Getting help
what to do now

What do I do if I think my child is using harmful substances?

If you suspect, or have discovered, that your child is drinking alcohol or using other drugs, it’s time to take action. Take a deep breath and then prepare for what might be a very difficult conversation with your teen. Being prepared is key to a better outcome for both you and your child. After you deal with your own disbelief, anger, or disappointment, learn the warning signs of teen alcohol and other drug use.

Know the signs

Below you’ll find the warning signs that might indicate your child has a problem with alcohol or other drugs. Experts believe that problem use is more likely if you notice several of these simultaneously or they are extreme in nature.

  1. Mood changes: flare-ups of temper, irritability, and defensiveness
  2. School problems: poor attendance, low grades, and/or recent disciplinary action
  3. Rebellion against family rules
  4. Friend changes: switching friends and a reluctance to let you get to know the new friends
  5. A “nothing matters” attitude: sloppy appearance, a lack of involvement in former interests, and general low energy
  6. Alcohol presence: finding it in your child’s room or backpack, or smelling alcohol on his or her breath
  7. Physical or mental problems: memory lapses, poor concentration, bloodshot eyes, lack of coordination, or slurred speech

Keep Calm
and Carry On

Remember this is a conversation, not a confrontation. And however uncomfortable this is for you, imagine how your child feels. Empathy is key to ensuring that you reach your child through active listening and resisting the temptation to yell at, or talk over, them.

Your end goal is to help your child and figure out next steps. Tell your child you love them and that is why you are so concerned. Be prepared for them to say shocking, hurtful things, deny even the most convincing evidence, and accuse you of not trusting them. If the conversation gets too heated, take a break and resume later.

History of
Substance Use

Acknowledge if there is any substance use in the family. It’s important that your child understands that a family history of addiction puts them at higher risk for substance use disorder. Explain that their genes make them more vulnerable, adding even more reason why they need to avoid, or stop using, alcohol or other drugs.

Next Steps

Talk to a mental or behavioral health expert about the best way forward. They can help you determine if your child needs treatment and develop strategies for guidance and monitoring.


Our parent toolkits are valuable resources for parents who want to navigate the challenges of raising a teen. These toolkits provide a wide range of information and resources that can help parents understand the developmental changes that teens experience, as well as the social and emotional challenges they may face. Some common topics covered in these toolkits include communicating effectively with teens, setting boundaries and rules, the teen brain, and addressing issues related to mental health and substance use. These toolkits offer practical tips and strategies for promoting positive behaviors and relationships with teens, as well as how the perceived need to be “perfect” affects youth mental health. By using these valuable resources, parents can feel more confident and prepared to navigate the ups and downs of raising a teen.

Middle School Parent Handbook

High School Parent Handbook

Guia de Recursos para Padres