Opening a Conversation about Substance Abuse with Your Teen

Opening a Conversation about Substance Abuse with Your Teen

Father talking with teen daughter

As a parent, you know that something is wrong with your teen, but you’re worried about broaching the topic. In fact, you’ve probably already had a few conversations, and they haven’t gone well. Conversations about substance abuse are fraught with sensitive feelings, accusations, blame, and defensiveness. It can go south quickly.

How can you communicate what you want to say effectively… and maybe even in a way that will elicit change?

In the past, a drama-heavy trend of confrontational interventions became popular on tv and in pop culture. However, there’s usually a better way to open up this much-needed conversation. Sometimes, all it takes is a single loved one who is ready to talk in a nonjudgmental way.

Nothing can make this conversation easy, but here are some ideas to support you in your attempts, and hopefully create the best outcome possible.

First, Get Any Information You Can
This might include: researching topics of substance abuse, looking into treatment options, and talking with your teen’s friends and siblings. You don’t want your teen to feel like you’re going behind their back, but it’s also important to be as informed as you can be, and often peers will see things that you don’t.

Put Yourself in the Right Mindset
Your attitude when you broach this topic can make or break the conversation. Realize that substance abuse is a disease. It’s not personal, and it’s not about moral judgments. Stay away from any blame or guilt tactics, and avoid accusatory language.

Your words, your body language, and your expressions will all convey your feelings. Make sure that your primary motivation is love and concern, and even if the conversation doesn’t go as well as you hope, the most important message will be shared.

Additionally, you have to check your expectations for this conversation. It doesn’t always go well. This might be the first of many conversations, and it could still take a long time for real change to happen. But hang in there!

Don’t Be Afraid to Set Boundaries
As a parent, you have a right, and even an obligation, to set rules regarding the health and safety of those in your home. You’ll want to convey a caring, empathetic state while talking with your teen, but don’t shy away from the rules. Your teen needs to know which actions cross a line, and which behaviors need to change.

Keep Focus on Your Main Points
In difficult conversations, it’s easy to get derailed. It’s also easy for things to come out wrong. To prevent this, pick a couple main points that you want to share, and don’t let the conversation end until you’ve said what you need to say. These points might be:

  • “You are loved and you can come to me with anything.”
  • “There is help available and we can overcome this.”
  • “These are the changes that I’m seeing and they’re making me concerned.”
  • “I know that you’re struggling, but there are rules in this house for the sake of everyone’s health and safety.”

Don’t be discouraged if the conversation doesn’t go as well as you hope. Recovery is a journey and everyone moves at their own pace. Let us know if we can do anything to help!