. Before you approach your teen with your concerns, it's a smart idea to do a bit of research. A quick Google search will uncover statistics about teen drug use, the latest research, and even suggestions for supporting teens with addictions.[2]
    • Learning more about teen drug use before the confrontation can help you figure out how big of a problem your teen has and how to help him get help.
    • Be sure to use authoritative sites like the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. This website has a resource page specifically for parents.[3]
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    Arrange to talk with your teenager privately. Let your teen know that you want to talk to him or her and decide together on a good time when this can happen without interruptions. It may be helpful to take your teen somewhere out of the norm, such as a public park or an ice cream parlor, so that you are both out of your everyday environments.
    • Talking in public may help you place limitations on the discussion, preventing screaming, slamming doors, or making a scene.
    • Start the discussion by sharing what you know. Stick to the facts. Then, follow up by showing your concern. Your teen may be defensive at first and deny the problem. Clarify that you know about the drug use and simply want to open up the floor for a discussion.
    • You might say something like "I love you deeply. I found drugs in your bedroom, and I am disappointed because I have been very clear that using drugs is not acceptable in our family. Drugs can lead to serious consequences. But, I am not here to punish you. I want you to work with me to help you stop using."
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    Be reassuring. Encourage your teen to talk to you honestly, and avoid saddling him or her with guilt. Remind your teen about his or her positive traits and demonstrate confidence that you believe he or she can stop using and get back on track.[4]
    • For example, your reassurance might sound like "Tim, you are a smart and talented young man. Your father and I have always appreciated all the hard work you put into school and your extracurriculars. I know that person is still in there somewhere."
    • You might get your teen to open up more by sharing some of your thoughts about why he or she may be doing it (e.g. peer pressure, emotional numbing due to a loss, etc.).
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    Ask what you can do. Let your teen know that you are willing to do whatever it takes to help him or her stop using drugs. See if your teen has any ideas of things that you can do to assist him or her. Actively listen to what your teen says and make a plan to take action.
    • Teens may use drugs to act out, get attention, or to help them cope with an unstable or high-pressured home life. See if you can meet your teen's needs in a way so that the drug use becomes irrelevant.
    • For example, if your teen is abusing prescription drugs because she is trying to improve concentration or performance in class, you might try to take some of the pressure away concerning her academic performance. You could suggest that she reduce some of her responsibilities or find a hobby that helps her let off steam.
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    Make an appointment. Your teen can be feeling a range of emotions associated with his drug use. Find a local mental health therapist or psychologist who specializes in teen drug use. This professional can help your teen process what he or she is going through, figure out the stimulus for the behavior, and develop healthier coping methods.
    • Don't assume you have the power or skill to help your teen on your own. Your teen needs to see a trained professional in order to truly stop using drugs and address the underlying issue that is stimulating this behavior.[5]
    • If you notice any of the following signs, your teen needs to see a professional right away:[6]
      • Losing interest in activities he/she used to enjoy
      • Lying about where he/she has been or with whom
      • Noticing blood shot eyes, dilated pupils, and using eye drops to hide the signs
      • Isolating him/herself from friends or loved ones
      • Acting irritable and getting angry easily
      • Skipping school; having failing grades; or experiencing behavioral issues at school
      • Noticing the disappearance of money, valuable items or prescriptions
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    Encourage alternative behaviors.[7] The people or places your teen is around may be contributing to the drug problem. Talk with your teen about positive activities or hobbies he or she can get involved with that will help boost self-confidence and keep your teen away from undesirable crowds.
    • Your teen may like the idea of joining a club at school, participating in sports, volunteering or getting a small job.
    • Also, be sure that you are spending quality time with your child alone and as a family. Feeling accepted within your household can help drug use seem less desirable.

