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If You Suspect or Know Your Child Is Using Drugs or Alcohol, How Do You Know When It Is Time to Take Action?

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

If you are reading this blog, it is time.

What’s the big rush, you ask? It is a developmental given that some kids experiment with alcohol and drugs. However, the latest annual Partnership for a Drug-Free America/MetLife Foundation Attitude Tracking Study (PATS) of almost 3,300 teens and 800 parents shows that after a decade of declines in teen drug and alcohol use, rates are climbing for Ecstasy, marijuana and alcohol. We already know that prescription drug abuse by youth is a national problem and binge drinking on college campuses is a growing issue. Parents, this is no time to procrastinate.

The new PATS data indicate that 75 percent of teens say their friends usually get high at parties. Do the math.  All of us can’t have kids who don’t get high at parties.

I am upset that cultural cues to use drug and alcohol are rampant, and that we’ve seen budget cuts in federal drug prevention and treatment programs. But what is most troubling to me is that the new PATS data indicate that parents are not acting early enough to intervene in kids’ drug use. Among parents who know their teens have used, nearly half either waited to take action or took no action. Yet we know that the earlier parents intervene, the better chance they have in preventing more serious problems.

Unfortunately, I did not have the online resources available today when my child first began smoking marijuana in middle school, taking OxyContin and nearly overdosing his first week in high school. He became addicted to heroin at age 16 and eventually crack and cocaine. How I would have loved a resource like Time to Act – a guidance tool that was created with input by scientists at the Treatment Research Institute who are on the cutting edge of addiction research, family therapists and other experts, parent volunteers who have walked your walk, as well as the dedicated Partnership staff.

There are two sections in Time to Act: one for parents who think their child is abusing substances; the other for parents who know that to be true. The information is organized, easy to understand and easy to use.

I particularly like the Need to Know section for parents in the first category, which addresses false beliefs we may have about teen drug and alcohol use. The Parent Checklist (found under “Get Focused”) for parents who know their child is using gets right to the nitty gritty:  how to respond to your teen’s anger and denial (including being called a hypocrite) and how to communicate and enforce your house rules.

My son is 22 now, clean and sober for today as a result of many actions on his part, my part, and the help of a community of tireless and caring people who take early substance abuse seriously because it can be lethal.

It’s hard to know what actions to take when you think or know your kids are using drugs. But it’s not hard to know when to do something about it – NOW. If you suspect or know your kids are using drugs, please take action.

The Partnership also has two new e-books to help parents learn how to intervene and how to get appropriate treatment for your child.

Posted by  |  Filed under Alcohol, Confronting Teens, Marijuana

12 Comments on “If You Suspect or Know Your Child Is Using Drugs or Alcohol, How Do You Know When It Is Time to Take Action?”

Margie Goldsmith says:
March 3rd, 2010 at 2:18 pm

I know a number of kids who have died because their parents suspected nothing until much too late. This article should be reprinted and sent home to parents with every report card they receive.

Judy Kirkwood says:
March 3rd, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Thanks. That is an awesome idea.

Mickey Goodman says:
March 3rd, 2010 at 7:18 pm

When my children were teens, two neigborhood boys died as a result of drug use — one from an overdose. The other ran into a telephone pole when he was high. Judy Kirkwood’s article is right on. If parents are concerned enough to click on the link, they need to intervene immediately.

Betta Owens says:
March 3rd, 2010 at 10:06 pm

My story is similar to yours, Judy. My daughter only a few years older than your son, and me suspecting her use but not wanting to believe it as early as 14. When the evidence became undeniable I sarched for help from professionals, the Internet, and family groups. That was around 1998 and I was frustrated beyond belief. I heard a lot about how not to enable, let go and let God, and waiting for her bottom. No sound advice on early intervention or encouragement that this chronic illness could and must be managed early.
I look back and wonder how I maintained my sanity, my family and my worklife during those years. All paid a heavy price. I am grateful she lived through it but the harm was real as her illness got worse and she became involved with the criminal culture surrounding addiction.
I do know we have learned much more in the past 10 years, and that treatment professionals are less likely to blame me or my daughter for her illness. However, we need a resource for parents that guides them in the right direction. There are good providers, and there are not-so- good providers.
Thank you for steering us on a new path.

Jeff Wolfsberg says:
March 4th, 2010 at 2:05 am


Thank you for a wonderful post. I speak to parents often on the topic of preventing and intervening on drug use. As a speaker, using imagery and metaphor are useful communications tools. I often use the “Don’ts” list of responding to a disaster like an earthquake or hurricane.

Don’t –

1. Misunderstand and/or denial the severity of the problem
2. Respond slowly
3. Send inadequate resources
4. And not provide continuous care until the problem is solved.

Another important aspect for parents dealing with an addicted child is to not lose sight of the own relationship with their spouse and/or how the other children are processing the event.


