What to Do If You Think Your College-Age Child Is Drinking or Using Drugs

Most parents feel a sense of responsibility toward their children even when they are grown. It can be scary to send your child off to college without knowing what challenges he or she might face. Some college-age adults experiment with drinking and drugs, and some of those adults develop alcohol or drug dependency. It can be hard to know what to do if you think your adult child is misusing drugs or alcohol, especially since your parenting role has changed and you are not involved in your child’s everyday life.

Before You Speak With Your Child

Some parents are hesitant to ask their children if they are drinking or using drugs because they fear they may be overreacting or relying on false information. Since you will want to be prepared when you do have the discussion with your child, it can be helpful to get some information beforehand. You can read up on signs and symptoms of chemical dependency to see if your child is displaying any of the behaviors. You can also discuss your concerns with a professional, like a counselor, doctor or member of the clergy. Helpful information to relay to these professionals is the type and amount of alcohol or drugs you think your child has been using, how often and for how long you think your child has been using, and any negative consequences or reactions that have arisen from addressing the issue with your child already. Lastly, make sure you and the rest of your family are safe from any potential physical danger.

When to Speak to Your Child

Ideally, it is best to set up a time for you and your child to talk that will be devoid of distractions. Also, it is never a good idea to confront your child when he or she is currently under the influence of drugs or alcohol. When you discuss your concerns with your child, use caring language. Tell your son or daughter that your concerns come from a loving place. Avoid placing blame on yourself or directing blame toward your child. You are not responsible for someone else’s addiction, and pointing fingers generally makes the person suffering from addiction defensive, which can impede his or her willingness to seek treatment.

Some people think it best to wait until the loved one has reached “rock bottom” before addressing their concerns. This approach often has downfalls, though. The person may be so entrenched in his addiction that his life is in danger. Also, the earlier a person gets help, the better. While your child may react negatively, in the long run you can rest assured knowing that you are doing the loving thing by opening up communication about potential addiction. By speaking up early, you may also be able to help your child avoid crises, like dropping out of school or getting kicked out of housing.

Actions to Avoid

While your instinct is to protect your child no matter what, some types of protection can actually cause increased dependency. For example, if you consistently give your child money and have discovered that he or she is abusing drugs or alcohol, it is best not to continue to offer this type of support without knowing where your money is going. Instead, you can buy your child groceries or offer to pay for a treatment program. Even offering a spare room or a couch can help assuage any fears you have about not being there for your child, as long as doing so won’t put you or others in physical danger.

When Speaking With Your Child Doesn’t Help

While sometimes just bringing up the conversation with your child can lead to positive changes, often a child will continue to abuse drugs or alcohol. Some people try to quit and realize they cannot do so without formal treatment. Others are simply resistant to change. If your child tells you that he or she doesn’t have a problem but one does exist, you may want to host an intervention. Interventions can be tricky, so it is best to research information before the event. Have anyone positive be present and anyone who may aggravate the situation remain absent. The intervention should be kept positive and centered around getting your child the help he or she needs. Emphasize how you as a family would like to work toward healing and a positive future.

Some adult children may try to use threats to maintain their current lifestyle. They may insist that they will take their lives or end up homeless if you do not give them money, sign rental agreements or bail them out of jail, etc. Though you may be tempted to help them in these situations, trust your best judgment. If this would end up putting you in financial strife, or if you think your child would continue down a destructive path, employing tough love can be the best option for both you and your child in the long run.