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Taking Action Against My Son’s Drug Problem

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Father and teenage sonHow could a recovering alcoholic and addict possibly fail to recognize the symptoms of drug abuse in his own teenager?   Stupidity?  Blindness?  I’d have to say both, combined with a powerful, potentially deadly dose of trust.

In 8th grade, my son was part of the Gifted Students Program.  One year later, he nearly failed his freshman year.  But there were what my wife, Paula, and I mistakenly considered, mitigating circumstances.

The summer prior to attending high school, he suffered a bout of mononucleosis, and the doctor warned us that the illness could reoccur.  He seemed to have fully rebounded in time to attend classes, and even to compete on the high-school wrestling team. But in a matter of months he started coming home exhausted, going directly to his bedroom, and “sleeping,” or more accurately “passing out.”  He looked pale, with dark circles under his eyes, and he lost his appetite and grew skinny.

All signs and symptoms of drug abuse.  But did we see it?  No.  He also quit wrestling.  A teen withdrawing from sports and activities they used to love is also another big red flag.  And we completely missed it.

Instead we brought him back to the doctor, thinking the mononucleosis had returned.  His tests came back negative, including another for the closely related Epstein-Barr virus.

Now let me cut to the chase.

In the first week of his sophomore year, he was caught ditching class, four days out of eight in World History, and it’s then that my wife and I finally put it together.  We confronted him as soon as he came home that day.

“Are you using drugs?”


“Look me in the eye,” I said, “and tell me you’re not getting high.”

Fortunately he’s not much of a liar, and he could only glance up at me, then he lowered his eyes.  But the lie came anyway.

“No,” he said.  “I don’t use drugs.  I’ve just been sick.”

Our biggest mistake was in trusting him.  But we trusted him because we love him and because he had never lied to us before.  Little lies?  Sure.  What kid hasn’t?  A big lie, like drug use?  No.  Not to our knowledge.  We were in denial and wanted to believe him. That wanting to trust, that need, that desire can be lethal.

Given my own dark past, I put the word out on him among the recovering addicts I know.

A simple question:

“I don’t care who’s dealing to him.  I’m not trying to bust anybody.  I just want to know what he’s taking.  What’s his rep?”

Inside of a week, I had three reliable sources report that my son was known as a pot smoker, Ecstasy user, and a drinker.  The Ecstasy worried us most, because that drug is chemically similar to the stimulant methamphetamine.  At that point there was no more denying the obvious, and my wife and I had to take action.  Here are five things we did.  Let’s call them rules.

Rule One: Drug Test

It’s best to have a doctor administer a drug test, but we bought an over-the-counter drug test kit.  Please keep in mind that drug tests, professionally administered or not, aren’t a hundred percent accurate, and teens also often find ways to beat these tests.  Still, our son’s home drug test came up positive for THC and a benzodizepine, and he didn’t deny the results.

Rule Two: Consider Changing Schools

Remove the teenager from the drug environment and peer pressure.  In this case, it meant changing schools, from public to private, and though it was an expensive move, and we’re not wealthy people, it was worth the sacrifice.  In our small community, the only private high school is a Christian Academy, with small classes (12-15 students) and a zero-tolerance policy for drugs.  There were, according to our son, “no cool kids,” which we took to mean non-drug users.  Begrudgingly, however, he adapted to his new environment.   I should add that in our initial meeting with the principal that we conveniently failed to mention his drug use for fear he’d be denied admission.

Rule Three: Attendance at A.A. and N.A. Meetings

Though he wasn’t an addict, he was well on his way.  From honor student to nearly failing his freshman year means he was on the fast-track to the dark side.  Since membership in Alcoholic Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous requires only a “desire to quit drinking (or using),”  I took him to many meetings.  It’s important for teen drug and alcohol abusers to see others their own age who are full-blown addicts and hear the horrific stories of where their drugging and drinking took them; and, most importantly, how when they cleaned up their act, they turned their lives around.  In other words, he didn’t need to hit a deeper bottom before pulling back up.

