How can I tell if my child has a drug or alcohol problem?
It's hard to tell – symptoms such as changes in mood/attitudes, unusual temper outbursts, and changes in sleep, hobbies, and interests are common for teenagers.

The following are suggestions for reaching out to your child/teen:

  • Trust your instincts. If you think your child/teen is in trouble, perhaps in need of drug addiction treatment, there's probably a reason you feel that way. If you reach out and you're wrong… it only shows that you care.

  • Timing is important. Find a safe, quiet time where you can talk freely.

  • Don't be afraid to be open and honest. Most times, your child/teen will appreciate it.

  • Talk about what you have personally observed instead of making judgments or discussing rumors.

  • Talk about how you feel: worried; scared; concerned; angry; confused; etc. When you talk about your feelings instead of making accusations, you are less likely to get a defensive reaction.

  • Act Now. The sooner you seek drug and alcohol treatment, the sooner your loved one will likely be able to make positive changes. The longer you wait, the more established these behaviors become. And, of course, some behaviors can be very dangerous.

  • Don't keep it a secret. If you think there is a problem, talk about it. Tell a friend, spouse, other family member, teacher, counselor, or call for assistance. We know this is hard to do, but when it comes teen drug abuse, secrets can be deadly.

  • Do the research into teen drug addiction for them. Find out about drug addiction treatment programs and other options. Even if your child acknowledges a need for help, he/she may still be resistant to treatment for fear of being punished or shamed. Let your child know that the punitive approach to treatment is long gone. Be prepared to talk about current treatment options before initiating discussion. If you need them, we can provide you with materials that you can place in your child's hands to reduce feelings of anxiety about getting help.

  • Don't give up. If your first attempt to help a family member hasn't had the desired effect, a different approach may be in order. Changing behavior is difficult. Get help from professionals who specialize in helping youth make meaningful behavioral changes.

  • Don't be afraid to ask for help. If you need any assistance, please call us. There are no stupid questions.

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Admin.

Show All Answers

1. I do not have any health insurance. How can I get treatment for myself or my family member's substance abuse problem?
2. My health insurance will not pay for drug and alcohol treatment – what should I do?
3. What can I do if I think someone I know has a drug or alcohol problem?
4. What are Twelve-Step Programs?
5. How can I tell if my substance use is problematic?
6. How can I tell if my child has a drug or alcohol problem?
7. What is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?
8. What is Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)?
9. What is codependency? Does your office fund outpatient services for codependents?
10. Are prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications addictive?
11. My church group or community organization is interested in a speaker to address alcohol, tobacco and other drug issues. Who should I call?