I have had some moms and dads ask me how I would react if one of my (underage) kids were using drugs or drinking, based on journeying down the path of addiction with my eldest son. So, I thought I would write about the subject since I know so many parents of middle and high school-age kids worry about what they would do if they found out their child was drinking/using.
While I have learned a lot about teens and substance use/abuse, parenting an addict, and heck...parenting in general over the past five years, the most important thing I have come to understand is I cannot be naïve to the idea this issue could never come up again under our roof.
That being said, this is how I would approach the problem (hindsight being 20/20) if I discovered one of my kids were using drugs/drinking:
1. Remain calm (which would be the first, and biggest challenge). Discuss whatever the circumstances are with Tom so we could come up with a plan we can agree on in order to approach the child in question. Being on the same page will be key.
2. "The Plan" would include gathering evidence (ie: pharaphenalia, social media images if applicable, list of behaviors noticed/friends that have changed if applicable, information off of their phone, possible changes in academics). Come up with a time, as soon as possible, to talk with child when he/she is sober. Not an interrogation, but a serious conversation. If your child shows up drunk or high at home there will be no reasoning or comprehension therefore, no point in attempting to discuss the situation until you can get reliable (coherent) information (or at least as accurate as your child will give you anyway).
I would probably believe half of what he/she told me....Tom would likely not believe a word. Based on the information received, and on how much evidence we have as to how far into trouble this kiddo might be, I would immediately call our insurance company and get a list of local treatment facilities to have a substance use evaluation. Then, after calling around and getting information about their programs, I would set an appointment as soon as possible. Once we have a recommendation in place, we would continue to make plans.
What I would most need to remember in the situation is I love my child very much, and want to protect him/her from potential hazards of use, however, actions speak louder than words (just like in any other situation life presents us with). And even if I truly want to believe this may be a "first time" offense or a "rarely happens mom" situation, realistically I know I am only getting about half of the truth. It will be a balance of trying not to overreact, while letting the child know his/her use is not something our family will tolerate. I might be tempted to give the benefit of the doubt and impose consequences appropriate to a first offense (kid gets caught smoking pot = fewer, more closely monitored social privileges, loss of phone...whatever Tom and I might deem is fair) but, I will be on high alert to conversations, behavior, and attitude developments from that point on. Both eyes open.
I know if there is trouble, it won't take long to show up.
If there are multiple episodes or a significant event (child comes home puking his/her guts out on more than one occasion, child is caught using/drinking alone, room search uncovers multitude of substances or paraphernalia such as spoons/needles/synthetic marijuana (K2) packages, legal issues and/or truancy) I wouldn't hesitate to get an evaluation done. The age of first use, the intensity of drugs being taken, as well as the amount and method injested, and number of times used all play a part in how quickly addiction can develop.
The other thing I would remember in this situation is it is a family problem. What I mean by this is, if your child is messing with drinking or drugs on a regular basis, there is likely a bigger issue going on. The way you approach the situation is going to be crucial to how successful the child is at changing course. Yes, a lot of it will come down to his or her own personal decision making but, if parents and siblings are loving, supportive, encouraging... not blaming, shaming and enabling then there is greater chance to turn things around.
I believe the longer we can keep our kids from trying alcohol or drugs the better shot they have of not getting caught in the web of addiction. Fully realizing I cannot keep my kids in a box, we have taken steps as parents to help our kids learn to cope with inevitable life stresses and challenges in relationships. Adolescence is a difficult time in life, there can be a great deal of pressure from many sources (academics, sports, extracirriculars, parents, friends, self-imposed, body/hormone/psychological changes...) so while our job as parents is to protect and prepare our kids, it is also to model respect, unconditional love and regard for them as well.
Our children have been brought into the world through us, not to serve our own agenda, but to live out their own unique destiny with us as their guides.
I work hard as my kid's mom to make solid, honest connections with them everyday. I try to limit my distractions (which is no easy task), and to make hearing them a priority. We make every effort to eat together each night and ask one another about their day.
One of the other choices Tom and I made several years ago, which I believe has helped and will continue to be the right choice, was to put the kibosh on sleepovers. There are so many reasons, I could write an entire post about it (and maybe I will). But, one of the main reasons, is because I want my kids in their own beds at night. Then I can never blame another parent if my child was at their home using. In addition, I don't go to bed unless all kids (underage, living under our roof) are home for the night, and I won't go to bed later than midnight. My mom always told me, "nothing good ever happens after midnight", and she was right (not that I would have told her that while I was a teenager).
The one other thing I want to say about teens and substance abuse is this: while I am all for removing the stigma and shame of addiction, I think the label "addict" for a young person is very hard to digest and can sometimes become more defining than one would like. It isn't a term I would quickly use on someone, or use on a regular basis for just that reason.
Teens and drinking/drug use is a huge topic. What are your thoughts about what you would do should you find out your child is using? Or, if you have been in the situation, how has your family handled it? Please share your thoughts and comments here on the site, or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!