What Happens When Your Son or Daughter Has a Drug Problem?
A Guide on What to Do and What Not to Do

Holding hands closeup

The unique struggle that a parent of a drug user faces should not be wished on anyone. When a mother and father have a son or daughter who falls prey to drug addiction or an alcohol habit, this becomes a cruel and entrapping, even devastating, problem for them.

As parents, we worry about our kids constantly. It just comes with the territory. Even when our kids grow up, we still have concerns for them.

We want them to do well, to be successful, to lead happy, healthy, and purposeful lives. So when our son or daughter becomes an addict, this acts as a great blow, heavily emotional, nearly physical pain. The sinking pit in our stomach settles in, and every day becomes a mind-numbing fear that we’ll get that dreaded phone call—the one that says our child used too much or drank too much, and that they are no longer with us.

Most parents manage to chisel away at the frozen petrification of fear that binds them, breaking away from it and moving into a bold desire to do something about it. But awaiting them is the grim stone wall of their kid’s addiction and the creeping sensation that parents are, in fact, helpless to do anything about their son’s or daughter’s drug habit.

But what if I told you that, while the decision to get help does rest with your son or daughter, you can have a huge impact on whether or not they make that decision?

What Can You Do for Your Kids?

Parent cooking with his kids.

Ready to do something about it? As parents, we would do just about anything for our kids, and with something as a terrible as addiction, most parents would move mountains to help their kid break free from such a habit.

Parents must recognize that they cannot do it all on their own, that their son or daughter must also decide to change. But parents can do a lot to bring that decision about.

  • Set a good example. Right off the bat, parents need to set a good example for their kids. If you want them to grow up to be great, you must be the greatness that you want to see in them. Furthermore, talking to your son or daughter about ceasing drug use will not go far if you are not already setting a good example for them.
  • Talk with your kids, no matter what. Communication is key, always. If you have a son or daughter who is using drugs and alcohol on a daily basis, talk to them on a daily basis. That regular and steady flow of communication keeps you in their heart and mind, and when they are ready to get help, you’ll be the first person they come to.
  • Lock the medicine cabinet and count your pills. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fifteen percent of teens have misused prescription drugs at least once. Nearly ten percent of them have used pills in the last year, and four percent used them in the last month. Furthermore, most teens get their drugs from a friend or from the family medicine cabinet, not from a street drug dealer.
Adult studying
  • Learn about addiction. The more you know about a subject, the more capable you are in that subject. Wouldn’t you agree? Knowledge equates to power and the ability to make correct decisions and estimations in that area. Study up on drugs, alcohol, addiction, chemical dependence, tolerance, psychological reliance, overdoses, etc. Learn as much as you can, and use that knowledge to help your child.
  • Frequently urge your son or daughter to get help. Be kind about it, be compassionate, but be firm. And don’t take no for an answer. Keep asking if you have to, but don’t give up until you have their agreement to get help.

Here’s What Not to Do

Just as parents need to know what they should do for their addicted son or daughter, they also need to understand what not to do. Here are a few tips on what to avoid:

  • Avoid doing nothing. A double negative maybe, but don’t just do nothing. This is a common mistake that parents make. They assume that their son or daughter will work things out on their own, that they will find their own path to sobriety, or that it’s not the parents’ “place” to interfere in their son’s or daughter’s life. Adopting this perspective is the moral equivalent to signing off on your child’s addiction and essentially saying that you are okay with what they are doing.
Teenager experimenting with marijuana with his friends
  • Don’t assume that it is “okay to experiment.” This is just being flippant about the severity of drug use. Parents should not adopt this perspective of drug use, even though such concepts seem more normal today than maybe they once were. “Oh yeah, kids are going to experiment with drugs and alcohol. What are you gonna do?” is the typical line. But even drinking alcohol or using marijuana as an “experiment” can have long-term implications on a child’s development and their likelihood of accruing an addiction habit in the future.
  • Don’t be dishonest about your own past drug use or alcohol misuse. Always be honest and upfront with your kids about your own history of drug use, if you have one. There’s no real data that suggests doing this is harmful, and having open and honest discussions with your kids only serves to bring you closer together.
  • Avoid being judgmental or hubristic. Don’t look down on your kids, or treat them like lesser humans because they use drugs or drink too much. They’ve fallen prey to addiction and need your help, not your judgment.
  • Don’t put off helping them. Don’t ever stall when it comes to your efforts in getting your son or daughter help. According to CBS News, two million young people in their teen years struggle with an addiction, but only about 150,000 get the help they need.
Giving money into a hand.
  • Don’t enable them. This is perhaps the biggest mistake that parents make. They enable their kids, meaning that they help their kids out in ways that actually harm them by making it easier for them to use drugs and alcohol. Giving an addicted son or daughter food, money, a cell phone, a car, a place to stay, or any other form of aid that is not directly conducive to getting them into a treatment center will just ultimately prevent the addict from hitting rock bottom.

What Can You Do for You?

For all intents and purposes, when your adolescent child, teen, or adult son or daughter is struggling with a drug habit, you are probably not your number one concern. And that is totally fine. However, if you neglect yourself too much, you’ll harm your own physical health and mental headspace. We can’t have that.

Here’s the number-one rule that parents must apply to themselves when their son or daughter is suffering from a drug or alcohol habit:

  • Don’t blame yourself. Parents almost always blame themselves for their kid’s drug habit. Why? It’s one of those unexplainable things, especially since every parent’s situation is unique to them. But at the end of the day, your son or daughter was the one who made the decision to use drugs and alcohol. You did not make this decision for them.

Helping a loved one overcome a drug habit can be a harsh, brutal, and emotionally exhausting experience. And even though the decision rests entirely on their shoulders whether or not to get better, you can do your best to help them, and your help does make a difference. Take action, and may your life and the lives of your loved ones be all the better for it.


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



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.