Rule Four: Ground Rules and Curfews

We feared if we cut him off from all his old friends, including his girlfriend, that he’d rebel and we’d lose whatever little ground we’d gained.  So we set some rules.  If he went out, he had to be back by 11 PM, and he also had to agree to take a drug test the following morning.  If he failed to meet the curfew or pass the drug test, he’d be grounded for a month and his cell phone taken away.  One night he missed curfew, and Paula and I had to pick him up at his girlfriend’s house.  When he got in the car, I could see he was high and smelled alcohol on his breath.  The next morning he failed his drug test for benzodiazepines (this was frightening news, since taking tranquilizers and drinking can be a deadly cocktail).

To his credit, without much grumbling, he turned over his cell phone and accepted his grounding.  In time, he lost contact with most of his old friends.  Since he couldn’t get high, he didn’t feel – again to his credit – that there was much point in hanging out with them.

Rule Five: Spend More Time With Your Child

Paula and I both made a point of spending more time with our son.  For her, that meant taking him to the movies, shopping, and lunches.  For me, since he enjoys wrestling, that meant spending more time with him in training.   The benefits we’ve reaped from including him more in our lives on a daily basis have been tremendous.  At first, like most teenagers, he didn’t want to hang out with his parents, but that wore off after a couple of months, and now we’re closer than ever.

It’s been nearly a year since we first discovered our son was taking drugs and drinking, and except for the one time he broke curfew, every drug test we’ve since given him has come up negative.  I’ve talked to him a lot about my own addiction and where it took me, and how, given our genetic link, he’s right in line to follow in my footsteps if he isn’t extremely careful.  Now, since he’s been clean for nearly nine months, Paula and I feel he’s earned back our trust, at least enough to let him return to the public school (for a number of reasons, he’s not happy at the Christian Academy) and compete again in wrestling.  He’s also well aware that from here on out our eyes will always be wide open.

Obviously we’re taking a chance.

But we believe in our child, as we must, just as we hope our child believes in us.

Related Links:
Parenting Troubled Teens
Alanon Helped Me Deal With My Addicted Child
Warning Signs of Drug Abuse
Time To Act

Posted by  |  Filed under Addiction, Confronting Teens, Ecstasy, Family History, Family members, getting help, Treatment, Warning Signs

18 Comments on “Taking Action Against My Son’s Drug Problem”

Keith Burns says:
August 2nd, 2011 at 9:00 pm

The problem for all parents who are themselves addicts should be approached much younger. The prevalence of ‘family’ addiction is very high; around 80% of those who contact my Internet based service admit to a ‘family’ connection to addiction. Addict parents must expect their children to be far more susceptable to drugs and alcohol. Early education tends to work far better than grounding a teenager.
The other area that I’m researching is adopted children. In the UK it is highly likely that adopted children have come from addictive parents. A Swedish study some years ago showed this to be true and despite growing up in stable sober families, the adopted child often became an addict. Early signs are that the same is true in the UK – but the numbers are not statistically large enough to form an acceptable result.

