Planning Your Approach
The next steps to helping your child or loved one.
You may be wondering what you should do if you suspect that your child or loved one is abusing prescription or illicit drugs. The Akua Mind & Body community would like you to know that we are here to help and support you and your family. Our substance abuse counselors and specialists are always available, should you need our assistance in making the best choice for the health and wellbeing of your loved ones. Below are some tips on how to approach your son or daughter if you suspect he or she is using drugs or alcohol: Trust your intuition. As mentioned previously in our post, Parents Sixth Sense (link to post), parental intuition should always be trusted: you have been, are, and will always be, the ones that know your child best. Many of the warning signs of substance abuse are similar to those for depression or other mood disorders. Trust your intuition if you suspect a change in mood and behavior that is uncharacteristic of your child. Prepare and Practice. It is best to confront your teen with a well-prepared, possibly even rehearsed, approach. You can judge best the level of responsiveness your child may have with you. You can also expect some evasiveness and initial denial. Prepare yourself for angry outbursts or tears. It may help to practice with role-plays until you feel ready to handle all possible answers and outcomes. It is all right to come out and ask. Sometimes parents feel like the last ones to know the daily goings on of their children, but research on adolescent beliefs and behavior have shown that parents, grandparents, and caregivers are still the strongest influences in an adolescent’s life and the bonds are everlasting. It is all right to come out and ask your child if he or she is using drugs or alcohol. If you do not think your child will respond best to a direct approach, you can try an indirect approach: Start by asking about your child’s friends, if any are using drugs, or alcohol, what your child’s thoughts are about their friend’s use, and if he or she has been pressured to use by those or any other friends. According to Dr. Neil Bernstein, a clinical psychologist, teens often reveal a lot about themselves and their own activities when talking about their friends. By validating your teen’s core group of friends, you gain trust and openness. *If another family member has a unique or special relationship with your child, ask if he or she is willing to help. Listen closely and empathically. Teens are especially sensitive to criticism, particularly from parents and caregivers; criticism can lead to a breakdown in communication. Practice empathic listening, which is focused on hearing the emotions behind words, staying non-judgmental, and offering all your attention. It is ok to repeat what you hear back to your child, for clarity and also to show that you are being supportive and understanding. Offer Immunity. Adolescents are often worried about punishment from parents and caregivers, which can lead to evasive and dishonest communication. Reassure your teen that you are not trying to catch him or her and that they will not be punished. Tell him or her that you are offering support and help if he or she needs it. Emphasize your concern for his or her health and safety. Get specific. Ask specific questions regarding any use your child informs you about: how often, how much, when they started, where they go to use, and from whom/where they get their choice substance. These are the most important questions for assessing the severity of your child’s substance use. Look for signs of use or contraband. If you expect your son or daughter to be evasive or dishonest when you approach him or her, it may be best to gather some evidence of behavior or use before confronting him or her. Keep a journal of days and events that lead to your suspicion. Look for evidence or paraphernalia, which can include: rolling papers, glass pipes or “bowls”, rolled up or folded pieces of paper, shortened or cut straws or rolled scraps of paper, needles, fake IDs, or driver’s licenses belonging to another person that can be “passed” as his or her own. Other signs of drug paraphernalia can be: empty over-the-counter or prescription medication bottles, CD cases, hand mirrors, make-up compacts, and other hard surfaces that may have a residue on the top of or could be used to “sniff” or “snort” crushed pills or other substances. As parents, trying to protect the health and wellbeing of their child, you have the right to search your child’s belongings and property. Contact schools, teachers, coaches, and other significant people in your child’s life. Ask them if they have noticed any troubling behavior or seen any signs that something has changed in your son or daughter’s mood, behavior, or routine. Sometimes other adults and professionals in your child’s life may see warning signs that are not always evident at home. Drug use often leads to isolating behaviors, missing or skipping practices or games, or could include a new group of friends and acquaintances, particularly alumni or older persons. Teachers and coaches may have valuable insight and a good rapport with other students, teammates, or friends of your child. They know of personal conflicts or relationship troubles that could be affecting him or her. Chances are, someone has seen or noticed something, and you will want to find that out. It may be information that can help you create a full picture of what is happening in your child’s personal life and what challenges they may be facing. Find Support. If you suspect your son or daughter may be using alcohol or drugs or struggling with substance abuse, you will need support for him or her and yourself. There are many internet resources for face-to-face and online support. Contact a mental health specialist, look into family and individual counseling, and find local AA, NA, Al-anon and Alateen meetings. Have solutions and answers available if your suspicious are right. *You can also request to speak with the specialists here at Akua Mind & Body to find out more about our services, if you know your child is struggling with substance abuse or has relapsed from previous substance abuse treatment. Get to know our staff at Akua Mind & Body, so you can inform your child that treatment is being offered and it is available to help them through their current struggle.