How To Cope When You Find Out Your Teen Is Using Drugs

You’ve just discovered your teen is using drugs.

Whether you found out because you discovered drugs or drug paraphernalia in their room, you were informed by their school or the police, or your teen told you, you probably feel like the floor fell out from under you. Worry, anger, self-blame, and frustration are all typical emotions for parents when they discover their child is using drugs.

You probably have a few questions top of mind. Why would your teen decide to use drugs? How do you even begin a discussion with your child about their drug use without it imploding? What kind of drug addiction treatment does your teen need?

Why Do Teens Resort To Substance Use?

Teens turn to alcohol abuse or drug abuse for many reasons. Dr. Cassandra Simms, residential psychiatrist at Embark at The Forge, shared a few reasons:

1. They see others engaging in substance use.
When teens see their friends using drugs, or if their friends actively encourage them to use drugs, they want to fit in. How others see them feeds their own sense of self-worth. Family member substance abuse can also affect a teen’s decision to use. If they see family members turn to alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs to relieve their stress, why wouldn’t they?

2. They use drugs to ease distress and to self-medicate.

Teens turn to drug use to self-treat for:

3. Rebellion or risk-seeking can lead to teen substance abuse.
Young people are trying to figure out who they are, and sometimes they decide to participate in activities their parents disapprove of to show that they’re their own person, to feel excitement, or to stand out in a crowd.

Whatever the reason, using alcohol and drugs is not a healthy way to deal with life issues. The longer the alcohol or drug abuse continues, the more the problems can spiral. For example:

  • For teens, substance use is always illegal and can lead to problems with the law.
  • Teen drug use prevents young adults from learning skills to deal with challenges throughout their lives.
  • Substance use disorder can lead to other physical and mental health issues.

How Do You Talk With Your Teen About Their Drug Use?

“A parent has to think about the personality of their child and what they may respond to best,” Simms said. “If you have a timid child, you definitely don’t verbally attack them as it could be traumatic and push them further into being noncommunicative.”

A conversation with a defiant teen will be a different experience. If you want the conversation to be productive, you need to remain calm, make sure you and your parental partner are on the same page, and plan what you’re going to say.

Simms recommended:

  1. Be as calm as possible so that your teen is less likely to shut down communication.
  2. Verbalize empathy and the desire to share with your adolescent what pressures are leading to drug use.
  3. Include your teen in the discussion of expectations while maintaining consistent boundaries. When parents allow their teen to be a part of the solution, it helps in reaching the desired behavior.

Does My Teen Need a Drug Treatment Program?

Your teen will need treatment, and treatment options depend on what kind of drugs they’ve been using, how long they’ve been using them, and how severe their substance use has become. Detox and treatment look different for inhalants, stimulants, opioids, or alcohol abuse.

“First off, if you suspect your teen is using drugs, take them to the pediatrician to make sure that medically and physically, everything’s okay,” Simms said.

Your health care provider can examine your teen for other health problems, order a drug test, and go over your family history.

Your family doctor can also assess the signs, symptoms, and severity of the substance abuse. Then your doctor will work with you through the decision-making process to determine what kind of treatment program your teen will need.

“If it’s mild to somewhat moderate, your teen could probably start with individual therapy,” Simms said. The therapist should have drug addiction experience and can also guide you toward an appropriate group therapy and/or support groups like Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

What if your healthcare provider thinks your child’s drug use is more severe?

“Your teen may need an inpatient program at a treatment center that’s designated for substance abuse,” Simms said. “Hopefully it’s a 30-to-45-day program. After completion of an inpatient program, the best-case scenario is to step down to an intensive outpatient program (IOP), which could be inclusive of group therapy, individual therapy, and family therapy and may include NA/AA meetings.”

The goal is to eventually get your teen to the lowest level of care while maintaining sobriety and while reaching a stable level of day-to-day functioning without the use of substances to cope. This would involve the hope of reaching a point where the teen is involved in outpatient services that may warrant individual therapy, NA/AA meetings, and possibly medication management,” Simms added.

How do I pay for addiction treatment, therapy, and other help?

To start, check your insurance benefits. You can call your insurance representative to find out what your insurance company will cover so you know what to expect moving forward.

In addition, many treatment facilities have intake counselors who can review your benefits and explain what’s available to you, which may include financing options or payment plans.

Simms pointed out that it’s important for parents to know their resources so neither they nor their teen worry about the financial burden. That kind of worrying can cause resentment and conflict, and the child can feel guilt and shame about adding financial strain. The family’s focus needs to be on treatment.

What You Need To Know To Help Your Teen

It can be a shock to find out your teen is using drugs, but there are ways to help and support them while they heal so they can retake control of their lives. Remember, your pediatrician or family doctor is a good starting point and can provide guidance for moving forward.

In addition, keep in mind that most treatment programs have intake counselors who can discuss options with you, whether or not you decide to use their program to help your teen.

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Embark Behavioral Health

Embark Behavioral Health

Embark Behavioral Health is a leading network of outpatient centers and residential programs offering premier mental health treatment for preteens, teens, and young adults. Dedicated to its big mission of reversing the trends of teen and young adult anxiety, depression, and suicide by 2028, Embark offers a robust continuum of care with different levels of service and programming; has a deep legacy of over 25 years serving youths; works with families to adjust treatment in real time to improve results; treats the entire family using an evidence-supported approach; and offers the highest levels of quality care and safety standards. For more information about Embark or its treatment programs, including virtual services, intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), therapeutic day treatment programs, also known as partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), residential treatment, and outdoor therapy, visit