Realizing your child is using drugs or alcohol can be very scary, frustrating, and often times overwhelming. If you are first discovering that your child is using drugs or alcohol, the first thing you need to do is sit down, relax, and breathe deeply. Don’t be too afraid though, there are many things you can do to confront the situation.

Talking with your spouse or significant other: It is fairly common for you and your spouse/significant other to have differing views about alcohol or drug consumption and it is important you sit down and talk about your views before talking with your child. We are all to familiar with the old trick of running to the other parent or guardian if one says no and you don’t want this to happen when discussing drug or alcohol use.

  • Discuss the issue with your spouse of significant other first
  • Support one another and realize no one is to blame
  • Agree on the stance you BOTH take about drug and/or alcohol use
  • Even if you do not agree, present a united front
  • Agree not to undermine or devalue one another
  • Expect denial and anger
  • Remember you love your teen, come from a place of love when confronting them

Prepare to be called a hypocrite, or worse: Everyone makes mistakes and parents are no different. One question your teen is sure to ask is if you have done drugs. If you have experimented with drugs in your past there are many ways to deal with the situation, but it is very important to be honest. Remind your teen that today’s drugs are much stronger than when you were a teen; you can even apologize and say you wish you hadn’t used drugs/alcohol illegally; make sure you don’t allow your teen to manipulate you into giving them justifications for their drug use.

  • Make sure to highlight the issue at hand–>YOUR TEEN doing drugs or using alcohol illegally
  • Be honest with them, but make sure they know you are NOT ok with them using

Gather any evidence: You most likely have found evidence of your child using drugs or alcohol already, but be prepared for denial and blame.

  • Anticipate denial strategies
  • Even if they claim it belongs to someone else, it is always a good time to share and discuss using alcohol and drugs
  • Make sure to bring the topic up, even if you don’t have an airtight case

Expect denial and anger: If this conversation is going to make you uncomfortable, imagine how uncomfortable your teen will be and resolve to remain calm throughout the discussion. Realize your child may flat out deny your accusations, even if you present them with solid evidence, they may also accuse you of distrust and discredit your relationship.

  • Remain calm, no matter what is said, and keep the conversation going
  • If the conversation gets too angry, end it and bring it up later
  • Don’t forget to ensure your teen that you love them and always will

Set an expected outcome: It is important to talk to your child about drug and alcohol use no matter what, but if you open the conversation with an expected outcome, it is more likely to go smooth. Keep your expectations low, don’t set a lofty goal of your teen admitting to using and saying they will never use again.

  • Have realistic expectations
  • Be prepared for your teen to not admit to using
  • Make a small goal and continue to move towards it
  • Expressing to your child that you don’t want them to use is a great goal

Spell out rules and consequences: Before sitting down to talk with your child, make sure you have set out rules and consequences that you will present during your conversation. This will make it easier to set a goal for your conversation and present next steps during the conversation.

  • Know what rules and consequences you would like to set
  • Bring your teen into the conversation and listen to feed back about rules and consequences
  • Don’t set unrealistic rules or consequences

Recognize the significance of family addiction: If there is a history of drug or alcohol abuse in your family, then your child is at much greater risk to become addicted or dependent. Although drug or alcohol dependence can happen to anyone, it is important to realize what risk level your child is at and have regular conversations about this risk.

  • Discuss addiction with your child and explain they may be tempted to try drugs or alcohol
  • DO NOT deny addiction in your family, this will only make the situation harder to deal with

Support and love your teen: Remind your teen regularly that you support and love them and that they can always count on you for anything.

  • Remind your teen that you are their if they need a confidant when they are having stress in their personal life – this can help diminish their likelihood of using
  • No matter how angry you are, try to speak from a place of love, support, and concern
  • Explain to your teen that you are asking questions because you love them and are concerned for their well being


Source: The Partnership for a Drug Free America. (2012). Time to Act! Retrieved from