Parents: Don’t Let Yourself be Blindsided by Your Child’s Drug Use

Teenager holding a drug.

It was supposed to be a happy night in the two teenaged boys’ lives. One was graduating from high school, headed for college in the fall. The other had just finished his first year at Indiana University. They went to a graduation party at the house of a friend whose parents were out of town. While they were there, another teen offered them oxycodone. Alcohol was flowing freely in the house as well.

Jack and Nick Savage sampled both then went home. In the morning, they were both found dead. The coroner determined that acute oxycodone and alcohol intoxication stopped their breathing and their lives.

Their mother, Becky Savage, said that it never occurred to her that her children would use painkillers recreationally. She was sure, as well, that her sons were unaware of the dangers.

Secret Meth Use Takes a Young Life

Becky Savage and her husband were not alone in being unaware of the temptations that their children would face. Cassie Haydal’s parents were blindsided when they learned about their daughter’s methamphetamine use. In their case, too, they didn’t find out until their child had been fatally injured by the drug.

In fact, just a few months before her death, they went to a drug education workshop and learned how damaging methamphetamine is. Cassie’s mother sat through the presentation thinking, “Well, thank God my child would never use drugs.”

Cassie was an athletic girl who coached basketball and skied. Then in November 2000, after a strenuous basketball coaching session, she collapsed from a heart attack. The resulting brain damage was irreversible and her family finally gave permission to remove her from life support.

Woman at the hospital blurred.

Cassie’s parents learned about her meth use from the emergency room doctors trying to save her life. The intensely stimulating effects of methamphetamine had placed such a strain on her heart that a massive heart attack was the result.

It’s awful enough that parents lose their children. But when a parent is blindsided by a drug-related death, they don’t even have the chance to take action to try to save their child’s life. It’s all over in a heartbeat. It’s a horror that shouldn’t happen to any parent. Or, for that matter, to anyone at all.

How Can a Parent Prevent this Tragedy?

It’s not easy. It takes vigilance and education. It also requires a parent to reject any temptation to assume that their children will never use drugs.

The correct assumption is that, at some or many points, your child is going to be around other youth or adults who are using drugs or drinking heavily. They are going to be offered those drugs. Right at that moment, they are probably going to feel challenged. Should they say yes and be “one of the guys” (or girls) or should they say no and risk being thought judgmental or prudish? It’s a tough moment for a young person without a lot of life experience.

Even if a parent has had many conversations about drugs or alcohol use being unacceptable, that might not be enough to help that child escape that situation with their popularity intact.

A parent has to realize two things:

  1. The child has to be educated enough that when he (or she) is on his own and runs into an offer of drugs, he has the knowledge and personal conviction to want to stay drug or alcohol-free.
  2. He has to know how to get out of this situation gracefully so as to not invite the ridicule of friends.

Your child’s school may or may not offer drug prevention classes. Even if they do, nothing compares to a parent’s influence. Even if they don’t seem to be listening, children hear what their parents say. Not wanting to disappoint a parent is a reason many youth state for avoiding drug use. Parents would be very smart to get fully educated on all the drugs their children will hear about and see being used. Then they can turn around and provide their children with an analytical, well-informed education on why a better life results from avoiding drugs.

This will take time and probably many conversations. If the child’s life is at risk if these conversations DON’T occur, then it’s certainly worth it.

Giving Kids an Out

Teenager declining alcohol.

Some parents have developed ingenious ways of helping their kids get out of uncomfortable situations like the ones we’re talking about. To start with, they take it for granted that the child will find themselves in a situation it’s difficult to just walk away from. Here’s a few workarounds smart parents have developed.

One mom sat down with her kids and imagined several real-life situations they could find themselves in. For each situation, they worked out a specific script that would help the child worm their way out of any danger without giving their friends any grounds for complaint. For example:

  • Someone offers the kid marijuana: “My mom checks my clothes every night when I get home to see if they smell like pot. I can’t even be around it.”
  • Someone offers the kid a beer: “I’m allergic. Totally blows.”

Another parent worked out a texting code with his kids. If they texted a parent a message with an X in it, the parent would call the child five minutes later with some invented family emergency and come pick him or her up.

Think Through Their Privacy

Different parents have different opinions about how much privacy their children need. This is something you will have to decide for yourself. Many parents, who realize the seductive attraction of “looking adult” by drinking or smoking pot or “joining in the fun” their friends seem to be having, are determined to protect their underage children even at the expense of infringing on their privacy.

If this is your choice, consider monitoring their text messages and social media traffic. Of course, messages can be deleted. There are now applications that allow parents to review call and text traffic even if it’s been deleted. Do an online search for something like “how can parents monitor a child’s social media and text messages” and you should get some appropriate results.

You can always review the kinds of posts their friends make to social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other sites. If their friends repeatedly post comments about parties and drinking on nights your child is away from home, you have some clues about their activities.

This kind of monitoring can be helpful even if your child has gone away to college. If they have turned 18 by the time they leave, they are legally an adult, but of course that doesn’t mean they know all the right decisions. Many campus organizations (like some fraternities, sororities, and nearby bars) actively encourage drinking or drug use. And many teens are unprepared for the intoxicated culture that awaits them when they leave home for the first time. Smart parents continue to keep tabs on their children’s healthy choices while they are away at school.

Inspection of Personal Possessions

Marijuana in the pocket.

Many parents reserve the right to inspect their children’s belongings and furnishings. Very often this decision is made after a problem has shown up. Whether it’s done proactively or as part of a solution to a problem, it’s good for a parent to know what to look for. Items that look innocent to a parent could be used to consume or conceal drugs. Get educated on where drugs could be hidden away and then make your own choices about how closely to inspect.

You would also be wise to learn the signs of drug use and of addiction. Here’s one of the articles we’ve written before that can help you with this: Signs to Watch For.

Above all, never assume your child will stay drug-free. Parenting in this age of easy access to drugs and alcohol takes a heightened awareness and proactive attitude. I wish you the very best success if you have teenaged or young adult children.

Reviewed and Edited 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.