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What if my child is already using drugs or alcohol?

Dealing with a teen who has a drug or alcohol problem is one of the most difficult situations a parent can face.

Try to remember that there is help — and hope.

Find more important resources for parents with children who are using at:
Find help — SAMHSA: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Start talking. Keep talking.

We understand that talking with your teen about alcohol and drug use isn’t easy. If you are struggling to start a conversation about substance use with your child, you aren’t alone.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that you are your child’s most valuable resource when it comes to preventing substance use. Research backs it up: teens whose parents talk to them often about substance use are less likely to use drugs or drink alcohol.

Just remember, there is help. Here are some basic tips to get you started:

Find “teaching moments” in your everyday life.

Start a conversation about substance use when you and your child see a character on a TV show or in a movie drinking alcohol or using drugs.

    • Give your child examples of drug and alcohol use that hit close to home. If you know that your child’s classmate was caught using drugs, bring it up with him right away. Talk about the consequences. Ask your child how he feels about the situation.
    • Talk about celebrities or athletes who are having drug or alcohol problems. This is a great way to start a conversation with a teen. For example, you can ask your child what he thinks about Lindsay Lohan’s struggles with substance use.

Ask questions. Encourage your child to ask them, too.

  • Ask open-ended questions that will get your child talking about what she knows and how she feels about drug and alcohol use. For example, “Is there anything you’d like to ask me about when it comes to drugs and alcohol?” Try not to ask questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no.
  • Tell your child that you will do your best to answer any questions she has, and that you want to know what’s on her mind.
  • If you don’t know the answer to a question your child asks, don’t panic! Use the moment as an opportunity to find out the answer together.
  • Be prepared to deal with tough questions. Parents are often thrown by questions like, “Have you ever done drugs?” or “But I see you drink alcohol, so why can’t I?” Think about how to answer questions like these in advance.

Respect your child.

  • Make sure your child has your attention. Turn off the television and put away your cell phone.
  • Choose a time and a place that’s comfortable for your child to talk.
  • Listen to your child. Let him talk, and respond to what he says. Remember not to “talk at” him or make him feel judged.

Make clear rules.

  • Tell your child that drug or alcohol use won’t be tolerated.
  • Explain to your child that you are making rules to keep her safe.
  • Be clear about the consequences of breaking the rules in advance.
  • Acknowledge when your child is following the rules by praising her.

Teach your child how to say “no.”

  • Role-play with your child. Set up a situation where your child is at a party and someone offers him drugs or alcohol. Help him practice saying “no.”
  • Give your child resources that give examples of different ways to turn down drugs or alcohol.
  • Talk with your child about peer pressure.

Remember, the first conversation you have with your child should never be the last. Once you’ve started talking, it’s your job to make sure you keep talking.

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