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How to Stage an Intervention for Your Teen

You’ve discovered that your teenager has been using drugs. You most likely have a strong desire to confront your teen, harnessing your parental authority to reprimand their behavior. Being teenagers, they’ll likely meet your threats and demands with equal resistance and a passionate assurance that you have no idea what it’s like to be them. This argument could go on for hours but, in truth, there’s no productive resolution here.

Don’t give up hope.

It’s completely normal for any teen to naturally push their parents away, especially when drugs are involved. If there’s any hope in getting through to your child, you’ll need to approach the situation delicately.

Your first step should be a casual, empathetic conversation, realizing that your teen is probably just as frightened as you are. Choose a non-threatening environment, like a restaurant or a park. Remain calm as you address your concerns, asking questions to learn and understand the thinking behind their decisions. If you are met with resistance and defensive anger, move on from the discussion, making sure not to escalate the situation further.

If you’re not having any luck with this approach, your next step should be organizing a formal intervention.

When planning an intervention for your teen, it’s important to have a plan. Don’t just round up every friend and neighbor and corner your child in their bedroom. Below are a few considerations to be made in advance that will increase the likelihood of your message being received.


Similar to your first attempt, choose a location that’s comfortable, private, and non-threatening. If possible, try to stage your intervention outside of the home, like at a friend or relative’s house.

Who To Include

Invite close friends and family members who have been impacted by your child’s behaviors. Think about including influential figures in your child’s life, such as coaches, pastors, or other mentor-like figures who may be willing to participate.

Know The Facts

Before the intervention, do some research to learn how addiction is treated and what the recovery process looks like. Keep in mind that your teen is likely scared of what may happen during treatment, and you should be prepared to address the concerns they have.

The Conversation

Participants should share how they’ve been affected by the child’s behavior, making sure to use “I feel” statements. Make sure to keep the conversation centered around how you and others have been hurt without pointing fingers and making your teen feel guilty or defensive.

Be Tough, But Loving

Lay out what is going to change if your child does not agree to treatment. Explain that privileges, such as vehicle use, allowance, cell phone, etc., will be withheld until they agree to get help.

Follow Through

None of your threats will hold any merit without your commitment to follow through. Don’t let your teen convince you to make exceptions; stand firm in your decisions.

Throughout the intervention process, stress your desire for your child to get treatment. If they agree, at any point, immediately take them to a predetermined treatment facility. If you can, review the treatment center’s guide regarding “what to bring” and have a bag packed for your child in advance.

If your teen walks out of the intervention, or consistently refuses to get help, end the intervention. For now, stick to the consequences you outlined earlier, and begin planning for another intervention.

Don’t be discouraged if your attempts fail the first few times. In many cases, it can take several conversations to get the response you would like. Be persistent, but don’t push too hard. Sometimes a little patience will go a long way.

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How to Tell if Your Teen is Using Drugs

As parents, it’s easy to forget the challenges our teens face in our popularity-driven culture. The overwhelming pressure of fitting in, the emotional toll of rejection, and the stress of academic success can all increase a teenager’s risk of caving in to any number of dangerous behaviors.

For some teens, drug and alcohol abuse is a tool to fit in or cope with the hardships of growing up. But, the truth is that too many parents miss the warning signs associated with teen substance abuse which, too often, wind up revealing themselves much too late.

Here are a few signs to look for:

Physical Signs

  • Bloodshot eyes: Sure, maybe your teen was up all night studying for an exam, but expanding blood vessels in the eyes is common in alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana use. Abnormal changes in pupil size may also be caused by substance use.
  • Changes in hygiene: Teenagers go through quite a few physical changes, which can be both seen and smelled. But are these differences a result of a changing body or their changing habits? Substance abusers often have a tendency to neglect their hygiene and personal appearance.
  • Change in appetite: Depending on the substance, appetites can either increase or decrease, leading to sudden fluctuations in eating habits and weight gain or loss.

Behavioral and Psychological Signs

  • Academic performance: Substance abuse changes the brain in many ways, so if your teen’s grades are suffering- especially if they had previously averaged good marks- this may be an indicator of substance abuse.
  • Missing items: Drugs and alcohol cost money. If you’ve been suspiciously losing cash or other valuables recently, they may be funding your teenager’s habit. Also, pay special attention to disappearing prescription medications that are accessible throughout the home.
  • Changes in friends: Teen substance abuse is common in kids struggling to fit in. If they’ve recently begun “fitting in” with an unusual crowd, drugs and alcohol may be at the heart of this friendship.
  • Mood or personality changes: This one may seem laughable because, well, they’re teenagers. But outbursts of spontaneous anger or agitation may be an effect of drug or alcohol use.

Looking back at these possible signs of substance abuse, it’s understandable how each one could easily be mistaken for today’s typical teen. Even so, if you observe any combination of these changes in your child, question the reason behind them. Be objective and open to the possibility that your teen could be using drugs or alcohol, even if that means accepting this commonly denied truth.

Take a look at a more comprehensive list of signs and symptoms here: