In the Adolescent Medicine Clinic at Seattle Children’s Hospital, we have the privilege of working with chemical dependency professional, Lisa Chinn LMHC, CDP. Over the next two months, we’ll be posting a guest authored series written by Lisa on teen substance abuse. She’ll cover some of the challenging topics parents often ask about in our clinic setting including how to address substance use in your home, whether or not to have your teen provide random drug screens, and how to address alcohol poisoning. Lisa is a great resource and we hope readers find useful information throughout the series!

Is Your Teen(s) Using in Your Home?

Have you ever caught your kid using alcohol or other drugs in your home? Did you ever lose your temper with them? Does your adolescent know the rules around drug use in your family?

Over the years, there have been many adolescents who break their parent’s rules about substance use in their home. Most parents feel a sense of shock, disappointment and disrespect, especially if they know their adolescent knows your expectations of them. Many parents feel that they have lost control over what happens in their homes after they catch a teen using.  It is difficult to supervise anyone 24/7 and truly there needs to be a certain level of trust between you for peace to be in the home.

One of the things I encourage parents to do, before this happens, is clearly state what your expectations are for them, not just around substance use but other things as well. Do this early, when your child is in middle school or earlier. Unfortunately, I’ve found that expectations usually don’t get communicated until they are broken. Remember, it’s never too late to have these conversations. Set the expectations and consequences clearly.

But, what happens when you catch them? Most of the time, parents are caught off guard; they may start yelling at their kids and saying or doing things that you hadn’t meant to say. Plan ahead. Ask yourself the question: If my child uses substances in our home, what do I want to happen? Plan out your consequences: what will their consequences be? Sit down with your adolescent(s) and explain to them what you expect and what their consequences will be today and what they will be if this were to happen again. The key is: follow through and be consistent if they break the rules.

The last thing I advise parents: if you catch your teen using substances in your home, they lose their right to privacy in their room. I believe adolescents have the right to privacy, but I also believe they have to earn that right. Let them know, when they earn back trust, they can have privacy again.