I Think My Child is Using Drugs

I Think My Child is Using Drugs

Table of Contents


Do You Think Your Child is Using Drugs?

Has it Turned into a Substance Abuse Disorder?

How Do You Help Your Child?

This article will provide advice and guidance based on our experience in treating addiction

You aren’t alone, others have been in your shoes.

What is a Substance Use Disorder?

Substance use disorder is a disease that affects a person’s brain and behavior when they engage in prolonged substance abuse and no longer have control over their usage. The way that addiction occurs is that substances activate the brain’s reward systems, which produce feelings of pleasure, euphoria, or “highness.”

The rewards that people feel from taking substances are so intense that people will continue to use despite negative consequences. Repeated substance use will cause people to have cravings towards the drug because the body has now adapted to the presence of the drug and will not function the same without it. While some people are more susceptible to substance use disorders than others, almost everyone is at risk of developing a substance use disorder if they abuse substances.

Signs Your Child is Using Drugs

What are the signs that my child might be struggling with a substance use disorder?

Behavioral Changes

Youth who are struggling with substance use disorders will display various behavioral changes. Paying attention to your child’s behavior is vital in recognizing the signs that they might be struggling with addiction. Some of the behavioral changes that you may notice in your child are:

Abandoning commitments

Aggressive behavior

Having new friends

Inability to pay attention

Increase in risky behavior

Lack of motivation

Losing old friends/ignoring relationships

Loss of interest in hobbies


Mental health problems such as depression

Mood swings

Poor academic performance

Spending more time alone

Stealing money to purchase substances

Physical Changes

Apart from changes in your child’s behavior, there are physical changes that you might notice that would indicate substance abuse.1

Physical indicators include:

Changes in appetite/disordered eating

Illness or disease as a result of substance use

Smoking can lead to respiratory issues

Injecting drugs can lead to limb damage and damaged veins/arteries

Drinking can lead to liver problems

Problems with sleeping (insomnia, disrupted sleep cycle, irregular sleep schedule)

Change in appearance

Lack of proper hygiene

Lack of interest in clothing, grooming

Appearing tired

Red eyes, swollen eyes, constricted or dilated pupils

Unexplained injuries

Abrupt weight changes

Altered appearance of skin, hair, teeth, and nails

Memory loss

Slurred speech

Withdrawal Symptoms







It is essential to identify the signs that your child might be struggling with a substance abuse addiction early to prevent the problem from getting worse. Left untreated, substance abuse disorders can create further health problems, behavioral problems, social issues and can potentially end in an overdose or death.

Why is My Child Using Drugs?

No parent wants to see their child struggling with a substance use disorder. Both prescription drugs and illicit substances can cause much harm, and any parent would be worried about seeing their child misusing drugs. As a parent, you might feel guilty and wonder why your child started using the drugs. Did you not do enough as a parent? Is there something missing in their life?

While these are valid fears, there are many reasons that a child might choose to try drugs, and most of these reasons will be out of your control. That being said, the best way to avoid your child engaging in substance use is to build a strong and honest relationship with your child.

It is important that your child feels like they can talk to you about anything that is going on in their lives. It is natural for children to want to task risks as their impulse controls are not fully developed.

These are some of the reasons that your child might choose to try alcohol or drugs:


There is a family history of drug or alcohol use, which puts your child at a higher risk of experimenting with drugs and developing a substance use disorder.2 If you do have a family history of substance use disorders, you should discuss this with your child just like you would with any other illness or disease and explain to them how they might be at risk and why they should be especially careful when engaging in behavior or substances that can be addictive.

You should discuss with your child the effect that drugs can have on your health and your life, and warn them about the impact of substance use disorders.

Mental Health Issues

If your child has experienced trauma, is a survivor of abuse or struggles with mental health issues such as anxiety or depression, they might turn to substances to help them to cope with their problems.2 If your child struggles with mental health issues, you should consider seeking professional help for them and work on other coping strategies and healthy behaviors to help process what they are going through. Counseling and therapy might be helpful for children struggling with mental health issues.

Peer Influence

Many children will see other kids experimenting with alcohol and drugs, or they see it on television and in movies, and they want to try it out to fit in.2 They might see family or friends using and wonder what it is like. If you think that your child might be exposed to negative influences, try to communicate with your child about it and help them to find positive activities and behaviors that they might enjoy doing either alone or with friends. Becoming too overprotective and strict as a result of peer influence can have the opposite effect on children, so it is important to make your child feel like they can trust and confide in you.

Negative Feelings

Your child might simply be bored, unhappy, or going through a life transition and might turn to substance use as a way to deal with those negative emotions and feelings.2 An inability to deal with negative emotions healthily may lead your child to turn to other venues such as drug use to cope with their feelings. If your child is going through a transition period or is struggling with negative emotions, try to communicate as best as you can with your child and work on healthy coping mechanisms. Try to create healthy activities for your child to do daily, such as sports, art, music, after-school activities, and cooking.

