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This content is from an educational collaboration between WebMD Editorial and StopMedicineAbuse.org.

If Tom Hedrick could change one thing about teen drug use, he would reduce the time it takes between a parent’s first hunch that something is wrong and the child getting treatment. The fact that teens lie about drugs, and parents believe them, delays treatment, says Hedrick, a founding member of The Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

Brian and Julie Unwin have heard a lot of lies, both from their son and through other parents in their support group. A few examples:

  • “Other people were smoking marijuana. I must have inhaled some by accident.”
  • "My friend had a cold, so I gave him our bottle of cough medicine."
  • “I was the only one at the party who wasn’t drinking, but they arrested all of us.”
  • “I ate a poppy seed muffin. That must be why the drug test came back positive.”

The Unwins’ teenage son lied and manipulated them for four years until he got sober. And they, like many parents, had a hard time accepting that reality. “When you raise a child, when you hold him in your arms as an infant, you want to believe him. No family wants to go through this,” says Brian.

This article explores the lies teens tell about drugs and what parents can do to get over their hurt and anger to keep their child safe.

Kids Lie, and Parents Believe Them

A group of researchers wanted to know how common it is for teens to lie about drugs. They asked 400 teenagers if they used cocaine, then took hair samples to test for traces of the drug. Even though they knew their answers were private, and that the drug test would prove them right or wrong, most teens who had cocaine in their systems denied using it. The hair samples revealed drug use 52 times more often than the teens admitted.

The fact that teens lie even when they know they’ll get caught doesn’t surprise Mason Turner, MD, chief of psychiatry at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco. “Most teens don’t think about what comes next,” he tells WebMD. “Concerns about the future don’t enter into their decision making.”

6 Tips for Parents of Teens

If your child is lying about using drugs or alcohol, looking the other way is a dangerous mistake. Study after study shows that parents’ involvement plays an important role in preventing adolescent drug use. And the earlier problem is addressed, the better your chances of containing potential damage. Here are six things you can do.

1. Trust your instincts.

Turner sees many parents discount their concerns about their child’s behavior. They say things like, “I’m probably just being an obsessive parent.” Or “Maybe I’m being hypersensitive.” But parents know their children. “If a parent’s gut is telling them something is off, there has got to be a reason,” Turner tells WebMD.

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