“…it has become clear, that during adolescence…the brain is highly plastic and shaped by experience…Alcohol appears to interfere with the changes in circuitry that occur during learning.” –Dr. Aaron White, Duke University. Keep up to date with local and nationwide coverage of the underage drinking epidemic.
If you’re concerned about your teen’s drug or alcohol use, then it is time to take action. You can never be too safe or intervene too early — even if you believe your teen is just “experimenting.”
Here are 8 step-by-step ways on how to prepare for a drug intervention with your teenager:
1. Make observations. Note changes in your teen’s usual behavior, appearance, personal habits, health, and school work. The teenage years are a physical and emotional roller coaster, so no one change is a definite indication of drug or alcohol use. But if your child has ditched her friends for a new crowd, let her good grades slip, or stopped caring about her looks, these are warning signs that may be cause for concern.
2. Keep track. Note (in your head or in a journal) when and how often your teen breaks the rules or does something suspicious. For example, if your teen comes home way past curfew, jot down the date so you can reference it later. You may also want to keep track of the alcohol and legal drugs in your home. If you know you have exactly 20 prescription pills in your medicine cabinet, it will be easy to tell if some have gone missing. If you suspect your child is taking Rx drugs from your home, lock your medicine cabinet, dispose of pills you are no longer taking.
3. Search for drugs and drug paraphernalia. Some parents are against snooping, while others believe they have the right to look through their children’s things. There is no correct answer, but if you want to collect concrete evidence of your child’s drug use before your intervention, here are some good places to look: dresser drawers, desk drawers, backpacks, the glove compartment of the car, the back of closets, corners of bed sheets, under the mattress or bed, small boxes, books/bookcases, makeup cases, over-the-counter medicine bottles and empty candy wrappers.
Remember: If you do find drugs in your child’s room or car, you will be accused of invading your teen’s privacy. Be prepared to defend your actions.
4. Talk with your spouse/partner. If your teen’s other parent or caregiver does not share the same beliefs and values that you do when it comes to drugs, you will certainly hear about it from your kid. So get on the same page as your spouse or partner before you intervene with your child. “Getting on the same page” doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing - it means committing to present a united front, even if the two of you disagree on the issue.
Remember: This is a stressful situation for both you and your spouse, and you will need one another’s support. Do not blame your partner for your teen’s drug or alcohol use, or allow him/her to blame you. Your teen’s problem is no one’s fault, but you and partner do need to work together to deal with it.
5. Recognize the significance of addiction in your family. For some, trying drugs or alcohol once or twice may just be part of the teen experience. But if there is a history of addiction in your family, your child is much more likely than other kids to become addicted.
6. Understand this serious risk and think about how you are going to explain this to your child in a way that will make him listen.
7. Set a desired outcome for your intervention. The “drug talk” is actually not one talk - it’s a series of conversations. Chances are, your first intervention will not resolve all problems - and that’s okay. But if you set a goal (even a small one) before you start talking, you will know where you want your conversation to ultimately lead. Would you like your teen to see a therapist? Stop binge drinking at parties? Obey curfew? Come up with a specific purpose for your intervention, and then work toward achieving it.
Remember: Don’t set your expectations too high. Your teen may not even admit to drug use the first time you intervene, let alone pledge to stop using or get help. Set reasonable goals, and realize that just expressing to your teen that you don’t want him using drugs or drinking is a small triumph.
8. Prepare yourself for your teen’s reaction. Your teen will not be happy that you’re approaching him about his drug or alcohol use. That’s to be expected. What you might not expect is to be called a liar, hypocrite or snoop. Think about how you will handle these accusations if they come up.
You don’t need hard evidence to begin the conversation - your intuition telling you something is wrong is enough. But having past incidents or observations to reference in your conversation will help you encourage your teen to tell the truth about her drug or alcohol use.
This is an excerpt from our Intervention eBook. For information on what to do if your child is drinking or using drugs download our Intervention eBook or read articles on Time To Act.