My 16 year old is experimenting with drugs. What are the signs that a teenager is over his head in terms of drug or alcohol use? And what, if anything, can a parent do? I don't want to alienate him.
Dr. Mike Responds
Before getting into this topic, let's acknowledge the psychology of a parent whose teenager has a serious problem -- whether it is drugs, alcohol, anorexia, or suicide. Because parents love their children so absolutely it is difficult to recognize a problem in your own child until it is almost unavoidable. This is because you do not want anything bad to happen to your child. In other words, when, as a parent, you strongly suspect something is seriously wrong you need to act on your intuition. This is definitely the case with alcohol and drug use.
For you to suspect a serious problem generally means that you have caught your son using at least one time. He probably assured you that it was the first (or second) time he has used. Be suspicious. Drug and alcohol experts routinely say that when you catch somebody it is probably more like their fifteenth or twentieth time using, not their first -- regardless of how honest they have been up to this point in their relationship with you. Nine out of ten times when you catch your teenager using, it is because they have gotten careless in their use, which means that it is not the first, (or even second) time.
Teenagers are unbelievably creative and resourceful, which means it is pretty easy for them to escape detection of reasonable alcohol or drug experimentation. For you to catch them means something is amiss. Unfortunately this often means the substance is taking over their judgement; that is, their self-monitoring skills are paralyzed, which is dangerous for any person. This same argument holds true for finding empty bottles or drug paraphanalia lying around their room or the house.