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What to Do When Your Child Is Misusing Drugs

As a parent, the thought of your child doing drugs can feel overwhelming, and it can be difficult to know what to do in this circumstance. Unfortunately, it can be common for young people to experiment with drugs and alcohol, but parents can prepare beforehand so they know how to navigate tough conversations about drinking and drug use. In order to navigate these tough conversations, it if important for parents to learn the signs and dangers of drug use among children and teens.

Preparing to talk to your kid/s about drugs means learning about resources available so you can know the appropriate things to say to you son or daughter. You can learn what to say and what resources are available, including how to find a rehab for teens when formal treatment is necessary. As a parent, you are an important influence in your child’s decisions related to drug and alcohol use, and talking to your child about alcohol and drug use is key in helping them remain drug-free.1

Signs of Drug Use in Children/Teens

If you’re wondering how to tell if your kid is misusing drugs, there are several signs and symptoms to watch for. While some behaviors can be normal in adolescent behaviors, major changes in your child may indicate drug use.1 There are both physical and behavioral signs to watch for that could signal that your teen may be misusing substances.

Physical Signs Your Child or Teen Is Using Drugs

Some physical signs your child or teen is using drugs include:1

  • Changes in appetite.
  • Significant weight loss or gain.
  • The smell of alcohol or substances on their breath or clothing.
  • Red and watery eyes.
  • Enlarged or pinprick pupils.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Blank stares.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Trembling or uncontrolled shaking.
  • Unusual sweating.

Behavioral Signs Your Child or Teen Is Using Drugs

Some behavioral signs that your child/teen is misusing substances include:1

  • New friends and/or hangouts.
  • Changes in attitude and personality.
  • Worsened school or work performance.
  • Engaging in secretive behavior.
  • Isolation from friends/family.
  • Decreased motivation and interest in activities.
  • Shifts in mood.
  • Increased irritability, nervousness, or unexplained excitement.

Changes in behavior, especially a change in their circle of friends, is one of the earliest warning signs of drug use in children.2 Statistics show that drug and alcohol use may begin as early as 6th grade, with some of the most commonly used substances being tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana.2 Other substances that could be experimented with include illicit drugs like cocaine, meth, and opioids, which each have unique symptoms of use and withdrawal, including dangerous changes in heart rate and breathing that are more serious and may require immediate attention.3

The Dangers of Children and Teens Misusing Drugs

One of the biggest dangers of children doing drugs is that kids may struggle to see how their choices today can result in future consequences.4 This may lead to risky decision-making, including drug abuse. Young people are more likely to use illicit substances.5 Illicit and prescription drug use can be particularly dangerous due to the risk of dependence, addiction, and overdose.

Prescription drug use is among the fastest-growing substance use problems in the United States.6 In 2020, 9.3 million people aged 12 and older had misused prescription pain relievers.7 Prescription drugs may be easier to come by than parents realize, as kids can find them in their own home or that of a relative, or from their friends or friends’ parents. A kid misusing drugs may believe that prescription drugs are not as harmful as illicit substances since they are generally used for legitimate, therapeutic purposes, but overdose is a dangerous possibility.5

Preparing to Talk to Your Child About Drugs

It may be hard to know how to talk to kids about drugs, but being prepared for the conversation ahead of time can help make it easier. Parents should try to avoid confronting their child about substance abuse when the child is not sober, as a discussion is unlikely to be productive.8 Parents should also be careful not to come off as judgmental, as this may cause their child to shut down and be less receptive.1 It is important that the conversation is had in a direct and calm manner, and having a plan ahead of time for what you will say is a good way to ensure a better outcome.1

If you think your child may be using drugs but aren’t sure, it is okay to ask your child what experiences they have or haven’t had with drugs.1 If you have seen behavioral or physical signs that could be linked to substance use, you can calmly ask your child about the recent changes and attempt to gain clarification on what has been going on.1 A parent is also justified in investigating their child’s belongings to determine if there is any evidence of substance abuse.1

Talking to Your Child About Drugs

There is no guarantee that an intervention will be well-received, but there are some dos and don’ts that can serve as guidelines when considering how to talk to a child or teen who is struggling with drug and alcohol misuse. When it comes to having this tough conversation,8


  • Express concern and be direct.
  • Stay calm.
  • Be patient.
  • Listen openly and without judgment.
  • Offer help, including suggesting treatment options.
  • Be willing to attend group or family therapy.


  • Lecture.
  • Criticize.
  • Be confrontational.
  • Place blame.

Resources for Parents with Kids Using Drugs

If your child is using drugs, you are not alone. Several resources are available to parents and their children that can help intervene in drug and alcohol use. Some helpful resources to consider include:

Addiction Rehab for Kids Misusing Drugs

It is estimated that 1.5 million teenagers meet the criteria for a substance use disorder, though only a fraction receive treatment.9 Alcohol is used more than any other drug among adolescents and increases the risk of a child experiencing negative consequences like injury, school and legal problems, and death.10 The use of drugs and alcohol can have a negative impact on the adolescent brain, which is still developing until the age of 25.5 Substance use can cause damage in the areas of the brain associated with motivation, stress management, and problem-solving.11

If there are signs your teenager is on drugs, it is important that they are properly screened and receive the right diagnosis so that they can be referred to the appropriate level of treatment according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM).12 The right treatment program will provide therapeutic models, such as individual, group and family therapy, 12-Step programs, and medication for addiction treatment. Programs that focus on treatment specific to adolescents may include:5

  • A focus on environmental changes, such as helping a child make healthier choices at school and in the community.
  • Brief intervention, which provides tailored interventions based on screening assessments.
  • Wraparound services, which provide comprehensive, family-driven interventions to address mental health and substance abuse issues.
  • Cognitive restructuring, a method drawn from cognitive therapy to help change maladaptive thought patterns.

Families can find a rehab or treatment program that works for their child by researching online using the treatment directory. This powerful tool can connect you with rehab centers across the country that offer teen and family therapy.

How Can I Prevent My Child from Future Drug Use?

Parents can help prevent their child from using drugs in the future by taking the initiative to find the right rehab or treatment program, maintaining open lines of communication with their child, focusing on aftercare and relapse prevention after treatment to maintain new drug-free habits, and providing positive reinforcement to encourage children to live a life that is substance-free.13

Parents should not wait to find the right rehab program to kick-start their child’s treatment and recovery, as sooner is always better than later when it comes to drug use treatment and prevention.

If you are searching for rehab for your teen, or adult addiction treatment services for yourself, take a look at our online directory of rehabs or call today to check your health insurance coverage and get started on the road to recovery. Together, we can break the chains of addiction and help your teen rediscover a life of joy, fulfillment, and hope.

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