Intervention for teenage drug use or abuse: A How To Guide

How can you plan an intervention with your teen? Although success is not guaranteed, we outline twelve (12) tips on how a teenage drug use intervention can go. Plus, a section at the end for your questions about drug interventions with loved ones in your life.

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Need to stage a drug intervention with your teenager?

No problem.

If you’ve been asking, “Is my child on drugs?” and are ready to confront your teen about your concerns, just follow these simple tips to stage a planned, controlled and calm intervention and it should go (relatively) smoothly.   Hitting bottom in addiction is a very personal process.  But if you want the best for your teen, you must address drug abuse with love and a plan.  How to help my kid with drugs is about being prepared and confident.

(No guarantees, though.)

Interventions for teenage substance abuse

Interventions are awkward by nature. There is no getting around it. But you’ll just have to work through the awkwardness for the sake of your child. Whether you know for sure that your child is doing drugs or you just suspect they are doing drugs or even if you know for sure that they are not doing drugs, talking to them about drug use and how you feel about it is a good idea.

The only bad time for an intervention is when your teen is high on a drug. Other than that, it’s always a good time (although morning is best of all the good times to choose, but we’ll get to that in a moment).

There are really only two basic types of interventions for suspected drug use: formal and informal. The formal interventions are the ones that you’re probably used to seeing on TV where a group of loved ones and sometimes an addiction professional confronts an addict with how drugs or alcohol is ruining their life and the lives of everyone around them. These types of interventions are usually used further down the road with known orlong term drug addicts.

But if you’re just talking to your teen for the first time about drug use and abuse, an informal intervention will do. An informal drug intervention is just a quiet conversation between you,your partner, and your child (or you and your child if you’re a single parent).

How to plan an intervention with a teen

And now, here are some things you should do or prepare while staging an informal intervention.

1. Do it in the morning.

I did mention earlier that there is no real bad time to stage an intervention as long as your teen isn’t high or coming down from a drug. This makes the morning the best time to plan a drug or alcohol intervention because that is when everyone is most likely to have free time (assuming you’re doing it on a day with no work or school) and/or most likely to be clean and sober.

2. Refrain from doing drugs or alcohol.

You’re going to risk looking like the biggest hypocrite in the world if you light up a cigarette or pour yourself a drink or pop some valium before, during or after the intervention. You will also be giving your teen every reason in the world to completely dismiss what you say. And, frankly, if you can’t even get through a conversation with your teen without doing one of the things listed above, you’re probably more in need of an intervention than they are.

(Medication that you need to be on, such as antibiotics or heart medication, would obviously be acceptable.)

3. Do a dry run.

The best way to know that you’re getting your point across to someone is to practice saying what you’re going to say out loud. So sit someone else down ahead of time and tell them what you’re going to tell your teen and make sure that it all makes sense and that it is presented in the clearest possible way.

4. Be prepared.

Being prepared means arming yourself with knowledge. Get all the facts you can about whatever drug you suspect your child of doing and get them from reputable sources. Or find the hidden stash and take photos for evidence. Your teen might have done their homework, too, though, so being prepared also means knowing how to handle their counter-arguments if they happen to stump you with something. Simply tell them that they have brought up an interesting point and that you can look into it together at a later time, but right now you want to focus on the situation at hand. (Don’t forget to follow through on that promise to look into their point.)

Being prepared also means being prepared for any colorful or hurtful statements they might make to try and steer the conversation in an unintended direction. Stay polite but firm that you are open to talking about other things later but at the moment, the conversation is staying on topic.

5. Give your teen your undivided attention.

Turn off your TV, your phone, your other children (they do come with off switches, right?) and your life for the duration of the conversation. Let them know that they are the most important thing in your life at that moment.

6. Have an end goal in mind.

Know what you want out of the conversation and make sure you achieve that. If all you want to do is make sure they understand how you feel about drug use, that’s fine. You might also want to get some kind of verbal or written commitment from them and that’s fine, too. But whatever your goal is, make sure you achieve it before you’re done. And also let them know that there will be consequences for future bad behavior (immunity only goes so far, after all).

7. Be open and honest.

Cold, hard facts about drugs are good to have, but that’s not what interventions are really about. They’re about how you feel about their drug use. Let your child know how you feel about them using drugs. Open up about it. It will encourage them to open up, too.

8. Stay calm.

Sounds simple, right? But this means staying calm in the face of what could turn out to be a belligerent teen. That means no accusatory statements, no guilt, no exaggerations, no yelling, no bawling (a few tears are permissible) and no losing your temper (because the conversation ends as soon as you do).

9. Ask questions.

Lecture is a dirty word in this situation and you don’t want to come across like that’s what this is. Ask questions to make sure that your teen has a chance to talk and make sure you listen to the answers, no matter how painful. Some good leading questions might be: “What do you like about taking drugs?”, “What do drugs do for you?”, “What happens when you take drugs?”, etc. Open the door to get your teen talking. And try not to be judgmental…

10. Refrain from judging.

This is a conversation, not a trial. Give your child ‘intervention immunity’ for the period of that conversation. Anything said or admitted during that particular conversation isn’t open to punishment. They will be much less likely to share if they think there might be punishment coming.

11. Don’t shy away from talking about your own drug history.

You do want to keep the conversation focused on them, but that does not mean ignoring what they ask or what they say. And since you’re on the topic of drugs, it’s almost inevitable that they will ask you about your own drug history. Whether or not you choose to talk honestly about it is up to you. Acknowledging your past drug or alcohol use/abuse can lead to some good talking points like the difference between social drinking and binge drinking and it can let them know that you are human and they can relate to you as someone who went through the same thing as they’re going through. If you choose to lie to them about your own drug history or not acknowledge it, you will have done something that you’re trying to prevent your teen from doing (lying about drug use). Think about that.

12. Take a break, if needed.

If things get too heated, set a timer for five or ten minutes so everyone can cool off and then continue when the timer goes off. Don’t start doing something else and don’t let them start doing something else. The break is only for calming the situation down if needed, not for getting distracted with other stuff.

By following these tips, you will be able to stage an effective informal intervention for your teen. Hopefully you’ll never have to stage a formal intervention with your teenager, as they are much more intense, but if you have a history of drug abuse in your family, you just might have to do that further down the road. And you should be prepared for that, too.

About the author
Lena Butler is a mom, health blogger and customer service representative for TestCountry. TestCountry is a San Diego based point of service diagnostic test service provider that offers a wide range of laboratory and instant testing kit solutions including drug tests, metal toxicity, DNA paternity, food and water tests and hundreds more. TestCountry's tests are easy to use and can be performed at your home or workplace.
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