Jeff Wolfsberg
Drug Education Specialist

Pat Nichols says:
March 11th, 2010 at 3:42 am

Betta hit the bullseye when she said, “However, we need a resource for parents that guides them in the right direction.”

One that is free, immediate,”street smart,” educated and knowledgeable about the local resources in the community. A 911 just for parents who have just learned they have a child abusing and/or addicted to AOD. Just one passionate parent who keeps up to date on the resources etc. That would make all the difference in the world to parents. There is no better idea for early intervention/prevention etc. All a parent would need is a cell phone and the willingness to help other parents.

I know this works because I have been doing it for ten years!

Mark says:
March 29th, 2010 at 2:36 pm

We received a phone call this past Saturday night from one of my son’s friends father. He had it on a “reliable” source that my son is involved with drugs. My wife and I calmed down, talked to some counselors and confronted him on Sunday. We didn’t blame or accuse him, but told him we are concerned and just want to help him in any way we can. He was adamant that he does not nor ever has engaged in drug use. He offered to take a test – which we happened to have and the results were negative. He also offered us to search his room – which we didn’t do. We spoke open and I feel honestly for over 2 hours. Lots of tears and hugs. He stated that he wants to, and will do whatever it takes for us to believe him.
Also, his friend, whose father called us, also was tested and turned out negative.
But how do we know what to believe? I am so torn, I want to believe him, but know it could all be lies, and I don’t want to believe he is that good of a liar. He is 17 so when I look at his behavior, it meets some of the things to look for but than again, not really. Except for 1 class he is +85 in school.
My wife and I think we should continue as if the tests were positive and get professional counseling, maybe they can spot a lie – or truth better than we can. What do we do? Assume everything is a lie? How does a parent know when it’s the truth? The paranoia is destroying me.

Sad says:
April 17th, 2011 at 3:07 pm

The test can’t lie but what do you do know?

brokenHeartMom says:
November 28th, 2011 at 8:23 pm

I lost my 20 year old son as result of heroin. He smoked weed for most of his teenage life, and I eventually stopped fighting with him about it. I didn’t really know what to do, and I gave up. He was a middle class suburban kid. When I moved him to Maryland, he met an 18 year old girl who had been using heroin for 3 years! She got him hooked within 6 weeks. I had no clue until 7 days before he committed suicide. I think he was coming down from heroin and became desperately hopeless. He overdosed on heroin on purpose to end his pain. Please do something sooner than I did. Don’t wait to intervene, and don’t give up. I hate myself for not doing something more drastic and sooner.

Jesus morales says:
December 20th, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Haha im a teen and I smoke pot there’s isn’t anything wrong with that but the heavier drugs can be a problem let me get things straight for all you parents that are worried about your kid smoking pot all drugs are different pot is the best drug your kid can be on
you cannot overdose on marijuana and the scientist say there is more tar in the pot than in a ciggarete they don’t tell you that there is a different kind and this kind actually cleans out your lungs so I would actually be more dusturebed by a ciggarete than a joint
Another thing don’t hit your kid or yell at him or her that will make them not care and want to do other harder drugs that are dangerous. I know this from experience
Yes of course it is a drug it is illegal and has its risks with the law but physically it is not bad for you I am 16 and I am ripped beyond beleife I am a track athlete and I run long distance I am a pothead and proud of it

Jesus morales says:
December 20th, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Also that is typical to get councilors and confront him or her that is also stupid because your child will feel like you are trying to attack them and that they are in trouble the best approach is to just talk to them it worked for me I am still a pothead but despite that I am honest to my parents and tell them everything they are not comfortable with my use of marijuana but it is better not to waste your money on councilors and keep the problem inside just the family you don’t need anybody in your business telling you or your kid what to do because that just alienates you from your kid and causes them to stress out and drop grades

Judy Kirkwood says:
December 20th, 2011 at 9:59 pm

Jesus you make some good points and sound exactly like a 16-year-old who smokes pot. In fact, you sound a bit like me at 18 years old when I first tried pot in college in the 1960s. I was proud of my pot smoking and saw nothing wrong with it. So I won’t even try to address your perception of pot.

It’s true that parents should not hit their child when they find them doing something illegal. As we learn in preschool now, it’s best to use your words.

However, your advice for parents not to consult counselors is not helpful. Parents do need to talk about their concerns with counselors and with other parents, as well as with their child. Our kids would like us not to talk to anyone about their behavior and to take our advice from them (“I’m fine; everybody does it; it’s not affecting my grades or sports; etc.). But it is important for parents not to isolate when they have health or other concerns about their children. Do consult counselors, but find one whom you feel you can trust and has the right experience. Not all counselors know their stuff.

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Welcome to Intervene. We are a community of experts, parents and caring adults concerned about our teens’ alcohol and drug use and have come together to share our insights, inspiration, guidance and help.

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