What To Do When Your Kid Says They’ve Tried Drugs

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What should you do if your teen suddenly informs you that they’ve “tried” alcohol or drugs? You definitely need to take this seriously, but be very careful about your initial response. This earth-shattering admission might be nothing more than a cryptic plea for guidance.

I would never advise any mentor to take a confession like this lightly, but I am happy to offer a ray of light for those who’ve just had a bomb like this dropped on them. Some teens would rather have their parents think that they’ve “tried” drugs, than risk exposing their own indecisiveness. Crazy, maybe, but true. Somewhere amongst the quest for independence, the struggle for autonomy, the confusion of immaturity and flux of evolving family roles, kids become a little squeamish about asking Daddy for advice. In this mixed up mindset, “I tried it”, can seem preferable to “I’m thinking about trying it.”

“With a little technique, you can probe for truth, offer some very poignant guidance, and even improve rapport with your teen.” – Author’s Note

I’ve followed more than a few friends through this scenario. In several cases, it later turned out to be nothing more than a sly probing attempt on the part of the teen. What they really meant to say was, “This is a very real issue for me right now. I feel that it’s my choice to make, but I’d like your input.”

Keep this context in mind, before you respond. Suppress the adrenaline and think “strategy”. Rather than bluntly tell them how you think, or how they should think, use a little verbal judo. The ninja-communicator in you might say something like:

“I really respect the fact that you chose to talk about this. You can probably guess how I feel about it. I’m more interested in how you feel. Tell me:”

  • In general, how do feel about people who (drink underage or use drugs etc.)?
  • What are you hoping drugs will do for your life that you don’t have now?
  • It’s illegal. Are you worried about getting caught?
  • Every addict/alcoholic started with one try. Are you scared of getting addicted?
  • We all have people who look up to us, or depend upon us. How would (fill in the blank) feel if they knew about your decision?

Each of these questions gives a gentle nudge in the right direction, while providing you with some good leads for follow-up topics. You can even begin to vet out the voracity of their statement. So, following your gentle path of persuasion, you could now ask things like:

  • I’ve never tried it myself (or) I hear it’s a lot different these days, how exactly did you do it?
  • It’s different for everyone right? What exactly did it feel like?
  • I never really thought about you doing that, are most kids doing that these days?
  • You’re so young. Is it really that easy to get?
  • How did you feel about yourself after you did it? Can you see yourself doing it again?

As a parent, my first instinct might not be as gentle as what I’ve suggested above. But we need to avoid shutting them down until we know more about the situation. Teens LOVE expressing themselves; even more so when they feel that their insight is valued. If they’ve breached the topic, your enticing inquiries will likely blow it wide open. By simply asking a few gentle questions, you’ve gathered yourself some valuable Intel. This intel will ultimately guide your next move. Whatever that move is, it will be built upon a solid foundation.

If you’re left with serious suspicions of drug use, you’re going to need to jump on it as quickly and thoroughly as possible. As bad as drug use is, teen drug use is particularly devastating to young futures. For more on dealing with these issues, please visit our Responding to Drug Use Page.

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