When You Have Concerns

Who this is for:
This brochure is written for parents and caregivers of teens in the 14-18 year old age range. This brochure addresses the concerns that parents have about their teen’s use of alcohol and other drugs and gives suggestions for identifying and responding to their teen’s stage of substance use.

What’s in this resource:

How to access this resource:


What are the Signs?

Most young people who use alcohol and other drugs do so only on an occasional basis. However, if you feel your child is showing critical changes in emotions or behaviour, these maybe signs of regular or problem drug use.

Be careful not to jump to conclusions since many of these changes can also be signs of normal adolescence or signs of other kinds of problems.

Your child may:

  • be less caring and less involved at home
  • be cranky, more difficult to get along with, or even aggressive
  • be moody
  • be secretive and uncooperative
  • be withdrawn, depressed
  • have difficulty sleeping or sleep long hours into the morning
  • skip classes at school
  • get increasingly poorer grades
  • need more money (you may notice money is missing) or become aggressive about asking for money
  • lose one or more jobs
  • change friends, and not be willing to bring them home or talk about them
  • have trouble concentrating and paying attention
  • spend more time in his or her room or away from home
  • change interests and hobbies
  • receive late night calls or other phone calls from people you don’t know


Stage One: “I just tried it.”

The experimental stage of any drug use – tobacco, a-lcohol or another drug – lasts only for a few tries. After that the young person has learned the effects of the drug and has made a decision to use it again or not. Most young adolescents who try a drug out of curiosity or immediate peer pressure find they do not like the effects and will not keep using it. In the case of alcohol, many will delay using it until they are older. The “buddy system” can help your children refuse offers of a drug. Having a depend¬able friend can help them stand up to peer pressure in situations where their peers are smoking, drinking or using other drugs.

When children have more than one set of friends for example, from a sports team or cultural group in addition to school friends, they will have an alternative group to turn to for support if one set of peers starts to get involved with drugs.

How do I respond?

  • If you find your children have tried using tobacco, alcohol or another drug, let them know how glad you are they made the choice to not continue to use it. Talk about ways of refusing the drug when the situation comes up again – as it most likely will.
  • Once more state your family standards and expectations, letting your children know that there will be consequences for further use of the drug if they go in that direction.
  • State again your concerns about your children’s health and safety and that there are risks for them associated with any drug use.


Stage Two: “I just use a little – it’s no big deal”

At this stage, adolescents are no longer struggling with whether or not to use tobacco, alcohol or another drug. They are choosing to use it in certain situations – most likely with friends – but limiting it to occasional use. This is a tough stage in which to make a change, because they do not easily recognize the harmful consequences or risks associated with using. Their use is not costing a lot of money, it has social rewards among their friends and use of the drug may actually be enjoyable for them.

Some young people are very insistent in denying their drug use and very clever in covering it up. Others tend to leave little tell-tale signs (such as cigarettes, coming home drunk, cigarette wrapping papers for marijuana) as if they want their parents to detect their drug use and do something about it.

How do I respond?

  • Be calm but forceful, letting your children know that you do not find their behaviour acceptable. Because you love them and are concerned about their safety and well being you will do what you can to influence their decision about drug use.
  • Let your children know that although they may not see the harm or risks associated with ­their drug use, you are well informed about the risks for physical, social and emotional harm associated with the use of alcohol, tobacco or another drug, at this stage of their lives.
  • Don’t support their drug use in any way – particularly in providing money that will go buy cigarettes, alcohol or another drug. ¬Don’t rescue your children from the effects of their behaviour, such as covering up for their school absences. However, let them know that the bottom line is that you will help them out if their safety is a concern.
  • Keep an eye on your children’s school attendance and each report card. Declining school performance is often a sign of increasing drug use. Don’t be afraid to call the school principal or guidance department and talk about your concerns.
  • Maintain your house rules regarding curfews, checking in and doing chores, with clear consequences for breaking these. If you see actual evidence of drug use, give consequences that are meaningful, such as grounding them for a number of days or not letting them drive the family car.
  • Focus on changing obvious negative behaviour, such as swearing or rudeness, rather than the drug use which your children may deny
  • Do not let a consequence or your feelings of anger or frustration with your children’s behaviour interfere with their participation in a family outing or event. It is important to keep your children involved in positive family activities.
  • Re-examine your relationship with your children, apart from their drug use. Are you giving enough responsibility? Too much? Is there enough independence or too much? Are you giving positive feed¬back about their good points or have you become so anxious that you are just focusing on -negative behaviours? Make a point of communicating with your children every day about easy topics (the ones that don’t lead to arguments)!
  •  Make a point of reviewing the positive aspects of your children, your parenting abilities and your relationships.


Stage Three: “It’s my life and I’ll use when I want. You’re the one with the problem.”

At this point, the drug use is playing a very important role in helping young people cope with their feelings. They have become caught up in both their problems and the drugs. Helping them to recognize the extent of their involvement with drugs will likely require professional help. You may see evidence of other activities often associated with drug use, such as stealing or coming and going without explanation at all hours of the day or night. There may be evidence of selling drugs, such as late night phone calls and sudden departures from home. There may be signs of other emotional problems such as depression or extreme anger and aggression that also require professional intervention.

How do I respond?

  • Remember, you are not alone. There are other parents in similar situations, people who may be from the same background ¬as you, people who share your values, peop¬le who have tried to be good parents – just as you have. Feelings of anger and guilt are normal in this situation.
  • It is natural to want to make a change quickly in this situation, to “cure” your child of drug abuse. However, change is something that takes a long time and involves hard honest work on the part of every family member. Prepare yourself for small steps of progress, some backsliding and continuing to work through this problem for long-term positive change.
  • Start with yourself. When you cannot directly influence your child’s choices, make a positive change in your own behaviour. Work on things like keeping your temper, doing something nice for yourself, doing an activity with another child in your home (who sometimes gets lost in all the attention being paid to the child causing problems).
  • Look for help. There are support groups, mental health and addictions professionals who have experience with young people and their families. Keep looking until you find one that you are comfortable with and that will help your family.

As we know… The job of parenting is a tough one, and it is one that never stops. But when we focus on our family’s strengths, and appreciate each child’s unique contribution, it can be the most rewarding job of all!

What to do if your son/daughter comes home drunk or stoned

What to do That Night

  •  Do try to remain cool and calm.
  •  Do talk to them and try to find out what they have taken.
  •  Do call a doctor or take them to the nearest hospital emergency department if they are seriously ill.
  • Do tell them “We will talk about this tomorrow”.
  • Do check them often during the night if they are in a condition to be sent to bed.
  • Do not shout at, accuse or hurt them in any way. All this is quite useless and harmful when they are in this condition.


What to do the Next Day

  •  Do talk to them immediately.
  •  Do have them assume responsibility for their actions including clean up.
  •  Do let them know you will not accept their behaviour and you will be watching them closely in the future.
  •  Do set up guidelines for behaviour with your child as well as curfews for going out with friends.  Let them know you expect them to follow these guidelines.
  •  Do talk with them about other activities and choices, so they can avoid taking drugs.
  •  Do not have your discussion with them if you are too angry to talk about it without losing your temper. Wait until you can discuss it calmly. No one gains anything from angry words.