You thought your son was just experimenting with drugs but had stopped. Now he’s failed a drug test for his work-study program at school, and you know: this is serious.

Your teen daughter is hanging around with kids who are notorious for drinking and partying on the weekends. She’s come home drunk twice this month. This morning you found vodka in her room. What do you do?

The following is an excerpt from Life Over the Influence™, an online learning program created by Kimberly Abraham LMSW and Marney Studaker-Cordner LMSW, therapists and experts in helping families struggling with substance abuse issues. Life Over the Influence is a part of The Total Transformation® Program Online Package.

If you’re reading this article, you’ve got a good reason to believe your teen is abusing substances. Rather than focus on getting your teen to admit he’s using, or the degree of their use, we’re going to focus on what you can do to respond to the issues that result from his or her substance use.

Teen-Proof Your Home if Your Child is Abusing Substances

The first thing you can do is be proactive. Remember when your child was a toddler? You put baby gates across the stairs, locks on the cabinet doors, and all your breakables out of his reach. Well, it’s time to teen-proof your home now.

If you drink or use substances, lock it up. Or better yet, get it completely out of the house. If you have prescription medications, lock those up too.

Don’t assume that just because your teen is using one substance, he’s not open to getting high in a different way.

You may be thinking, “This is my home. I shouldn’t have to lock things up.” Would you have said that when he was a toddler? “This is my home! I shouldn’t have to put the poisonous cleaners in a locked cabinet just because he’s two.”

Your teen is still a minor, and whether you should have to teen-proof the home is beside the point. It’s still a part of parental responsibility. And it’s something you can control.

I’m Afraid I Might Find Drugs in My Child’s Room

Parents often wonder where to draw the line with privacy when a teen may be using substances. Remember, this is your home. Privacy is a privilege.

Is it a good idea to read your 13-year-old’s diary just because you’re wondering if she’s mad at you? Of course not. But if you suspect your teen is using substances, privacy goes out the window.

It’s your home. And it’s your right and responsibility to make sure illegal substances are not in your house. After all, you will be held responsible. That’s real life.

Related content: Teens and Privacy: Should I “Spy” on My Child?

Should I Call the Police If I Find Drugs in My Child’s Room?

If you find substances in your child’s room, you will have to decide what course of action you’re going to take. You know your child best. It’s a judgment call as to whether or not you should call the police.

If it’s the first time you’ve discovered the substance, you may decide to flush it and say to your child:

“Look, I found pot, and I flushed it. If I find it again, I’m calling the police.”

If you’re concerned the substance abuse has reached a level where the court should be involved, you may choose to call the police the first time you find it.

Offer for FREE Empowering Parents Personal Parenting Plan

The type of substance found may also play a role. If you find alcohol, that may strike you differently than if you find heroin. Even with alcohol, he can be charged as a minor in possession. Make sure you are prepared for the court to be involved if you call the police.

Related content: When to Call the Police on Your Child

Prepare for Your Child to Be Angry

Many teens will actually have the nerve to be angry at their parents for flushing their stash. They may even tell you, “Hey, you owe me money for that!”

You can respond calmly and say to your child:

“Would you tell the police they owed you money if the police took it? This is real life. If you bring it into my home, you’re going to lose a lot of money, so make an informed choice.” 

By doing this, you are starting to make substance use uncomfortable for him in your home. And you are establishing a firm boundary.

Cut Off the Cash Flow to Your Child If He’s Abusing Substances

If you know or suspect that your child is using substances, one of the best ways to put a wrench in her buying is to cut off her cash flow.

Now is the time to close the First National Bank of Mom & Dad. Don’t give cash for things like movies, lunch, or clothes. Write a check or pay the school directly for lunches, or let her brown bag it. Buy her clothes yourself. Don’t give cash for birthdays, or holidays, or big-ticket items he can pawn or exchange for drugs.

That doesn’t mean you can’t do anything for her for special occasions. You could offer to take her to a movie or an event—something she can’t convert to cash to support her use.

If you start to feel guilty for not giving them money, just remind yourself that any cash could support her use, and you’ve made this decision in her best interest.

Many kids act as if it’s their right to have money. It’s not—it’s a privilege. And the privilege is lost when substance abuse is involved.

Also, money is something you have complete control over. No one can force you to give your child money. You can tell your child:

“Look, my giving you money is a privilege, based on trust. And right now, you’ve lost that trust.”

Your response is both a natural consequence (lost trust) and a responsive consequence (withholding money) of substance abuse. It will help your teen feel uncomfortable, and she will have to decide if these consequences are worth it.

Inform Your Family Members of Your Child’s Drug Problem

So what can a parent do when a well-intentioned relative gives your child cash? Explain why you’re withholding money, and educate them on what happens to the money he gets. Be clear: it will support his drug abuse.

You can’t control these family members, but if you’ve explained the situation, they can make informed decisions. Your relatives need and deserve to know the truth if you think that your substance-abusing child is going to them for money.

What If My Child Uses His Own Money for Drugs

What if your teen works and uses his own money for drugs or alcohol? What can we do then? Not a whole lot. That’s a personal boundary, and you can’t control it.

It is often helpful to remind yourself that you can only do what you can do, and your child is ultimately responsible for his actions. You can’t control everything.

Also, keep in mind that your child’s job may be a positive thing for him. He probably worked hard for that paycheck. And he may be learning the following good lesson: “Damn, my whole check’s gone on a bag of weed.”

That’s a natural consequence, and your child will have to decide if it’s worth it to him. Again, in real life, many people blow their money on things that aren’t good for them.

Combat Drug Abuse With Love, Boundaries, and Consequences

Be a caring parent to your child, but not his caretaker. The difference between caring and care-taking comes down to clear and consistent boundaries.

When your child was five, you were his caretaker. You held his hand when he crossed the road, cut his meat for him, and monitored him closely.

Advertisement for Empowering Parents Total Transformation Online Package

Over the years, you’ve allowed him to make more age-appropriate choices and begin to experience and learn from natural consequences.

If he stays up too late, the natural consequence is that he’s tired and miserable the next day. The lesson he learns: If I don’t want to be tired all day, I need to go to bed earlier.

If he doesn’t study, the natural consequence is that he fails the test. The lesson he learns: if I don’t put some effort into my classwork, I’m not going to do well.

These are lessons we all learned in life as a normal part of development. As adults, we continue to learn lessons through natural consequences every day.

So why do we tend to fall back into care-taking mode when our teen starts using substances? Because it’s scary, even terrifying, and it feels like there is so much riding on his choices.

Remember, the best we can hope for as parents is to prepare our kids for real life. In the real world, your child will encounter many situations in which a lot will be determined by his choices. As adults, we make important decisions every day. Your child will make important decisions too. If you rescue him from natural consequences now, it just delays those life lessons.

Don’t Give up on Your Child

Understand that there is a difference between rescuing your child and going to the other extreme of giving up. Offer your child help and support, but don’t rescue or enable him.

Ultimately, you know your child best. While these guidelines can help you establish boundaries and hold your teen accountable, you must use your best judgment when making decisions regarding your child.

* Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from Life Over the Influence™, a program created by Kimberly Abraham LMSW and Marney Studaker-Cordner LMSW, therapists and experts in helping families whose members are struggling with alcohol or drug use. This excerpt addresses a small piece of the very large issue of substance abuse.

About and

Kimberly Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner are the co-creators of The ODD Lifeline® for parents of Oppositional, Defiant kids, and Life Over the Influence™, a program that helps families struggling with substance abuse issues (both programs are included in The Total Transformation® Online Package). Kimberly Abraham, LMSW, has worked with children and families for more than 25 years. She specializes in working with teens with behavioral disorders, and has also raised a child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Marney Studaker-Cordner, LMSW, is the mother of four and has been a therapist for 15 years. She works with children and families and has in-depth training in the area of substance abuse. Kim and Marney are also the co-creators of their first children's book, Daisy: The True Story of an Amazing 3-Legged Chinchilla, which teaches the value of embracing differences and was the winner of the 2014 National Indie Excellence Children's Storybook Cover Design Award.