Susan says:
August 2nd, 2011 at 9:34 pm

I was a health care professional, & I missed many signs my son was abusing drugs. Both his asthma med’s & alcohol & later he turned to cocaine & heroin. I tricked him into treatment when I realized what was going on, he was then 16. He made it thru the rehab & was clean & sober for awhile, but relapsed time after time. When he was 18 & I no longer had the right to commit him, & he wandered about abusing drugs, in/out of treatment but finally went into Job Corps got his GED & was once again clean & sober & seemed happy. Foolishly, I thought it was behind him when he was in his 20′s. I could not have been more wrong. My son died of a heroin overdose. He had been clean & sober for some time. An old drugging buddy came to his home one night & said, “Lets party.” Kelly died on the floor of his home, his buddy & his buddies girlfriend cleaned up their mess & left my son alone. If they had called for help, my son might have been revived, but they waited for a whole day before reporting it to the Sheriff. I am about to celebrate his birthday 8/7, at the cemetery, where I’ve celebrated with him for the past 15 yr. I sing to him, I cry for him, I leave flowers, & have balloons with loving notes to him folded inside that I release so they may find him in Heaven. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him, & ache for his hugs, or hear his infectious laughter. He’s gone, my only son. He fought hard for his sobriety, but he wasn’t strong enough. This life was too harsh for him. Now I know where he is & that he is no longer in pain. My son, my son! I miss him every minute. Please read a book titled, “Between Two Pages:Children of Substance” by GriefNet Parents. It’s available from GriefNet &
Amazon. It is 12 stories of 12 parents whose children have died from substance abuse. I have no answers for anyone whose child is drugging, I wasn’t able to save my son, why would I think I could save someone elses? The nightmarfe continues . . .

James Brown says:
August 3rd, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Dear Susan,

I’m terribly sorry to hear of your loss. Heroin is a real killer, and it’s everywhere now, where once it flew under the radar for only the hard core addicts. I think many will appreciate your honesty that no one has a definitive answer on how to stop our loved ones from self-destructing. I lost my alcoholic brother and sister to suicide, and know full well that the nightmare doesn’t ever go away. With knowledge of the disease of addiction, with the love of friends and family, by spreading the message of the dangers of drugs, by fighting the good fight to help others, and perhaps above all by maintaining my own sobriety, I’m learning to cope. I’ve struggled, like you, and continue to struggle, but where before I had no hope of ever being able to move forward, now I do, even if it’s only a modest hope. I’ve written a couple of memoirs on these struggles, The Los Angeles Diaries and This River, and I don’t know if they’d be helpful to you, but please know you’re not alone in your grief and pain. Thank you for sharing your story with such honesty and dignity.

susanlea says:
August 3rd, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Dear Susan,

It’s so painful, bringing tears to my eyes, when reading stories from parents who’ve lost a beloved child to heroin addiction. This disease is horrific and unfortunately seems to be growing more prevalent. When James Brown talks about his own struggle with addiction and trying to help his son through the tough times as a teen, I hope it will go well and the son will never face the loneliness of addiction as an adult.

I found, in my own experience with an adult child using heroin, that the ups and downs feel unending. Alcohol and drug use began in her teens and things would get better and then slip back to using again.

Right now, I don’t know where my daughter is. A few weeks ago I was telling a friend that things were much better; I felt relieved and hopeful. And then our family went through a 180 degree turn back towards uncertainty. One counselor told me this is a long slow road and I shouldn’t have unreasonable expectations. Right now, I only hope for word that my daughter is OK.

Sam says:
August 4th, 2011 at 2:05 am


Wouldn’t it be nice if your kid took your advice so he wouldn’t have to make the same mistakes as yourself?

“A fool learns from his own mistakes, A wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” I believe that 9 times out of 10 it’s safe to consider a teen a fool. This can be seen socially and proven scientifically. The frontal lobe of the brain which controls the skills to make good judgements and decisions isn’t fully developed until the age of 25.

Why am I so sure of this? I’m a teenager myself and have experimented with drugs at an early age. Not only this, but many members of my family have struggled with addiction to drugs and alcohol. My parents would constantly try to educate me at an early age about how I’m more susceptible to addiction. They didn’t want me to go down that same path. But what did I do? I rebelled – something that is almost instinctual for a teen to do. I began experimenting with drugs before getting caught a bit later. My parents then proceeded to punish me. Being punished made me finally give in.

Obviously the same method isn’t going to work with everyone. Some may learn from being taught at an early age, but some may not, and I say this out of experience. If a teenager wants to rebel and not listen to the ‘life lessons’ you taught him…he will. Punishment and groundings is what got me out of the hole I was digging for myself, but like I said, it’s different for everyone. There’s no recipe for raising a perfect child.

