Don't label them "bad." "If your child starts to use, it’s not that he or she is a good kid or a bad kid," Pasierb says. "It’s a bad set of decisions."
Pating's advice: "Let your child know you expect that he will not use drugs, but understand that he is human." For instance, if your teen tells you he drank at a party, talk with him about why he made that decision. “You want to help them think through things so they develop that skill,” Pating says.
Put their safety first. Make sure your teen knows that it's safe for them to come to you. For instance, if they used alcohol or other drugs at a party, you want them to be able to call you for a safe ride home, instead of driving. That doesn't mean there won't be consequences for their actions. It means that you are more concerned about keeping them safe and will figure out the next steps later.
Talk often. Don't try to have one big talk about drugs, medicines, and other substances. Instead, have a series of smaller, more casual conversations. Bring it up in the car, or when someone famous comes out with a drug problem.
"Lead with questions like, 'What are your friends saying about drugs?' And then have the discipline to listen," Pasierb says.
Seek help. If you suspect your child has become addicted or is using drugs, they need swift medical attention. Start with your child's doctor or a counselor trained in this area.
Don’t go it alone. Parents tend to swing between anger and guilt when they think their child is using, Lee says. That's normal, but not helpful. If you're very angry, your child may not talk to you. If you feel guilty, you could be manipulated into being too lenient.
Ideally, you want to be emotionally centered, but that's very hard to do. “It’s such a feeling of betrayal, it’s hard for parents to know what the next step is,” Lee says.
Talking to a professional can help you, and that, in turn, will help your child. If you don't have a counselor, ask your doctor for a referral. The Partnership at Drugfree.org has a toll-free helpline (855-378-4373) to help you get started. So does the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (800-662-4357).