How Can I Help My At-Risk Teen? / I Know My Teen Is Drinking or Using Drugs

I Know My Teen Is Drinking or Using Drugs

If your teen has been caught using alcohol or drugs, or has been given a substance abuse diagnosis, you may feel overwhelmed and worried about what this means for your teen’s future—and for your family. You should know that you’re not alone.

One study showed that 10 million Americans ages 12 to 29 currently need treatment for substance abuse and addiction.1

The good news is that when substance abuse is identified and treated during the teen years, especially when still mild to moderate in nature, teens go on to live a substance-free life.2 That’s why it’s so important to intervene quickly and get your teen the help she needs right away.

If you’ve discovered that your teen is drinking or using drugs, take these steps for quick and effective action:

  1. Take a moment to reflect on the situation.
    It’s normal to feel overwhelmed—and maybe even a little embarrassed or ashamed—so it’s important to take time to get your bearings before taking action. Keep in mind that substance abuse doesn’t carry with it the same stigma it did in the past. If you can approach it as the health issue it is, rather than a sign of a “bad” kid,3 you will likely find that your community and family will as well.
  2. Educate yourself on use, abuse, and dependence.4
    You’re on the right track by visiting this website. Check out our resource page for organizations that can provide more in-depth information about drugs and alcohol.
  3. Prepare to have a conversation with your teen.
    • Think ahead of time or talk with your significant other and come to a decision on the position you’ll take.
    • Stay calm throughout the process.
    • Gather any evidence you may have.5
  4. Talk with your teen.

    Be specific about what you’ve noticed and what you’re concerned about5—and be sure to focus on finding a solution.6 Your teen will likely deny any wrongdoing, so putting the evidence and any notes on your observations of his behavior or actions in front of him will go a long way in helping him realize you have legitimate concerns.7
  5. Set and revisit rules and consequences.8
    Enforce any consequences you had previously set for your teen. And be very clear about exactly what you will—and will not—tolerate and what the consequences for breaking the rules again will be. Consider letting your teen help you determine some of the details—and write it all down so there’s no confusion in the future. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids offers a sample contract  you can use with your teen.
  6. Monitor your teen more closely for alcohol
    or drug use.

    Download our parent checklist of ways to monitor your teen in different situations.9
  7. Bring in a professional for your teen.

    A professional, such as your family doctor or a substance abuse counselor, can help you assess the extent of your teen’s substance issues and connect you to the appropriate treatment options if needed.10


  8. Get support for yourself and your family.
    It’s important not to overlook the other members of your family who may be affected by your teen’s substance abuse, including siblings who may feel angry, scared, or overwhelmed. Reach out to people you trust, like school counselors, teachers, or friends, and consider joining support groups
    like Al-Anon or Alateen.11