When our Teens Experiment with Drugs

In my previous post; “How To Teach Your Teen To Party”, we discussed the prevalence of teenage drug use. The reality is that our children are exposed to a bigger variety and a higher potency of drugs than we even knew existed. These facts are due to a failed attempt at trying to control the supply rather than focussing on the demand of illicit drugs.

Before delving into what we can do if your child has started using, let's take a quick look at why they have so many dangerous substances to choose from. The drug trade is a commodity based business like all others. The more the demand, the higher the value. Back when I was a drug cop in 2009, Saskatchewan had a relatively small meth problem. For the most part, the meth users were isolated souls who didn't stray too far from their social group unless it was to break into a house, construction site or strip copper wire in order to support their habit. Meth is sold on the street by a tenth of a gram, known as a point. At that time, meth cost roughly $20 a point. However, when we would do a large seizure, we would have a direct impact on the price and drive it up to about $30 a point. At the time, myself and my colleagues thought this was great as there was no other drug in our community that we could have an effect on street pricing. The higher the cost, the less people can afford to use, and the less meth would be trafficked in our community. Right? Wrong! 

Fast forward to today, meth is a very large problem in our province and that same "point" only costs between $5-$10 dollars with absolutely no fluctuation based on police seizures. Why? When we drove up the price, it didn't mean anyone used less, they just had to spend more, which ultimately lead to more crimes being committed. With the profit margins soaring, more high level traffickers wanted in on the game and before we knew it, the market was saturated, bringing the price down and availability way up. So how do you reduce the availability and dangers of drugs? More on that in a future post. Let's start talking about what you can do about your child who is using.

The very first step is to determine why your child is using illicit drugs. Actually, on second thought, step one is to build your team. However, depending on why your kid is using will determine how big your team is. Determining why your child is using drugs is accomplished by putting your investigator hat on. You may need to create a dialog with your teen, listen to their friends and their friends parents, look for physical evidence, and analyze their behaviour. It is crucial that you do not ignore pieces of information, which is easy to do as it may be hard to face what's going on in your child's life. Addictions specialists have come up with loads and loads of reasons why teens start to use but I've narrowed it down to five: 

o   Experimenting

o   Underlying Mental health issue

o   Misinformation/Acceptance

o   Rebellion

o   Addiction

In this post, I'll focus on the experimenting stage:

This is the easiest stage to address and correct. Remember, as mentioned in the last post, we should not be surprised that experimentation has occurred. We expect our teens to take risks. Look up Dr. Daniel Seigel and "remodelling" (here is a youtube clip) for more information on this. A teen simply experimenting with substances typically uses only on occasion and if they happen to be around the substance itself. Experimental drug users don't usually purchase the substance themselves from a supplier. They simply take a few tokes off a friends joint or a puff off a bong at a party. They may on occasion, throw a few bucks into the pot (pardon the pun) to help cover the cost from a friend who is buying for the group. 

Teens commonly experiment with alcohol, marihuana and on occasion ecstasy or mushrooms. Do not let them convince you that they are in the experimental stage with drugs like meth, fentanyl, or cocaine. Due to the associated risks of these drugs, a more dramatic intervention is required, which would mirror the intervention found for the addiction category, which I will discuss in a future post.

Some families have decided that experimenting, as described above, is acceptable and that they will only implement correction strategies if the usage becomes more frequent or if the substance used shifts to something more dangerous. Note that approximately 1 in 4 teens will try marihuana and nearly 3 in 4 will try alcohol (Health Canada 2013). 


Begin a dialog. Family members don't have secrets from one another. All caregivers need to be onboard to ensure there are no mixed messages. Your team should consist of your partner/spouse, perhaps some extended family or friends and could expand to your General Practitioner, teachers etc.

Offer support and show concern. Research the consequences together. Share data with your teen. Listen to their points and questions and search for any answers you don't know. Feel free to reach out to your local police drug unit. Most drug cops love taking the opportunity to chat with teens at this stage of using and share their experiences from the field.

Introduce healthy decision making skills/ resistance training. Do not condemn their friends. As I mentioned in my last post, teenagers are forced to socialize by age more than interest. You can, however, point out the specific decisions and behaviours that you don't agree with. Give them alternative activities that they can do and coach them on what they can say if they are invited somewhere that they may be encouraged to use. As cheesy as you may find it, role playing a few scenarios with them will help when the time comes for them to use one of these skills.

Set rules/expectations if using continues and/or progresses. If you allow your teen to drink, set a clear number of drinks that you allow. If you want them to stop using, make it clear. Also let them know what the consequence will be if you find out that they have continued. Setting clear and concise expectations now, means that there won't be any surprises and you will remain to be a person of trust in your teens life, even when they are screaming at you while you are taking their phone away.

Begin monitoring your teens activity but with minimal privacy violations. It isn't time to call the Warden in just yet. Stay involved in their life, monitor their public social media posts, question them when they go out etc. Be prepared to act if their substance use continues past your approved amount or turns into abuse. 

It is crucial to keep the dialog concerning their substance use open and stay connected with them. Also, ensure they stay connected to their own community (friends, family, clubs, teams etc). Do not allow them to isolate themselves as that tends to be an early indicator that their use may be turning to abuse.

Dr. Gordon Neufeld (Ph.D, Psychologist, Author) offers a lot of great material on parenting teenagers (here is a clip). Staying connected with them and ensuring that you are not replaced by their peers is an essential part to warding off substance abuse. 

Next post: Identifying whether or not an underlying Mental Health issue may be the cause of your child's substance use.