It's easy to identify bad behavior and blame drug use on teenage rebellion, but it could be that drugs are what's affecting your child's behavior.  The real dilemma comes from the parent not believing their child might be experimenting with or using drugs in the first place. This is simply denial. Until a parent understands the real possibility of drugs use — even if their teen has good friends and is active in school and church — they won't be able to get to the root of the problem.

You may not understand the reason your child has chosen drug use as their way to "cope" with some giant in their life, but that's another matter altogether. And because it is inconceivable that your child would ever do such a thing, you may fail to consider it, discuss it with him or drug test him to find out.  I've found that parents with kids in private schools are the least likely to admit their teen has a problem.  After all, they are in a "safe" environment, right?  Wrong!  Kids that have come to our program with drug issues tell me that the drug problem is more prevalent, not less, in the private schools they've attended than in public schools.

Before Counseling, Get the Drug Use Under Control

Since drug use may be the cause of behavioral issues, all the behavioral counseling in the world will have little positive effect until the drug use is stopped and the lingering effects of the drug are out of the teenager's system.  Depending on the drug that was used, the after-effects can last several months. That's why at Heartlight, we require that kids with known drug dependencies first go through a separate addiction treatment program.  We cannot deal with their inner issues until the drug issues are taken care of.  Likewise, don't attempt to get counseling for your teen until the drugs are out of their system.  It's a waste of money and time.  The best plan is to have the two therapies work hand in hand, ensuring that the ongoing support of an Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous program continue in tandem with your teen's counseling for emotional and behavioral issues.

If your teen is showing any of the signs I've already mentioned, I recommend that every few weeks, unannounced, you drug test your teen. Make it a prerequisite for using the car.  Hold them accountable to the results, just as if a court would hold them accountable if they were on probation.  Test them even when they squeal in protest or appear disappointed that you don't trust them. Easy-to-use home drug and alcohol test kits can be bought in almost any drug store that can be used for regular monitoring. And when you test them, stay in the room. Don't trust them to give you a valid sample. If they are getting caught up in that culture, they'll also know ways to get around the test and they'll have no trouble lying to you about it.

Overall, your teenager needs to know you will do everything in your parental power to keep drugs from becoming a part of their history, even if it means putting them in an addiction treatment program or reporting them to the authorities and landing them in jail. Better a few days in jail and a time on probation where they'll get tested regularly, than a lifetime in the grip of drugs.

Don't stick your head in the sand or otherwise pretend that your teen knows better than to try drugs. If you are dealing with an out of control teen, and there have been no other traumatic events or psychological problems in your child's life, you are most likely dealing with the effects of drugs or alcohol or other intoxicating substances in one form or another. The sooner you know what you are dealing with, the better the chance you'll have for finding the right kind of help for your child.

For a good overview of what the popular illegal drugs look like and their effects on the user, look here.

July 1, 2010


Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and executive director of Heartlight, a residential program for struggling adolescents (www.heartlightministries.org). Mark can be followed on Facebook at www.facebook.com/parentingteens.