How Many Children in the US are Using Drugs?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2017, high school students reported having tried the following drugs at least once:3


Of those who have tried alcohol at some point, 29.8% reported currently using alcohol, 19.8% reported using marijuana currently, and 8.8% of students reported that they smoke cigarettes.3

While electronic vape products are a somewhat newer form of substance that young people use, a staggering 42.2% of high school students have reported trying e-cigarettes or vape products while 13.2% reported current use of vape products.3

I Think My Child is Using Drugs – What Do I Do?

If you suspect that your child is using substances and you have already tried to talk to them, but they deny it, it might be worth having a look in their bedroom to see if they are hiding any alcohol or drugs.

However, looking through your child’s private belongings is an invasion of privacy and should be reserved as a last resort after trying to ask your child about it directly. It is much better for your child to confide in you and tell you the truth than to break their trust and look through their things. But that’s not always possible. Try every way you can think of to get them to talk to you before taking the big step of searching through your child’s belonging.

Have you:

  1. Spoken to your child several times
  2. Asked family members to talk to them
  3. Spoken to you child’s friend
  4. Written your concerns in a letter to your child

Once you have exhausted all other avenues, then it might be appropriate to try to find any hidden substances.

If you do this, you should prepare for how you are going to bring it up to your child in a way that reduces anger. You should also write down your argument for searching for drugs. Confronting your child after searching for and potentially finding substances in their room can lead to tense and emotional conversations. You need to prepare to present your case calmly during a sensitive time. You can also try to approach the subject lightly.

You should always assure your child that you love them and are not trying to make them feel isolated.

Where are Drugs Typically Hidden?

Every child will have different spots where they hide things such as alcohol and drugs. Typically, children will try to hide these things in their bedroom. Some common places where you might find alcohol or drugs are:

Writing utensils such as highlighters or pens that can conceal drugs

Empty cans and wrappers

Candy and mint or lozenge containers

Lipstick and lip balm tubes, deodorant sticks, hair product bottles, and any other cosmetic or makeup item that can be emptied out

Vehicles: teenagers with their own cars will often hide alcohol or drugs in their cars

Taped behind posters and images that hang on the wall or all displayed

In hollowed-out books, between the pages, or taped inside the cover of a book

In between mattresses

In stuffed animals

Inside belt buckles

Inside toilet tank lids or bathroom vents

Inside plant pots

Buried in the back yard

Advice for Tough Conversations About Substance Abuse

Talking to your child about their substance use is a difficult task. Someone struggling with a substance use disorder might not want to be questioned and confronted about their use. Your child will likely know that they have engaged in risky and harmful behavior and will be unlikely to want to admit what they have done for fear of getting in trouble. The first step to opening up a conversation with your child about their potential substance use is to set the stage.4


If your child is under the influence of a substance, wait until they are no longer under the influence before having any conversations about their behavior. People can act erratically, aggressively, defensively, and emotionally when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Sit down with your child. Standing over them might make them feel cornered and defensive, so try to get on the same level as your child, literally.

Stay calm, and try to put your anger, frustration, and panic aside. It can be hard to communicate with your child if you are angry and frustrated. The best communication happens when both parties are calm and willing to be honest.

Set aside some time to talk in private so that you are not interrupted, and your child feels safe enough to open up to you.

Opening Up the Conversation

Stay calm throughout the conversation.

Focus on the situation at hand and how to improve it, help your child, and move forward.

Don’t dwell on what has already happened.

Try not to yell or raise your voice as your child can become defensive and scared.

Show your child you are relaxed by paying attention to your posture and gestures; don’t point fingers or cross your arms.

Listen to your child rather than lecturing them.

Understand where your child is coming from and see things from their point of view. It is likely that their substance use is a response to a problem in their life that needs addressing. Focus on helping them through whatever they are experiencing rather than reprimanding them.

Keep an open mind and try not to jump to conclusions.

Tips for Communication

Next Steps

Set clear consequences: your child needs to understand that there are consequences to your behavior. This will help to deter them from continuing to abuse alcohol or drugs.

Set out clear rules going forward about your child’s behaviors, expectations at home, and school and curfews, but remember that being too strict and overbearing can have the opposite effect on children and can make them act out.

If you suspect that your child is still lying about their substance use, consider assuring them that they won’t get in trouble if they tell you the whole truth to get the full picture about what is going on. Substance use can be very dangerous, and it is more important to be aware of your child’s behavior to make sure that they are safe and healthy than to punish them.

Reward honesty

Set up small goals that are accomplishable and support your child in dealing with substance use or finding the necessary treatment if they are suffering from a substance use disorder.

Monitor your child’s behavior going forward and check in with them periodically about how they are feeling and what they are going through.

If your child still struggles with addiction after this intervention, contact an addiction treatment center where professionals can help you and your child.

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