Getting Past the Fear

The longer you wait, the harder it will be to deal with your child’s drug use

It is a critical time for your family once you suspect – or know – that your son or daughter is using drugs or alcohol. This can be difficult to deal with, and sometimes the situation gets worse before it gets better. There may be many arguments, tears, and broken promises.

Know that many other families have had to work through these difficult times just like you. They have been in your shoes and may even be able to help you at this point. The most important thing is for you to take action on your child’s behalf the first time that you suspect drug or alcohol use. Don’t make excuses — your teen’s future lies in your actions (or non-actions) right now.

Do you hear yourself saying …

“Well, I won’t say anything now since it’s only his/her first time using.” 

If parents don’t set rules and a clear policy against drugs by having clear and consistent conversations, they enable their teen and encourage continued use. It is never too early or too late to take action regarding your teen’s drug use. Parents are the most important part of a kid’s life; your actions now can make all the difference. For advice about what you can say to your teenager, read these conversations.

“If I’m too tough, my daughter will push away. I want her to like me.” 

Overcoming your own fears is an important step in getting help for your child. Some parents feel that their children will push away if they are firm, set restrictions, or talk to them frankly about not using drugs or alcohol. But parenting is about setting boundaries in order to keep your child safe. For advice on setting clear boundaries with your children, read these tips

I’m a failure as a parent. Where did I go wrong?” 

Many parents are ashamed or feel they’ve somehow failed when their son or daughter is using drugs. Don’t be paralyzed by your own feelings of inadequacy. Instead of feeling bad, do all that you can now to fix the situation.

“I don’t want to talk to anyone about this. It could cause more trouble for my child.” 

Some parents feel that if they ask for help or reach out to professionals that their child will be labeled a trouble maker and that it may affect his or her ability to qualify for scholarships or get a job. Turning this problem around requires a lot of parenting muscle. So reach out for support in your family, community or at your child’s school. Find someone to talk to that can offer confidentiality. For advice on talking with other parents or professionals about this problem, visit our Get Help page.

“My kid doesn’t have a problem. I drank and I turned out OK.” 

Unfortunately, some teenagers are predisposed to drinking and drug use throughout their childhood years if their parents have an abusive relationship with drugs and alcohol. It’s critical that parents take an honest look at their own drug and alcohol use before they can help their children with a substance problem.

I don’t know what to do about this problem. Where do I begin?” 

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with emotion, guilt, anger, and insecurity when you discover your teen is using drugs. If you don’t think you can handle this problem yourself, there are people in your area ready to help. Contact someone at your child’s school, a coach, a counselor who specializes in working with families, a local prevention agency, or member of your church for advice. See if there is an informal or formal parent support group in your area. This problem is more common that you think. While it may be difficult to get past the feelings of shame and failure, the truth is, asking for help may be the only way to get the assistance you need. For advice on talking with other parents or professionals about this problem, visit our Get Help area.

“I’m a single parent and I’m having trouble keeping things together. I’ll let my ex-husband deal with the problem.” 

Your son or daughter is relying on you even more if you are a single parent. You are his or her compass. In some cases, parents find their teen involved with drugs as a way to escape the challenges of dealing with a divorce or not having another role model. It’s not your fault. You’re doing the best you can, but now is the time to engage your child in a discussion and let him or her know you care enough not to let this slide. If possible, seek support from your ex-spouse or another family member to reinforce the commitment to a drug-free lifestyle. Read more advice for single parents. 

It’s only once you get past your own fear about these issues that you can then help your family. Remember, you are your child's most important advocate and, whether they realize it or not, he or she needs you to guide them during this difficult time.

For specific advice about confronting your teen’s drug or alcohol use, read these tips for parents, families and influencers that work closely with teens.