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How to Talk to Your Teen About Drugs and Drug Use

how to talk to your teen with a drug problem

Communication is essential to successful parenting, but getting through to a teenager can be tough – especially when it comes to topics they don’t want to talk about. If you are worried that your teen is using drugs or hanging out with the wrong crowd, it is important to express your concerns. However, it’s also important to ensure you have a conversation – not a confrontation – with your teen. This is where we can help.

Right now, you likely have a lot of emotion and thoughts built up. If you know your child is using drugs, you may be angry that he or she has disobeyed the rules. You may want to jump to a punishment. Or, you may be feeling scared for their health. Drug use can put teens in a lot of danger, making them more likely to get into an accident, participate in risky activities, or develop a substance addiction.

No matter what, you must keep your emotions in check when you talk to your teen. Yelling at your teen will not make for a productive conversation. A calm, collected approach, however, will. 

By talking to your teen about drugs now, you can prevent potentially life-threatening outcomes. You can protect your child from all the dangers of drug abuse by having the right conversations in your home. Below, we’ve outlined a step-by-step guide on how to talk teens about drugs. 

  1. Find the right time.

If your teen is drinking or using drugs already, you will want to have this conversation as soon as you possibly can. If you’re unsure about your teen’s involvement with drugs, it can still help to have a precautionary discussion to keep your young one safe. And it is okay to start talking about this now. Adolescents typically try drugs during their high school years. However, as Andy Buccaro, LADC, LCSW calls out in this article, the average age for trying marijuana is a mere 13 years old. Alcohol initiation happens even sooner. Teens are inherently curious, rebellious, and prone to act on impulse. 

For parents who know their teen drinks and/or uses, it is important to choose an appropriate window of time for this conversation. You want to ensure your teen is not intoxicated or under the influence—this can lead to escalated emotions, not to mention your teen may not remember what’s said. The “right” time to talk to your teen about drugs is a time when everyone has a level head.

  1. Set the stage. 

Choose a comfortable place to have this conversation, where you and your teen can feel more at ease about opening up and sharing truths. Make sure everyone’s phone is turned off, and that there are no distractions. Consider getting on your teen’s level, quite literally. Sit down if your child is sitting down. This will help them feel more at ease. 

In addition, you can set the stage for the conversation with some words of compassion. Tell your teen that you love them, that you are concerned, and that you value their honesty. Tell your son or daughter you are willing to listen, without judgement or anger. Explain you are having this conversation because you want them to be happy and safe. Thank your child for taking the time to have this talk.

Again, try to approach this conversation with a level head. Put your fear, your panic, and your anger aside. It may help to take a walk beforehand, or speak with your spouse or a friend, to calm your anxieties.

  1. Prepare ahead of time.

Before talking to your teens about drugs and drug abuse, take some time to prepare. Ask yourself:

  • What are my goals for this conversation? What do I want to achieve?
  • What am I most worried about? What specific behaviors concern me?
    • Do you have evidence of your teen using drugs?
  • What research do I still need to do, about drugs and addiction?
  • Are me and my spouse/partner on the same page? 

If you are in a relationship, it is important to involve your partner in this conversation. It is also important to ensure you both are aligned on what you want to say, what you want to get across, and what you want to achieve from the conversation. Consider practicing beforehand, together. Make sure you both are prepared on how to answer questions that your teen has. Check out:

A Parent’s Answers to 9 Common Questions About Drugs

This brings us to the next point: research, research, research. There are many myths about drug abuse that teens believe, and many things your teen will tell you that are not necessarily true. For example, teens may believe that marijuana is not addictive, or that prescription drugs are safe. The fact is, any drug abuse during adolescence can be extremely harmful for the developing teenage brain. Teens are highly likely to get addicted to drugs when they start using before age 18. Be prepared to talk to your teen about the dangers of drug use, as well as share facts about drugs and alcohol.

  1. Have the conversation.

When you are ready to talk to your teen about their drug use, start the conversation with compassion and empathy. Again, explain you are only looking out for your teen, and you want them to be healthy and happy most of all. Follow these tips for a productive conversation:

  • Ask open-ended questions to encourage conversation. Try to understand the “why.”
  • Demonstrate understanding and empathy.
  • Let them know you are listening (and actually listen to your teen).
  • Insist on honesty.
  • Be aware that your teen may hiding their true feelings out of fear or embarrassment. Many teens struggle with mental health issues like depression, but do not acknowledge it.
  • Re-assure your child that you are there for them.
  • Avoid overreacting when your teen tells you something that’s difficult to hear.
  • Avoid jumping to punishment, and always watch your voice. Yelling may just push your child away.
  • Remember to focus on the behaviors that worry you. State any clear evidence you’ve found that indicates drug use (see signs of teen drug use here).

Keep in mind, this is not a one-time conversation. You should be having regular check-ins with your teen. Tell your teen now that you welcome more conversations like this. Encourage your teen to talk to you about anything that is bothering them, and ensure them you will not punish them for their honesty. Most of all, let them know that it is okay to ask for help.

Teenagers are in a period of critical development. It is during this time that parents have the most influence over whether their teen uses (or stops using) drugs. And conversation will be a powerful tool in your effort to do so. According to NCADD research, kids who talk with their parents about the dangers of drug use are 50 percent less likely to use alcohol and drugs than those who don’t have such conversations.

Remember, before beginning a conversation with your teen about drugs, think about what you want to achieve. If your teen is using drugs and developing a drug problem, the goal of the conversation may be to get your teen professional help. This is called an intervention. Turnbridge is a leading treatment center for teens and young adults battling addiction. Our teen drug rehab program is designed to help growing adolescents restore their well-being and live a healthy, productive life. You may call 877-581-1793 to learn more about our programs.

If you are seeking more tips on how to talk to your teen about drugs, consider reading more tips below: