You’ve just discovered your teen is drinking or doing drugs. Or perhaps your kid promised that he had stopped, yet he just failed a drug test. Your mind is going a million miles a minute, and your emotions are all over the place. You’re probably asking yourself, “What am I going to do? How can I make him stop?” Figuring out how to handle these types of situations are hard—really hard—but there are ways you can cope with your teen’s substance abuse. Here are three of them:
- Teen-proof your home. If you have alcohol in your home, make sure it’s securely locked away, or even removed. The easiest thing teens do is get into their parents’ liquor cabinet or beer in the fridge. If you have any prescription meds, lock those up, too. Teens will often experiment with whatever they can get their hands on. Don’t let them have access. And if you think your teen has drugs or alcohol in their room, do a search. Remember, because you are the adult you have the right to keep your home substance-free. If you do find something, it’s your choice to involve the police and in turn, the court. If your teen blows up, stay calm and remind him that there are rules in your home that he needs to follow.
- Don’t enable. Cut off your teen’s allowance. Don’t give him any money or anything that could be cashed in. That will make it hard for him to buy drugs or alcohol. Your teen may argue with you, but remind him that money is a privilege based on trust and not a right. And when substance abuse is involved, that privilege goes right out the window. It’s a natural and responsive consequence. Your teen will feel uncomfortable and be forced to think about whether his drug use is really worth it. If a family member gives your teen money, explain why it’s not a good idea. Educate them on the situation so they can make an informed decision.
- Accept that you can’t control them. There is a difference between consequences and control. You can establish clear boundaries that have consequences, but you can’t control your teen’s behavior. For example, you may cut off his allowance, but he might go get a job and make money that way. Let go, because ultimately you can’t stop him. And if you try to rescue your teen from natural consequences, you are delaying important life lessons that he needs to learn. However, if he is in immediate danger, call 911 right away.
As a parent, the best thing you can do is help prepare your teen for the real world. It’s scary when the decisions they make don’t line up for what you think is best for them. Watching a teen battle substance abuse can make any parent feel helpless. Don’t be afraid to create a support system to get you through the tough times and help guide you in your journey. If you feel like you’re overwhelmed by your teen’s addiction and need advice, please contact a professional therapist.
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 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. Their first children's book, Daisy: The True Story of an Amazing 3-Legged Chinchilla, teaches the value of embracing differences and was the winner of the 2014 National Indie Excellence Children's Storybook Cover Design Award.