What do you do if you find out your child is using drugs?

Discovering that your child is experimenting with illicit drugs is every parent's worst fear. No matter what their attitude towards drugs, I have yet to meet a parent who is not, at the very least, extremely distressed when they find themselves in this situation. No matter how you may have prepared yourself (and to be quite honest, I doubt whether any parent spends too long thinking about such a possibility), it is always going to evoke a whole pile of emotions. Disappointment, anger and, of course, fear are most going to be bubbling to the surface and many parents are also going to start blaming themselves in some way.

Recently I was contacted by a mother who had just discovered that her son has been using cannabis. She explained the situation she found herself in and wrote "I am at a loss and not sure what to do or how to approach this, I am yet to confront him about it."

The most important thing to do is also the most difficult – don't overreact! Before you respond make sure you take some time to think through what you are going to do and how you are going to approach this extremely difficult situation. Talk to your partner and discuss where, when and how you are going to raise the issue. Those three elements (the where, when and how) are all equally important and will play a major part in the success of your strategy.

The best chance of moving this forward in a positive way is to 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, you shouldn't necessarily be doing cartwheels and saying that everything is now going to be fine, but 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 isn't going to help anyone and is likely to cause even more problems between you and your child
Remember that being found out that you use illicit drugs is almost as confronting for the adolescent as it is for the parent. You may well have felt disappointment and anger, but it is highly likely that they are going to experience a range of emotions as well. The fear of disappointing and letting down their parents is very real for many and although you may think that they don't care what you think at this stage of development, we know that your opinion does count, no matter how much they try to tell you it doesn't!

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 they get their response right and don't fly off the handle without thinking it through carefully there is the real possibility that some good may come out of it. For many young people, simply getting caught, being made aware of how their actions have affected the family and applying appropriate consequences is enough to change behaviour - but of course this is not always the case and further steps may need to be taken, particularly if they make it clear that they have no intention of stopping their drug use. So what do you do then? For my suggestions on how to deal with this take a look at my blog entry - 'Your teen has admitted using drugs and isn't going to stop: What do you do?'


  1. This is practical, good advice for parents. Many parents will quickly overreact to discovering their kid(s) drug use. As you pointed out - showing concern, choosing your moment, recognizing problems, and not blaming oneself - all help parents to deal with the initial shock, and respond appropriately to their kids. Some parents think martial law will get things done. "No drugs in my house", and that's the end of the conversation! For those of you with similar thoughts, remember that lying or not dealing with the issue can cause even more problems. Systematically lying to children about drugs their whole life can sometimes cause kid(s) to begin to question what else they've been lied to about, which can end with the kid(s) experimenting because society has misled them and they can only trust their own experiences


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