Lies Teens and Young Adults Tell Their Parents about Drugs

Mother and son in a cafe. Son looks suspicious.

There’s probably not a single parent in America who’s missed the fact that it’s challenging to raise a drug-free kid to adulthood. The environment makes it hard, with so many drugs on the illicit market and new distribution methods making it so much easier to acquire them. And kids themselves make it so very hard simply because they lie about their drug use.

Every young person who yields to temptation and reaches for drugs or alcohol for the first time has their own reasons. It could make them feel grown-up or more adventurous. Maybe they feel like their own life is boring or they resent the restrictions that school, teachers and parents place on them so they’d love to feel rebellious. Maybe they are socially uncomfortable or lack confidence and think drinking or drugs will help them relax. There are so many reasons. The key point here is that once a teen or young adult yields that first time, they now have a secret to keep.

There’s a parent here and there who may not care about their child’s drug use but by and large, parents who realize that their child has begun using drugs or drinking when underage will try to do something about it. They may not know what to do or what to say, but they will try their best. Their good intentions may quickly be derailed if they believe the lies their child tells to throw them off the track.

Surveys confirm the fact that many youth will lie about their drug consumption, even in a confidential interview. And even if they know there will be an analysis of drug deposits in their hair to confirm their answers. In one survey from Wayne State University of at-risk youth, out of 211 youth who both completed a survey about past cocaine use and provided a hair sample, only two youth admitted to cocaine use. But 69 had traces of cocaine in their hair.

What Do Youth Say to Conceal Drug Use?

Here’s some of the most common lies teens and young adults tell when parents question them about drinking or using drugs. This is your heads-up so you are not caught off guard and derailed by these very common lies.

Child smells like marijuana: “This guy was smoking pot. I asked him to stop but he wouldn’t. I didn’t have a ride home so I had to stay.”

Child’s eyes are red from smoking marijuana: “I was in a friend’s pool and it had a lot of chlorine in it.”

Parents find drugs in the child’s backpack: “It’s not mine. My friend asked me to carry it for him.”

Bottle of cold medicine is missing: “I felt sick so I took some,” or “I gave some to my friend who had a bad cough.”

He or she needs more money than usual: “My wallet was stolen,” or something like “I broke my friend’s camera and had to pay for it.” (A tip-off here is that there will be repeated excuses like these.)

Any child: “I would never do drugs. I hate drugs. You taught me that.”

Any child: “I only did it once.” Or “it was the first time.”

Any child: “I would never drive with a drunk/high driver. You talked to me about that.” (But a 2016 study showed that approximately 33% of young adults just graduating from high school had ridden with an impaired driver their own age or older.)

The difficulty is that any of these statements COULD be true. Parents have to make very hard choices right at this point on how to proceed.

Deflecting Parental Inquiries

A father found drugs in the son’s backpack.

Another tactic in preventing parents from finding out about their drug use or drinking is sending the parent’s attention in a different direction. Parents might hear exclamations like these:

“You invaded my privacy! I’ll never trust you again.” (Or the child may keep their door locked and refuse to let anyone in their room.)

“You drink so how can you tell me not to drink.”

“You’re so horrible for not trusting me. I hate you!”

When to Take Action

Choosing to take further action is hard for most parents. When the lies are plausible (and they usually are) parents have to look closely for signs that the young person is abusing substances. Unfortunately, it takes a while for most of these signs to show up. But if a parent sees any of the following signs along with any other concrete evidence, like drugs or paraphernalia being present, they need to understand that the stories they are told are probably lies.

  • Changing social groups from a group which is doing well, productive and getting good grades to one that seems isolated and disaffected
  • Refusing to attend the usual family, holiday or school functions
  • Dropping out of academic, social or sports activities that were enjoyed previously
  • Losing ground healthwise or emotionally
  • Abandoning spiritual practices that were previously enjoyed
  • Being absent from the home in unusual patterns
  • Being out of money
  • Consistently concealing their arms and legs, even in warm weather
  • Losing or gaining weight
  • Appearing unusually tired or unnaturally invigorated
  • Laughing, crying or having other uncharacteristic emotional responses
  • Getting many infections or illnesses
  • Grades, school or work performance suffering
  • Cutting classes or failing to show up for work or other commitments
  • Having one excuse after enough for failures, problems or illnesses

When Drug or Alcohol Use Is Habitual

Here’s one important point to understand. When drug or alcohol use becomes habitual, the deadening effects of drugs and drink causes a moral decay and a change of personality. Every parent of an addicted child sees their child change in baffling ways. It’s common for them to exclaim, “He became someone I don’t know anymore.”

Along with this change comes lies. It’s very safe to say that every addicted person has left a trail of lies in their wake. If you suspect habitual drug use or drinking, you need to expect the lies if you are to save this person you love. After many years of loving and trusting this person, it’s a very hard shift for many people to make. But if you are to avoid becoming an enabler of the person’s drug use, it must be done.

What Should You Do?

If you use evidence and your best judgment and determine that drugs are being used, do your best to avoid getting angry and simply grounding the young person for months. You’re going to have to rebuild the trust between yourself and your child. Until that trust grows, you may have to consider these strategies used by some parents.

  • Restricting their ability to spend money on drugs by buying items the child needs instead of giving them cash
  • Not giving them valuable gifts that could be sold or traded for drugs
  • Monitoring debit or credit card use
  • Monitoring phone or computer use
  • Require the young person to be present on a specific schedule
  • Random drug testing
  • Counseling
  • Education with experienced, expert drug prevention specialists
  • Monitoring academic performance
  • Help the child develop specific goals of interest to them and encourage and support their progress toward these goals
  • Encourage the child to share their stresses and problems in a safe, uncritical atmosphere

When a child is under 18, it’s much easier to impose restrictions and monitor actions. After 18, you’re going to have to work harder on trust, communication and education. If there is still financial support being given to this young adult, that gives a parent leverage they can use.

When families stage interventions to save the life of an addicted person, they are prepared to impose severe restrictions on their loved one: no more financial help, no more legal support, no more cell phone or any other help they’ve been providing. Some of these measures used before addiction sets in can also help you prevent your beloved child from ever becoming addicted.

Parenting is not easy. There’s no simple rule book for this activity. Parents must be guided by their hearts and their intellect and refuse to be naive. There are too many drugs in circulation and youth very often understand too little about the dangers.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.