What to Do If Your Child Already Has a Drug Problem

What to Do If Your Child Already Has a Drug Problem

The evidence is there. You’ve noticed a distict personality or behavior change in your child or teen. Their schoolwork and grades plummet. They act apathetic, not caring about former friends, activities, even goals. Maybe they’ve even lost a part-time job. And you’ve probably smelled alcohol on their breath, found drug paraphenalia around the house, or caught them using drugs and/or alcohol with their friends. The question is: What do you as parents do?

The answer is: You must act now. But before you begin talking with your child, first get consensus with your spouse.

Discuss Your Child’s Situation Together

You both need to acknowledge that your child has a problem with alcohol or drugs. Expect reactions from both of you that include sadness, anger and regret. Common reactions include denial. “That’s not true!” or “What makes you think that?” or “I haven’t seen anything to indicate that.”

One spouse may blame the other, and that could escalate into name-calling and heated argument. None of this is helpful.

What you do need to do is figure out how you can help your child stop using alcohol and drugs.

Establish Realistic Rules and Consequences for Drug/Alcohol Use

It’s important that both parents agree on and establish rules and consequences for drug and/or alcohol use that they will ultimately convey to the child. Ironclad rules should include:

• No use of drugs or alcohol is permitted by you.
• No drugs or alcohol are permitted in the house by you or your friends. Period.

As for consequences, they should be straightforward and carry meaning for the child. Only set consequences that you are prepared to carry out, however, or your child will quickly see that the consequences are meaningless. Possible consequences include:

• Establishing a curfew.
• No home-alone privileges. Your child must be closely supervised by an adult at all times.
• Limit or prohibit involvement with friends.
• No social activities.
• No driving privileges.
• No cell phone privileges.

Later on, after your child successfully completes family and school tasks to your satisfaction at least 75 percent of the time, these restrictions can be lifted or modified.

Rehearse What You’ll Say

The conversation you’re about to have with your drug- or alcohol-using child will be difficult. You need to be prepared. The way to do this is to rehearse what you’ll say – before you say it. It won’t be easy to rehearse, and you may be tempted to think you can wing it. Don’t. It’s the only way to ensure you can carry off the conversation. Knowing what you’ll say and how you’ll say it will also help you keep the conversation on an even tone and address the problem.

Begin with the same conversation you’d have if your child was not already into drugs.

Zero-Tolerance for Drugs and Alcohol in the Family

Parents, let’s be very clear about this. You need to tell your child/teen that alcohol and drugs are not allowed in your family.

Points to Cover With Your Child

Make absolutely sure you tell your child that you love him or her. But you won’t accept any use of drugs or alcohol on their part.

You may also tell them you know that drugs and alcohol might seem cool or the right thing to do, but they can have serious consequences.

Other things to say:

• “I won’t tolerate any drug or alcohol use by you.”
• “Our family has rules. And these rules do not allow teen drug or alcohol use.”
• “Drug and alcohol use by teens is illegal and is not allowed – despite the fact that you think everyone is doing it.”
• “Using drugs and alcohol can jeopardize your life and those of others. We don’t want that kind of tragedy in this family. I wouldn’t know what to do if we lost you.”
• “You’re so much a part of this family. We all count on you, especially your brothers and sisters. Think about how they’d feel if you were gone.”
• “As your parents, we’re concerned and worried about you when you do drugs.”
• “We’re here to listen to you, and we want you to be a part of the solution.”
• “We promise to do everything we can to help you.” Then say what that entails, including consequences, getting counseling and/or treatment, etc.

Keep Your Cool

During the conversation with your child, remember to stay calm. You can’t get angry or hostile – you’ll lose any chance at reaching your child. Stick to your talking points. Be simple and direct, but also kind and loving – with a strong emphasis on loving.

Other Things That May Come Up

Remember that your opening discussion with your child is only the starting point. You will need to have ongoing conversations, as getting teens to stop drug and alcohol use is not a one-time-only event.

At some point, say to your child that drugs and alcohol can ruin his future – graduation, college plans, chances at a job or losing a current job, driver’s license, jail, etc.

Reiterate that you will support your child through this and ask what you can do to help.
Be sensitive to how your child reacts. Ask if there are any problems he or she wants to discuss. You could say that you sense things aren’t going well lately, and ask if there’s anything going on at school, with friends, problems at work or elsewhere. If your child says they’re scared or worried, consider this a small victory. It means he or she may be more receptive to your help. Make a pact with your child that he/she will follow the rules and that you will enforce the rules and the consequences. You may also wish to set up treatment or counselihng if it seems appropriate to deal with underlying problems such as depression, stress and/or anxiety.

Find out if your child’s friends are using. Ask how your child handles that? Is it difficult not to use when they are into drugs and/or alcohol. Why is this important? It lets your child know that you are there for them and it also lets you know your child needs better coping skills to deal with the situation.

Explain that drugs are dangerous physically, causing consequences with sexual activity, driving or being in a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs, falling, injuries, being limited physically because you’re hung over or foggy, and failure of the brain to develop properly.

There are also psychological consequences from drug and alcohol use. Using these substances to get rid of anxiety, depression or stress only masks the problems. It doesn’t solve them. Also, your brain chemicals shift, causing you to do or say things you shouldn’t. Your priorities get scrambled and you lose sight of your goals.

Bottom Line – Maintain a Loving and Supporting Attitude

Let your child know you will be here for them and assist them through quitting. Emphasize that you will be tough on them but that you will never give up and never stop loving them. You’ll be tough because you love them, and because you want them to have every success that life has to offer.

Note: If things have gotten so out of control that nothing you say or do has any effect, immediately get professional help from a therapist or substance abuse counselor that specializes in treating teens with drug and alcohol problems. It will be a rough road for all concerned, but it is the only hope to get your child off drugs. Again, be supportive, firm and, above all, loving.


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