- Sam

Cathy | Treatment Talk says:
August 4th, 2011 at 4:08 am

It was wonderful to read your story, but even more importantly to read what you did as a parent to pull your son back in. My daughter went through her senior year of high school using meth and it wasn’t until a year and a half later when she was in college and completely falling apart that we realized what she was doing. We are grateful that she is now doing well and is definitely a changed person, but my heart does go out to those who have lost their children to this disease.

James Brown says:
August 4th, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Dear Cathy,

Thanks for your nice comments, and for sharing your story about your daughter and how teenagers (or any addict/alcoholic) can and do change. Many, as you know, aren’t so fortunate. My heart, too, goes out for those who lost their children, or whose children are still out there, abusing alcohol and drugs. My own son is clean and sober now, and I have real hope that he’ll remain so. Addiction is truly a killer disease.

Angela Barnes says:
August 29th, 2011 at 4:45 pm

What a wonderful story, I believe it is the heartfelt stories like this that move us in to a place of knowing we are not alone on our journies. Feeling there is hope for healing is essential, and as parents there are really very few resources for us.
One resource that focuses on the transformaton from heartbreak to healing for parents of young addicts is, AMAZING GRIEF: A HEALING GUIDE FOR PARENTS OF YOUNG ADDICTS, it is a lifeline for ALL parents dealing with the emotional trauma of their childrens substance abuse and recovery. This amazing book can be purchased at I would encourage everyone to at least look at the website as it was a miracle for our family.

James Brown says:
August 29th, 2011 at 6:20 pm

Dear Angela,

Thank you for your generous words, and I’ll definitely look up AMAZING GRIEF. I’m always on the look-out for helpful books related to addiction.


Kathy says:
September 14th, 2011 at 8:12 am

Does anyone have any advice on how to get a teen to admit they have a problem? It seems like until they do, or commit a crime, there’s no way to help them. My son started drinking and smoking pot at 14. Then he seemed to stop drinking, but started taking E. Then he was caught selling pot at school… and now, while I think he’s stopped taking E, he’s definitely sniffing something. When I confronted him with knowing about his drug paraphernalia, which included a rolled up paper tube and knife and plastic cards, he had stupid reasons for the knife and cards and actually said that he had no idea where the tube came from or what it was for. I’ve talked to many people over the last couple of years (he’s almost 16 now), and they all say the same thing… he needs to want help to get it, or commit a crime. He has lots of opportunities to get help, and lots of reasons to get clean… he speaks with a youth worker at school regularly, he’s super involved in martial arts and has the potential, motivation, and opportunity to take it to a higher level, he’s got supportive parents and he knows he’s loved like crazy… but he just seems to keep moving towards worse and worse drugs. He now admits weed is a “lifestyle choice” for him. (He’s 15!!) But I try to be understanding about that. Oh, and there’s a lot of addiction in our family, though not in myself or his dad. So, I’m really scared and he won’t admit he has a problem, and I can’t find any way to help him. I was trying to motivate him with opportunities to further his training with great teachers, which DOES motivate him… but obviously not enough. (And I was going to let him go to China for a time to study with a martial arts master there, but I can’t in good conscience send him if I think he may use drugs there.) He won’t take a drug test. He won’t admit he has a problem. Now what. Any ideas?

gaylon says:
October 7th, 2011 at 12:18 pm

I do have some suggestions, although there are no easy answers. 1) Find a support group for parents/family of addicts. Al-Anon or Nar-Anon or something else in your community and go regularly. Go to more than one, and you’ll find one that is a good fit, and this will help you tremendously.

2) You can _make_ a teen take a drug test(s). You do it by taking away privileges, with the drug testing as the requirement to get them back (driving priviliges/getting his license, cell phone, grounding, etc). Think tough love. They can learn tricks to get by home tests, and you might want to consider taking him to a lab that uses special protocols to deter cheating (your family doctor can write a script for the lab tests) or to a counseling or treatment program that will do the test. Call around to find places that will help you with this. For families doing frequent drug testing, buying 8-10 panel tests online by the case is much cheaper than the individual tests sold at the local drug store (which usually only cover a few substances). I let my 18 year old go by himself to the office where we’d arranged for him to get tested, and they gave us both the results. He waited until he knew it would be “clean”, but it showed him I was serious about not letting him drive our car while using (weed).

