Photo by GRAS GRÜN on Unsplash
Photo by GRAS GRÜN on Unsplash

How To Approach Teens About Drugs


Over the past several months we’ve noticed some behavior and personality changes in our 15-year-old son and are concerned that he may be using drugs.  How can we know if there’s a problem?  Should we say something to him?


One of the biggest fears of any parent is that their child may start experimenting with drugs or alcohol.  Know that the best drug prevention is parents who spend quality time with their kids, know their friends, communicate with their friend’s parents and are actively involved in their kids’ lives.  It’s much harder for kids to hide drug and alcohol use from involved parents.

How do you know if there’s a problem?  There are obvious signs such as bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils or finding empty alcohol containers or evidence of drug paraphernalia such as pipes or rolling papers.

There are also the more subtle signs such as changes in personality, increased moodiness, increased hostility and defensiveness.  While these can be common in teens, if those changes are sustained or worsen you have reason to be more concerned.

Also look for decreased social interaction, changes in friends, increased secrecy about what they’re doing, new use of eye drops (to help bloodshot eyes) or breath mints (to cover the smell of alcohol) or the increased use of cologne, a decrease in their grades at school or increased absences.

If there are reasons to be concerned your next step is to talk with him.  It’s important that you do this as a couple—both of you need to be on the same page.  Know what you’re going to say, practice the conversation, know how you’re going to respond if he gets defensive and ask some trusted friends to cover you in prayer.

Make sure you already have in mind what some “next steps” might be including changes in his cell-phone usage, computer privileges, curfew and amount of time hanging out with friends.  In some cases parents have their kids get random drug tests.  If you need to set new rules and consequences make sure that they are reasonable and enforceable.

What do you say to him?  Start by letting him know that you love him and want what’s best for him, give him specific reasons why you are concerned and then ask him if he’s been using drugs or alcohol.  Don’t accuse him—simply ask him, and then listen to him and be ready to ask some clarifying questions.  Don’t be surprised if he gets defensive, appears insulted or overreacts.  Most teens are private about their lives so that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s guilty.

I remember when we talked with one of our sons about our concerns regarding his use of alcohol he said, “You don’t trust me.”  I responded by saying, “No, we trust your good intentions. We just don’t trust adolescence.”

Experimentation or casual use can easily turn into abuse, dependence and addiction.

Know that this may be the first of several conversations, but it is an essential starting point.   If there isn’t a problem he’ll be reminded of your love and concern.  If there is a problem the sooner you know the better.

Gary J. Oliver, ThM, PhD
Executive Director at Center for Healthy Relationships | + posts

Dr. Oliver is the Executive Director of The Center for Healthy Relationships, and professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University.  He has authored over 20 books and more than 350 professional and popular articles.  Dr. Oliver has over 40 years’ experience as a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage  & Family Therapist and Spiritual Director.  He leads seminars & workshops both nationally and internationally on a variety of counseling-related issues, healthy relationships as well as Emotional & Relational Intelligence (ERI).

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