How to talk to your child if you think they are using

Even before you talk to your child, it’s a good idea to call a professional for advice. If you have a partner, decide how both of you will handle the situation with your child. The two of you should be in agreement and have a united message. When you do sit down, remain non-judgmental. Do not criticize your child or compare them to other people.

When you sit down:

  • Tell your child how much you love them. Explain how worried you are about their behavior or moods. Tell them how terrible you would feel if anything ever happened.
  • Describe the signs that have led you to suspect drug use. For example, you could say, "When you woke up you smelled like alcohol," or "I found this pipe in the bathroom." Talk about how the drug seems to be affecting them; for example, "Your grades are really getting bad," or "You missed school twice last week." Keep your tone non-judgmental and calm.
  • Empathize and listen when they describes feelings and pressures. Say, "That sounds really hard," or "That must be so disappointing."
  • Summarize to show you are listening; for example, "So you are having a hard time with your friends."
  • Remind your child of their goals, such as playing sports or being involved in music. Discuss how their drug use is getting in the way of the things they love to do.
  • Listen and don’t interrupt or criticize.
  • Guide your child in understanding the consequences of alcohol and other drug use. Explain that kids who start using drugs and drinking are far more likely to get addicted.
  • Make it clear that you and the family will seek professional help. Explain that you want an assessment done by a substance abuse counselor to see if there is a problem.

Keep the conversation on track by remaining calm and non-judgmental. It’s an emotionally charged situation but you need to remain in control. If you are not able to stay in control, consult a counselor to help guide the family.

What NOT to do:

  • Never try to discuss substance use while your child is high. Wait until a relatively calm moment for your discussion.
  • Don’t compare your child to a sibling or friend who is successful.
  • Don’t compare your child to someone who has ruined his or her life by drinking or doing drugs.
  • Don’t use critical language; for example, avoid using words like "loser."
  • Never blame your child for other problems in the family.
  • Don’t interrupt when your child is trying to describe pain or difficulties.