3) There is a post on this site about using motivational interviewing techniques with your teen. Look under te “Treatment” tag or do a search for “Teens only think of themselves”.

4) I’d also try to find a counselor or therapist who is experienced with motivational interviewing, substance abuse & teens, and require your teen to meet with him or her, at least a few times. Take him there. In my area, counselors that are good with teens are RARE, but it can’t hurt to research this now. If he isn’t ready to make changes to his life, he won’t engage in therapy and this won’t really help him, but it can’t hurt to try (other than the expense) and maybe when he’s ready, someone, maybe the person you found, can connect with him.

Best wishes to you.

James Brown says:
October 10th, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Dear Gaylon (and Kathy),

As you say there are no easy answers when dealing with issues of addiction, and certainly no guarantees, but your response to Kathy’s situation strikes me as sensible and potentially helpful. Thank you for your good, earnest advice.


Ann says:
June 22nd, 2012 at 7:20 am

I have an 18 year old son who is addicted to smoking marijuana and now has started smoking potpourri. Really? Potpourri? There is no drug test I can find to prove it. I don’t need a test to prove it since I find it on him all the time. Again, he is 18 and I do not know what to do. When he is reAlly low he admits to having a problem other days… He just lies. I’m worried about his safety at this point. Most of the time I don’t even recognize my own child and it’s breaking my heart. Not to mention tearing my family apart. Any advice would be so welcomed right now…

Eve says:
January 9th, 2013 at 4:39 pm

I too have an 18 year old that I desperately need help for. He doesn’t admit to having a problem but he sleeps all day goes out in the middle of the night comes back high, drunk, etc. He has stolen from my mother and sister his father and myself – I don’t know what to do again if he hasn’t committed a crime I can’t get help for him. I think this is insane there should be a mandatory program for high school drop outs who just want to get high. They should be forced to join the armed forces or something. I don’t understand why we have to wait for things to get worst before we can get help. I am afraid of losing my son please can someone please help

Matt says:
January 9th, 2013 at 6:44 pm

Hi Eve,

The Partnership’s Parents Helpline is a good place to get advice.
Parents Toll-Free Helpline
1-855-DRUGFREE (1-855-378-4373)
Monday to Friday, 10:00 am – 6:00 pm ET
(In English and Spanish).

You might also want to check out Time To Get Help ( and Time To Act for more information (

Best wishes–

Hayley says:
November 8th, 2013 at 12:06 am

Hi my daughter is just on 17, passed year 9 with a D, failed year 10 (just didn’t go) so we put her in Chisholm to study hair & beauty and do her year 11 VCAL, which she also failed and she couldn’t be bothered with the work, she just wants to sleep and most of the days she took off school where a Monday. I received a phone call at 11.15 on a Saturday morning from a hospital saying she has overdosed and was dumped there (if she wasn’t taken there she would be dead now) she took two doses of GHB, smoked crack and took an ecstasy with 3 600ml bottles of wine, they gave her a category of 3 which was pretty bad, we where lucky she didn’t go into a coma, she just snapped out of it. I have tried really hard, but am at a loss, she never comes home, stays out all night doing only god knows- I never know who she is with, but after reading the stories above it has helped to know that there are other people going through the same thing. I am now seeking help outside of the home, as I always thought I can to this, I can fix this, but I know I can’t.


