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What do I do when my teen is caught doing drugs?


​​My wife and I recently discovered that our two teenagers, a son (18) and daughter (15), have been smoking marijuana together. Our son was first caught about 2 years ago smoking with his friend. We thought we had handled it and had put him on the right path, but he continues to use episodically. We have tried increasing communication and have had long talks. He's agreed to stop, and he's expressed his goal to go to college and become an architect, but we are now at a point where his mother and I feel, and he has also stated, that he needs help. A few weeks ago, we found out that he had been smoking again for several months and this time, he enlisted the participation of his sister! We took away their stash and started urine testing, but it takes a while for the drug to clear the system so we didn't know until tonight that the positive test results weren't just residual drugs but were confirmation of continued use. We discovered today that they had used again. We are at a loss as to what to do next. What level of consequences should we impose? How do we get them clean and sober, back on track and headed for adulthood without wrecking our family? I hope you can offer something for us for now, given the holiday weekend. I also would appreciate some guidance as to who we can consult for help. Many thanks.


Boys Town - Teens doing drugs

We are glad you have discovered our website and are reaching out tonight. We can appreciate the concern you conveyed in your email regarding your children and their smoking marijuana. Reaching out is the brave and wise thing to do, and we know it is not always easy. 

The ongoing legalization of marijuana in more and more states may lead one, especially youth, to believe that marijuana is not addictive and no big deal. That is just not the case. Marijuana can be addictive and can play a role in addictions to other substances. Given the struggle your children are presenting, they may be looking for emotional and mental escapes – a way of self-medicating. This can be a very dangerous path as you have relayed in your email.  

At this point, it is important that parents stay calm and not engage in arguments with children about the significance of what they are doing. Heated arguments turn into control battels, with little communication. When parents escalate their emotions into an argument, they are being drawn into the youth's drama and out of parenting mode. It is important for kids to communicate in a reasonable fashion as well. When frustration and anger are starting to dominate your conversations, it is time to take a break. Parents need to let kids know the talk can continue when everyone is calmer.   

It is important to refrain from judgement at this point; we are looking for clarity. Let children know you love them, and praise the great things they do and how wonderful they are. Yet, relay you are very concerned what they are presenting to you, and the self-defeating dynamic they are demonstrating, which will make it very difficult for them to accomplish their goals now and in the future. Moving forward, this is an issue where there can be support, but no one can do it for them. They need to have a sense of accountability and responsibility if they want to change. Connecting the risk of losing important things to them is important. There needs to be a “what's in it for me" for them to work at changing. We want them to have the “buy-in" and support themselves during this time. 

Parents need to present a unified approach with children. Having a meeting(s) to develop an approach that both parents will support is very important. Supporting one another is also important since it is unlikely there will be a 180-degree change overnight. Being supportive with each other can help you get through what may be some difficult times.   

Professional intervention certainly seems indicated. This could entail counseling, and likely a drug and alcohol evaluation. An internet search for therapists and counselors in Omaha will provide a list, including one from “Psychology Today" that has lists of therapists and counselors in Omaha, areas of specialization and payment options. You could also ask your physician for referrals, or other trusted individuals. During this stressful and challenging time, it is recommended that parents reach out for help through counseling as well. 

We know this is a difficult time for you and please know you are doing the right thing. Stay brave, keep reaching out.