Method 2
Staging an Intervention

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    Recognize the benefits of an intervention. An intervention can be either formal or informal. Regardless of the structure, the ultimate goal is to break through to someone with a drug problem, and help them notice the problems she is experiencing due to her drug use. Friends and family attend in order to provide information to the teen and offer their support and encourage him or her to get professional help.[8]
    • An intervention can be done alone with just family and friends. However, an addiction specialist or other mental health provider can offer both experience and guidance in planning and executing an intervention. The most successful interventions are facilitated by a professional.
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    Decide if an intervention is necessary. As an adult who cares for the teen, you want to see him or her get professional help. Drug addiction can be disastrous to a user's life and completely overshadow hopes and dreams for the future. Luckily, a drug intervention can help. Most addicts who undergo an intervention do eventually go into treatment.[9]
    • An intervention may be a necessary step if the teen continues to deny or lie about drug use despite obvious signs of an addiction problem.
    • It also may be helpful if the teen is unaware of how his or her negative behavior is affecting others.
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    Make a plan. Since confronting your teen about a drug problem can be highly emotional, there needs to be a plan in place to guide the course of the intervention. First, family members will go over the extent of the drug problem and collect information about addiction and treatment programs. Then, with the help of the professional, you will set a desired outcome and decide who should participate.[10]
    • Usual attendees to an intervention are parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, teachers, or coaches. All of these should be individuals with whom the teen has a close relationship, and people who are concerned about her welfare.
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    Prepare individual statements. Once the plan and group is in place, everyone needs to develop a short script on what they will say. A professional interventionist will guide you all on what and what not to say. In general, each person will take turns discussing how the teen's drug us has affected him or her (e.g. relationship strain or financial/legal troubles). Each individual will also share their love and concern as well as the hope that the teen can get better with treatment.[11]
    • As a rule of thumb, attendees should keep the focus of their statement on the facts. Then, follow up with their own emotional response. Refrain from attacking the teen or bringing up issues unrelated to the drug us.
    • For example, a parent might say "I am really concerned about your drug use. You had an accident in the car that totaled it and could have cost you your life. I can't sleep at night, worried if the next time this happens I will lose my daughter."
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    Hold the meeting. On the scheduled day of the intervention, all the loved ones will meet with the teen--he or she shouldn't know the purpose of the meeting beforehand. With the guidance of the mental health provider, each person will take turns sharing their prepared statement and presenting any consequences that will occur if the teen does not cooperate with treatment.[12]
    • During the intervention meeting, the attendees will also explain the proposed plan for help, such as enrolling in a drug treatment program.
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    Stand firm. Family members and friends will have to follow through on consequences set forth during the meeting if the teen does not cooperate with treatment.
    • Consequences set forth during the intervention may include losing access to a vehicle or cutting off allowance. If the teen does not agree to getting needed treatment, you must follow through with these consequences, no matter how hard it is.
    • The point is not to punish the teen, but to show him or her that the drug problem is unacceptable and that you are serious about getting him/her professional treatment.

Method 3
Avoiding Common Mistakes

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    Don't think teen drug use is just "experimentation". Parents may dismiss the early signs of drug use by labeling their teen's behavior as "experimenting". Unfortunately, even casual drug use can result in addiction. Early intervention is critical.[13]
    • Many parents hesitate to confront their teens because they, too, went through similar experiences.[14] Even if you did the same thing in your youth without any negative effects, that does not mean the same will be true for your son or daughter.
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    Check your environment. You need to conduct a thorough examination of your home environment to ensure that you are not reinforcing drug-taking behavior.[15] Parents may occasionally use alcohol, but say that it is off-limits to the children. In addition, many parents become dependent on prescription pills themselves, which can increase the odds of your children becoming addicted.[16]
    • If there are two parents in the home, you need to carefully assess and discuss how readily available drugs and alcohol are in your home. It's highly possible that your tendency to turn to drugs may be influencing your teen.
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    Stay engaged with the school and your teen's friends. When parents are disconnected with their teenagers lives, they miss an opportunity to receive help and support. If you are not knowledgeable about your teen's behavior at school, you are losing a chance to intervene with problem behaviors.[17]
    • Reach out to your teen's teachers and guidance counselors so that they know you and are aware of your concerns.
    • The same goes for who your kid is hanging out with. Try to meet and get on speaking terms with the parents of your son or daughter's friends so that you are kept in the loop.
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    Take note of the warning signs for mental illness. Comorbidity, or coexistence, of an addiction and a mental disorder are very common in adults and teens. Many parents may overlook the signs of psychiatric disorders like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and eating disorders that may be affecting teens. Such disorders can result in your teen self-medicating with drugs to relieve emotional pain.[18]
    • Mental illnesses all have a very distinctive set of signs and symptoms. However, there are some signs that overlap among disorders. Below are some of the warning signs of mental illness:[19]
      • Worrying excessively
      • Seeing changes in eating habits--eating too much or too little
      • Seeing changes in sleeping habits--sleeping too much or too little
      • Experiencing a range of physical complaints (e.g. headaches, stomach aches, etc.)
      • Feeling angry or irritable often
      • Having problems concentrating or focusing
      • Having thoughts of hurting oneself
      • Feeling very sad or "blue"


  • Do not let the teen talk you out of getting them professional help. He or she may try to convince you that the drug use is not that bad, that he only tried it once, or that the drugs belonged to a friend. Regardless of the comeback, force the teen to seek professional help. You may just save your teens life.
  • Make sure you have concrete or near-concrete evidence to back up your suspicions before confronting your teen (e.g. a failed drug test, drug paraphernalia or actual drugs found in the teen's room). Several "signs" of drug use, such as a change in personal style or appearance, making friends with a different group, having a large appetite or sleeping a lot are all normal physical and behavioral changes for a teen. Accusing a teen of using drugs when they are not may lead to strained relations and trust issues between you.

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Categories: Drug Addictions | Recreational Drug Use