Anthony says:
December 26th, 2013 at 10:29 pm

I have been married for 4yrs to a woman that has a son that has a bad pot smoking problem and he is only 17. I have tried to support her but every way I try to support her she get’s mad because I have been through this being over 25yrs clean. I feel like every time I say something she is in denial and she always try’s to turn everything back on me. I’m not sure how to help her because like I said I been through this but I’m just lost because she wants to fight with me about anytime I say anything and where we live at the property is owned by the company I work for and I’m afraid that someone at my work might think I’m smoking and that’s not true. Me and my wife are in counseling for our marriage but this problem with her son and my step son is very bad and again if I say anything she takes up for him by saying he’s cutting down and he she states that he is not smoking in the house anymore. What the hell can I or should I do? I know my thoughts in my mind is getting out of the marriage?

vivian says:
February 4th, 2014 at 5:54 pm

We have a son whom we have forgiven, cherished, engaged in all kinds of endeavors and activities, supported the search for knowledge, payed the school , the treatment ( and have participated in the treatments too), trips with the family (in US and other countries ), have repeated over and over how much he is capable of, how he is not only the addict, he is much more than that, and how strong he is. We have a home that is tolerant, full of love, music, books, people from different cultures, we love to sit around the table every night and laugh and talk for hours and hours. But strangely enough, he shows to be the most prejudiced one. Comes to the table and makes a point to show how he doesn’t care about the conversation, behaving like a 12 year old.

We open the house for his friends, even though we know they are users too. They are usually great guys, entertaining, social and we justify having these people here by thinking that maybe they need to know that they can be loved and accepted. Usually the friends have to tell my son to chill down and be nice to us.

We live in a state of siege in our own house. We have been disrespected, abused, lied to, stolen, not only me, but all the people in the house. Young siblings have had their piggy banks ransacked, baby sitting money made by his sister has been stolen, we have to hide all my credit cards, can never have any cash anywhere in the house, have to hide purse, keys and any valuable things. The last antic was stealing his 16 year old brother’s wallet and going around late at night pretending he was his brother, and stealing his credit card. We have tremendous bills because of this son of ours.

He is not able to keep a job. He stopped going to the meetings and won’t go back, he won’t take the pills (forgot the name , the prescription ones that react with opiates). We have taken the car from him, until he can do a drug test and prove to us that he is not using.

I found out he is dealing from inside our house to make money for his habits. He disappears for days and I don’t know where he is. We have spent hundreds and hundreds in therapies, special schools, rehab. I have willingly driven and brought him to wherever he needs to go. This boy is only 18. He has terrorized our family since 14. And… I love him, in the few times he is clean he is absolutely an amazing person, handsome, amazingly smart, funny and has tremendous charisma. But these times of cleanness are fewer and fewer. when he is under the influence he has told me that he doesn’t want my love, only my money. He has told me to forget about the son he was, because he is not that son anymore. And still… I love him.

I have sat beside him and just touched him and told him that I love him, that I believe in him, and asked what hurts him so much. Since he was a child, he has never shared his problems.

Yesterday I had enough. A lot of people would say we shouldn’t spy the computer, the room, etc, but … He left the house as always without a good bye, the computer was open and I did read his messages. I know I shouldn’t get angry, but when you know that your son is dealing from inside your own house and absolutely poisoning the air you and your family breathe and doesn’t make the minimum effort to get better, what are the choices?

I told him to leave. He said that he will be even worse outside our house. And that kills me. But he is destroying himself here under my roof, and he is bringing our family along his path of misery and addiction. It hurts me to send him out. And as I told him to leave, I told him: ” Son, all I want is one word from you, tell me that you want to quit, that you want to change, that you will go to the meetings. then we can have a new beginning.” He wouldn’t say that, he said: “I’l get back at you.” it hurts, hurts really bad. He has lots of friends users around town, so he probably is with them. I still pay his phone and I can see who he talks to. But I never used this information for anything. I feel that I want to be there for him , in case he changes his mind, or in case he gets close to the end.

My only fear is that he might never forgive me for telling him to leave home. But I heard something that has been a tremendous comfort. My love for him never dies, no matter what he does. So I believe that his love for me will never die either, no matter what I do.

I want to hear from somebody that was there in this place of misery. It hurts so bad.

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