What Should You Do If You Suspect Your Teen is Using Drugs?

Know the warning signs that your teen may be using drugs.
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Noticing signs of drug use in your teen can be a parent’s worst nightmare. Your first task: Don’t panic. While there are steps you can take to keep your teen safe, none of it will work if you go into hysterics. Take measures, both large and small, to sort out the situation--but don’t forget to involve a medical professional if necessary.

Be Proactive

Even if you’re not sure that your teen has started dabbling in drugs (and, possibly, alcohol), immediately jump into action.

Potential immediate actions could include locking your liquor cabinet at home, checking your child’s attendance at school, double-checking alarm systems (if you suspect your teen is sneaking out after you go to bed) and taking stock of your medicine cabinet.

Count out the number of prescription pills you have; later, you can check again and will instantly know if they’ve gone missing. If you’re no longer using a certain prescription, safely dispose of the pills.

Learn the Signs

A number of signs can indicate that your teen might be dabbling in illicit substances, but no single sign can be taken as a definitive signal. Note that this self-test isn’t to be used for a diagnosis, but rather an indication of whether you need to take the next step.

  • Suddenly declining grades or reduced willingness to do homework.
  • Withdrawal from social situations, change in social group or overall personality change.
  • Missing money from your purse or wallet.
  • Increased amount of sleep (or, alternatively, decreased sleep because of the use of stimulants).
  • Significantly increased or decreased appetite.
  • Secrecy around conversations or activities with peers.

Do a Search

Making the decision to search your teen’s room, car, purse or other possession is tough on a parent, particularly one who knows that their child will see this as an invasion of privacy. However, it truly can help you discover if the teen is using drugs.

If you do decide to do a search of your teen’s things, include the following places: desk and dresser drawers, under the bed and between the mattress and boxspring, behind items in the closet, within storage boxes or makeup cases, in the glove compartment of a car and in the trunk.

You might wait to check your child’s vehicle until after a weekend when they were out with friends. It might have a strange smell or indicators of marijuana.

Plan an Intervention

An intervention doesn’t have to be as serious or as formal as it sounds (though it can be, if you choose to go that route). An informal intervention simply means sitting down with your teen and having an open, honest conversation (to the extent that your teen will cooperate).

Ask open-ended questions, and truly listen to the answers given. Some do’s and don’ts:

  • If you’re so angry you could explode, don’t have the conversation now. You want your teen to be willing to tell you the truth, rather than shut down because she’s afraid of the consequences.
  • Give concrete examples of why you’re concerned. Rather than state that you think something illegal went on at a friend’s party without giving specifics, tell your teen she came home from that party smelling strange and with bloodshot eyes.
  • If you think your teen is high or drunk, don’t hold the conversation until a later time when she’s sober.
  • If you think your teen is dependent on or addicted to drugs, consider hiring a trained professional to conduct and mediate an intervention with you.

The best defense against drug use in teens is having a strong and trusting relationship with your teen that’s free from judgment. When they’re willing to involve you in their life and open up to you about challenges they face, you might find that you can prevent drug use before it starts. 

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