Comments (9)
  • Need Perspective
    My adult child is 25 and has a drug addiction. She just finished 30 days in rehab. In family counseling, we discussed boundaries and consequences. We said if you start using again, you will need to find a new place to live. Two weeks after she got out of rehab,More we found out she started using again - she got into a car accident on her way to buy drugs and ended up breaking some bones. (She did not cause the car accident, but it did total the car and is now unable to work for a while due to her injuries.) I do not have experience with addiction. My question is - was it too much to expect her to be 100% clean so soon? Was our consequence of kicking her out too severe at this point in the recovery process? We want to support her, but we don't want to enable her. We also want to mean what we say...
    • Denise Rowden, Parent CoachEP Coach

      Thank you for reaching out to Empowering Parents. I'm so sorry to hear your daughter relapsed and got into an accident. I can only imagine how distressing this must be for everyone. It's normal to feel unsure of what to do in these types of situations, especially if you don't have any other experience with addiction or substances abuse. You are correct that enabling her really won't help anyone in the long run. Having the expectation of being 100% clean and sober in order to continue living at home is not an unreasonable expectation. It also did not cause your daughter to relapse. Your daughter is an adult and she made the choice to start using again. It's an unfortunate choice with potentially serious consequences, but it was still her choice. It may be helpful to see what types of support services are available in your area. If you are located in the US or Canada, the 211 National Helpline is a referral service available 24 hours a day, nationwide. They can give you information on the types of support services available in your area such as counselors, therapists, support groups/12 step program, as well as various other resources. You can reach the Helpline by calling 1-800-273-6222 or by logging onto 211.org.

      We appreciate you being part of our Empowering Parents community and wish you all the best moving forward. Take care.

  • J
    My son is 13 and is abusing marijuana. We have taken every step to prevent his access to drugs from home, as well as the kids that provide the drugs. He’s even in a substance abuse program. The trouble is that he has access to the drugs at school.More Should we remove him from school during the quarter of the school year so that he has a chance to be abstinent?
    • Denise Rowden, Parent CoachEP Coach

      Thank you for reaching out. I can understand you distress and why you're considering changing schools. Ultimately, that's a choice only you can make. You may find it helpful to review our article on toxic friends which can be found here: https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/does-your-child-have-toxic-friends-6-ways-to-deal-with-the-wrong-crowd/

      We appreciate you being part of the Empowering Parents community. Be sure to check back and let us know how things are going. Take care.

  • Meche
    The problem is that the police will not do anything around here if it’s pot. Even if the kid’s are minors. They don’t consider it a problem. I had a police officer tell me I was calling too much when one if my girls would take off and I couldMore not find her. You have to have clear control sequences and boundaries. The best two things I ever got where two locks for my door , a ring camera and a programmable front door locked.
  • Sad Mom
    Those recommendations are very good. I wish I would have known that kids will use a variety of substances to get high — not just their “substance of choice”. Now I also know that if your addicted teen or young adult can circumvent all of the above strategies, it’s timeMore for long term residential treatment — meaning 12 months plus. This treatment is costly but it actually works.
  • Mum that agrees with some points

    I learnt a lot about how to make substance abuse uncomfortable for the child and try to ensure substances don’t come into the house. Thank you!

    However, I was that teen that abused substances (alcohol) and I don’t think any of these strategies would have worked for me personally. I would have found a way to obtain and hid the substance. I drank due to depression and felt I had no other way out of the devastating emotions. If parents would simply talk openly to their children about why they are using and show them they are in their side and wanting to take away the cause of the substance abuse. I felt very alone when I was abusing alcohol and also made to feel like a bad person, when all I needed was love and practical and caring help from my family.

  • Disagree
    Some of this I do not agree with. And it's not always a HE. It may be a SHE. And letting them experience "natural consequences", could mean SHE gets pregnant, STDs, or even jail time. So what do you do in that case? If she's 17, leaves the house (andMore you cannot physically keep her there), threatens to go live with friends, and hangs out in the ghetto parts of town where there are drug dealers. What do you do then?!? PLEASE tell me. Because I really need to know. :'(
    • Meche
      I would suggest next time she is out and you don’t know where she is to call the police. Then they might ask if you know where she is and if you want to report her as a runaway. I would do that because they will send notice to allMore local police and if they spot her she will get arrested. Then you will be able to get some resources. Sometimes it takes more than once , but take heart and courage and do it. She will be mad and curse you out. But you have every right to do this.
Advertisement for Empowering Parents Total Transformation Online Package
Like What You're Reading?
Sign up for our newsletter and get immediate access to a FREE eBook, 5 Ways to Fix Disrespectful Behavior Now
We will not share your information with anyone. Terms of Use