What if I find drugs in my child's room? What should I do?

At least once a month I will get a phone call or receive an email from a distressed mother (for some reason it's never a father - not too sure why!) who has recently discovered what they believe to be drugs in their child's room or in their clothes. This substance (whatever it may actually be) was usually found accidentally but in some instances their child's behaviour has aroused their suspicion and they went searching for evidence ...

Earlier this week I had a very long conversation with a mum who had been concerned about her 16 year old daughter for some time. There was the usual adolescent rebellion and pushing of boundaries but the behavioural changes this mother was seeing were of most concern. She wasn't coming home after a Saturday night out, choosing to 'stay at a friend's home', even though that wasn't agreed to, she was extremely moody when she did finally come home and she was becoming more and more secretive about where she was going and who she was seeing. Realistically, all of these 'signs' are things you would typically see in many adolescents, they're certainly no definite indication of drug use, but they were concerning enough to this mother to go the next step and search her daughter's bedroom.

The search resulted in the discovery of a whole pile of things that clearly indicated that her daughter was not simply at a party or gathering on a Saturday night. She found tickets to dance events, flyers from nightclubs and two small sealable plastic bags, one with a tiny amount of white powder in it and the other containing three pills. She was devastated and had no idea what to do next. Firstly, how was she going to deal with what she found and secondly, how was she was going to justify going through her daughter's bedroom and her personal belongings?

Look, there are no easy answers here and every case will be different. Every parent has their own set of values and beliefs and no matter how hard you try it is going to be difficult to push those to one side and respond to a situation like this in a calm and balanced way. At the same time, every teen is very different, some will be embarrassed because they have been caught, others will be outraged that their privacy has been violated and their response will run the spectrum from withdrawing and shutting off from any discussion to yelling and screaming and storming out of the house.

The advice I gave this mother was sending her and extract from my book 'Teenagers, Alcohol and Drugs', which gave a real life case I was involved with a few years ago, very similar to what she was going through. The extract (slightly edited) and my advice is included below:

I always promised myself that I wouldn’t become a mother who spied on her child but as my daughter got older, circumstances changed and I became worried about her behaviour. Jessica is 17 years old had a great circle of friends that both my husband and I got on with wonderfully well.

However, over the last couple of months she seemed to lose touch with many of her old group. She became much more secretive about who she was hanging out with and when we asked her anything about what she was doing and where she was going it usually ended in a fight.

One day when she was at school and I was putting some of her clothes away I went through her things. I hadn’t planned to do it but I was worried and I needed to find out what she was up to. I had no idea what I was looking for but searched anyway.

At the bottom of one of her drawers I found a small plastic bag with two small pills in it. Each of the pink pills had a small crescent moon on them. I had no idea what to do and how to ask her about what I had found.

So if you find drugs in your child's room, what should you do?

Ideally, a parent should never be tempted to search through their child's belongings for drugs. This invasion of privacy in the teenage years can lead to a loss of trust and make it more difficult to maintain a positive relationship and actually assist a child should they ever get into trouble with alcohol or other drugs, or whatever. A good effective relationship needs to be built on open communication and trust. However, as a parent if you find drugs there are a number of things that you can do.

The most important thing you have to do in the first place is to try and find out what it is (don't even think about contacting your local police and asking to get it tested - they certainly don't want to know about it and will usually tell you to destroy whatever it is you found!) and the best chance of ever finding that out is when you sit down and talk to your child about your discovery.
If you have planned the discussion well and don't overreact you may find that they are more willing to be honest and open in that area. There are no rule books when it comes to discussions like this but there are four key elements that may assist in making it more successful:
  • Show your concern – make it clear that you love your child unconditionally and that nothing will stop that. However, if they have been using illegal drugs they have broken the law and there will be consequences as a result.
  • Choose your moment – make sure that you are calm and that your teenager is in the right headspace. Trying to have a conversation like this as soon as they walk through the door after school may not be the best time. You’re also going to get a much better outcome if the discussion does not seem like an ambush.
  • Recognise problems – the most important question you can ask your child is "why are you taking the drug?" If they say it gives them a good feeling or to have fun times with their friends, it is much more encouraging than if they start talking about using it to satisfy a need, to feel better or to solve problems.
  • Don't blame yourself – make sure you don’t go down the road of thinking that you have failed as a parent. This is going to help no-one and will only cause problems between you and your child.
When you first tell your child that you have discovered something in their room, one of the first questions you need to ask is "what is it?" I hope that you get an answer, but over the years I have met many parents who have never been able to find out what it actually was that they found on that day. Often the teenager refuses to acknowledge that the drugs were theirs and plead ignorance and I am sure there have been times where young people have found themselves in situations where they truly have no idea where the drugs came from. In these instances you may never get an answer but there still need to be consequences. If your child had been caught with those drugs on their possession by a police officer ignorance is no defense. The same needs to apply in the home.
Bringing illicit drugs into the family home is an incredibly irresponsible thing to do and your child needs to realize what could have happened if the police had discovered the drugs before you had. One of the most important things that you should do after you have confronted your child with what you have found is to destroy the drugs (flushing them down the toilet is possibly the best option), making it very clear to them that even you keeping them on the property since the discovery has put you at great risk of possible prosecution.
Being caught with illicit drugs by your parent is almost as confronting for the adolescent. You may well have felt disappointment and anger, but they are going to experience a great deal of shame. The fear of disappointing and letting down their parents is very real and although you may think that they don't care what you think of them at this stage of development, we know that they still very much value what you think of them.
If there is a silver lining to this type of incident it's going to be that a dialogue has started. Unfortunately, some parents never start talking to their children about drugs until something like this happens. If a parent gets their response right at this point and don't overreact there is the possibility that some good may come out of it. 

Searching your child's room (or even purchasing products that can detect traces of drugs on your child's possessions - I just simply can't believe that any parent would do that!) are extreme responses to the possibility that your child could be using drugs. Unfortunately, there are some parents who find themselves in situations where they don't feel as though there are any other options. As has already been said, the one thing you don’t want to lose with your child is trust. Of course, if you feel that your adolescent is in danger you may have no other option, but make sure that you have tried all other avenues and that you totally understand the implications of such a strategy.


  1. Worst advice ever...don't flush and basically ignore...dismiss after a convervation. Smh. Violating the child's trust is not as important as saving their life. You need to know EXACTLY what the substance is because the child may not really know what is mixed and could have resulted in fatality. If the child is using drugs, the child will obviously lie to you as well. Use the evidence to also go after the distributor, through the police of course...and enroll the child in a drug treatment program before it's a lifelong problem.

  2. this article makes it seem like searching your kids room is worse than a child doing drugs... absolute madness


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