According to the 2022 study, Monitoring the Future (1):
8.3% of eighth graders,
19.5% of 10th graders,
and 30.7% of 12th graders reported using cannabis in the past year.
4.9% of eighth graders,
5.7% of 10th graders,
and 8.0% of 12th graders reported using cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, and nonmedical use of prescription drugs in the past year.
If you’ve discovered that your child has been experimenting with drugs, remember, this is the time for teenagers to upset the apple cart.
This might be a controversial opinion, but adolescent years are all about exploring, pushing boundaries, and experimenting - whether we adults like it or not.
However, setting realistic expectations for your teenager and considering what they are experiencing (or have experienced in their life) that’s led to choosing drugs as a coping mechanism can make an impact stronger than any consequence.
Here are 10 things to consider when you find out your teenager is using drugs.
1. Before you confront them - work out.
You’re angry, scared, and frustrated - I get it. But don’t blast them the moment you discover they’ve been using. Breathe, take a lap around the block, or do some cardio before you talk to them to release the chemicals that are causing you to be upset.
2. Consider what’s going on in their life before you speak to them.
Ask yourself these questions first:
Has my child experienced trauma?
What is changing in their lives?
A recent upheaval in a teenager's life like divorce, a sibling recently leaving home to attend college, or parents fighting over financial stress, can significantly impact your child. There could be a reason beyond peer pressure for this new coping mechanism.
3. First and foremost, listen.
A lot of people listen to talk. Don’t. Let them talk and really listen. Next, tell them you’re trying to understand what’s going on.
Ask them why. And if they don’t have an answer, that’s okay. They might be feeling pressure from peers, be embarrassed, or simply get defensive and not want to talk about it.
Think about how you would address a coworker. You wouldn’t approach this conversation yelling and accusing. Instead, invite them to talk when they’re ready but do let them know that you’re concerned.
4. Don’t shame them.
This is a time for validating their experience and being compassionate. Be aware of the words you use during an open dialog and resist the urge to be accusatory or compare them to a drug addict.
5. Don’t expect an adult response from a teenager.
It’s unrealistic for adults to expect teenagers to compartmentalize all the stressors that life’s been throwing their way. Think about what the last three years have presented in terms of anxiety and derailing any sense of normalcy for our teens.
While we expect our teenagers to “know better,” it’s crucial for parents and caregivers to step back.
Before you have a conversation about drug use, think back to when you were a teenager. Get down on their level by way of your own past and think about what you would have wanted to hear from your parent/trusted adult.
6. How to respond when they say, “It’s legal.”
The use of marijuana is a big piece in the lives of teens today. Some teenagers will justify using marijuana because it can be used for medical purposes, and they’re correct. But just like alcohol, you have to be 21 or older in Illinois to use any kind of cannabis, medical or recreational.
Yet the reality is, that it is legal, easy to get, and comes in a variety of ways to consume.
Long gone are the days of only smoking a rolled joint or using a bong. Today, teens can vape, eat edibles, drink beverages, and apply oils directly to their skin.
Talk to your teenager about why they are using weed as a coping mechanism and consider they have struggled through the pandemic which presented a myriad of other stressors. Then, let them know the values of your household and why you don’t want them to use weed to escape.
7. Make your rules clear and what those expectations mean to you.
Are your house rules publicly known to your child? Sometimes we assume as parents, but clearly laying out the rules is key to setting expectations with your children.
Start with safety.
A lot of drugs can be laced with fentanyl which can cause immediate overdose.
You can get addicted to the way you feel, but that’s a slippery slope to harder drugs.
Talk about addiction and how it can impact them. For example, driving while impaired. It’s hard to comprehend when you’re a teenager, but explain that one mistake can change the course of their life forever.
8. Explain the natural consequences of their behavior
What do they love? If it’s sports, explain that they have the risk of losing playing time and the connection they have with fellow teammates. Share the legal ramifications of being caught at school. The police are involved, they can be expelled or suspended and kicked off any team or organization they are involved in.
9. When everyone is calm, have a talk about what’s really going on
Despite all the awareness campaigns, there’s still a stigma around mental health. So you need to gently find out what’s underneath the drug use.
Questions to ask your teen:
How is your emotional well-being?
Is there anything I can do to empower or help you?
Do you feel like you want to hurt yourself and instead, you’re using drugs as an alternative?
10. Get them outside help.
Many teenagers don’t want to confide in a family member and while seeking help can be scary and overwhelming, you can let your teenager know they’re not alone. Counselors are there to offer a safe, nonjudgmental, and comfortable place where they can feel heard and validated.
Have a plan of action with your teenager and try to keep communication open. Call out when they’re doing a great job. We get so caught up as parents and caregivers to curb the “bad” behaviors. Make sure they are seen and heard during their recovery time.
Finally, don’t wait until something happens.
The sooner you start talking and educating your child about drug use, the better. Be proactive instead of reactive and establish an environment of openness with your child in the event that they start using. Encourage your teenager to explore hobbies and interests that get them focused on positive results.
About the Author:
Katie Butusov is a therapist at Authentic Growth Wellness Group in Hinsdale and Glen Ellyn, Illinois.
Specializing in empowering parents to be able to help and support their teens, Katie understands that seeking help can be scary and overwhelming.
“You’re not alone! I am here to offer a safe, nonjudgmental, and comfortable place where you can feel heard and validated.
I believe that building strong foundations and relationships with people is imperative to the growth and healing of an individual’s mind and soul. I bring energy, compassion, and even a little humor to my work with clients, to create a collaborative environment that you can be comfortable and yourself in.”
Katie’s specialties include adolescents and couples, helping to improve and strengthen vital skills such as:
⭐️ emotion regulation
⭐️ effective communication
Katie is also a USMC Veteran who served our country in the Marine Corps for 12 years, comes from a military family, and is a devoted mom to her teenager. Read more about Katie and Authentic Growth Wellness Group at authenticgrowthwellness.com
1. National Institute on Drug Abuse, Monitoring the Future, 2022.