What should a parent do if they suspect their teenager is smoking marijuana?

flaca asks: What steps should I take if I suspect my son is on drugs such as marijuana?

Hi flaca –

It’s always terrifying to think that someone you love is doing something harmful to themselves.  And it’s always so crazy, because their doing it means that they don’t value themselves the way we (who love them so) do.  After all, how would your kids like it if they saw you cutting your fingers on purpose?!  It’d freak them out, wouldn’t it?  Yet they will be completely oblivious to your worries about them not only smoking (which is so terrible for their lungs and liver) but smoking something that affects their mind and very likely is illegal as well.

Teenagers go through lots of phases where their moods change, they’ll withdraw, they might even smell bad, and having a parent hounding them (yes, I did use that term!) with questions like “Are you taking drugs?!” only makes matters worse.  But if you really have reason to think he is smoking marijuana, I do think you should confront him about it.

The second question, of course, is how old your son is.  If your son is nine years old, you should come down very hard and stop all this behavior right now.  If he’s twenty-four, you really have no control over him, but you could try to talk with him about your feelings about his health.  I’m going to assume, though, that he’s probably a teenager.  And, going with that guess, here are my main suggestions:

1. CONVERSE.  The best protection against drug use (or gangs, self-mutilation, or just about any other major teenage problem) is a great relationship between the teen and their parents.  The more you two can have open conversations, the better.  This works for two major reasons: first, the more present you are in his mind, the less-likely it is that he’ll make decisions he thinks you won’t ever find out about!  But also, self-destructive behaviors simply don’t show up as often in people who feel truly cared about and heard.  So if it’s not too late, see what you can do to create more communication with your son.

2.  RATE YOUR REACTION.  Now if you find out that your son has smoked marijuana, can you also find out how often and how much he’s smoking?  If he tried it once at a party, I’d say that just makes him a normal curious teenager, and your best bet is to help him learn about the health problems associated with it, so he sees why it’s not a great idea.  And if he’s smoking it every day, you have every right to ground him from all sorts of activities till he proves to you that he’s stopped.  But over-reacting or under-reacting can make all your work useless.

3.  IF IT’S BAD, IT’S BAD.  If you find that your son has become an actual addict, perhaps to much more than just weed, there is no limit to how bad this could get, or what you might need to do about it.  I would certainly recommend hiring a therapist at once, as well as working severely to curtail his use (though it might be asking too much to make him stop everything at once).  The world is full of experts on abating drug use, and I’m not one of them, so you should find some who can really help him.  Can he stop on his own?  Should he go to 12-step meetings?  Should he go into as expensive a rehab facility as you can afford?  I have no idea.  But if he’s using drugs a lot, these are questions that are very much worth looking into.

4.  FIND OUT WHAT’S BENEATH.  Again, if he’s just tried pot a few times, I wouldn’t worry at all.  But if your son has developed a dependence on mind-altering substances, there’s other stuff going on that he’s not dealing with.  Again, a therapist is your best bet.  But you might even find that your son has a physiological chemical imbalance, which the marijuana was helping with somewhat, and going onto prescribed psychiatric medication could help him immensely.  Again, it’s just best to keep your options open.

5.  LOVE HIM!  Whether he’s just experimenting with friends, or relying on drugs to get by, this is your teenage son.  By definition, he’s at a very confusing time in his life, and dealing with hundreds of pressures, both internal and in the world around him.  He might need more rules, he might need therapy, he might even need rehab or medication, but he absolutely needs your love and understanding.  No matter what.

Remember, flaca, if trying substances ruined people’s lives, the human race would never have survived ancient Rome, and certainly not the 1960s.  Most likely your son is fine.  This is just a great opportunity for you to help him with the next stage of his growing up.

Good Luck!


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