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Once you do know for sure that your teen son or daughter is experimenting with marijuana, you have to take steps quickly to make sure that the problem doesn’t get worse.

But What Can You Do?

Firstly, take it seriously but don’t panic.

Even if your teen is using heavily, when you get emotional and when you lose your objectivity, you reduce your ability to affect change and you reduce the chances that your teen will listen to what you say. You may be furious, but you need to act concerned and in control.

  • Addictions professionals generally recommend that when dealing with drug use, you start with the least intrusive method and move upwards if that doesn’t work. If you catch your teen experimenting with marijuana, it's not necessarily the time to send them to drug rehab. That may come later, but only as a last resort.

Start within the Family

Start first in the family, if that doesn’t work, get some professional outside assistance on an outpatient basis, and if that doesn't work, consider inpatient treatment.

You do have to act and in some cases, when you can see that the problem has become severe and is having harmful consequences, you may want to disregard the above stages of intervention and move directly to professional help.

For most teens though, you have a good chance to create change by dealing with the situation within the family.

In the Family

You need to start with a real communication of your concerns for their health and well being, and before you start talking, you’d better get informed. Your teen likely has a pretty good body of knowledge about the drug…possibly more than you do. What they know may not be totally accurate, but if they think it is and you can’t contradict them reasonably, your words aren’t likely to have much impact.

Get Educated Before You Talk

Get educated about the real risks…and no scaremongering. You'll lose all credibility if you blow the risks out of proportion, and since the real risks are legitimate and serious, you have no need to lessen your credibility with half-truths your teen will likely spot from a mile away.

Explain the risks, explain your concerns, and explain the family policy on drug use once again. Ask your son or daughter to take an easy marijuana addiction self test, to rule out dependence issues. Explain how family rules may change (because of their drug use) and reiterate clearly the consequences for further experimentation. Be prepared to follow through in full with any promised disciplinary consequences.

Keep Your Cool and They'll Listen

By talking rationally and with concern your son or daughter is more likely to listen and less likely to react defensively or in anger.

  • Be prepared to reward any improvement in behaviors. Positive change is tough, especially when friends are all "doing it"  - and if they can stay off marijuana, they deserve credit and reward for doing so.
  • If it becomes apparent that drug use continues after your attempts to keep things in the family, it's time to enlist professional help.

Professional Help

If family-level interventions aren't working, find an experienced family or teen therapist with knowledge of addiction issues and get started with individual drug counseling and/or family therapy. If use isn't yet addiction, brief professional interventions can work wonders.

  • Counseling can be expensive, but it's far less costly than inpatient care, and if it can better the situation, it is definitely money well spent.

Outpatient Care

The next level of intensity after personal/family counseling is a teen-specific outpatient addiction treatment program. These programs help adolescents overcome ambivalence to behavioral change and help foster an internal motivation to do better – after all, you can’t force thinking-change, your son or daughter has to believe that change is possible and decide for themselves to work for it.  

Outpatient programs also offer support and teach:

  • Skills to help young people overcome avoid unnecessary temptation and resist cravings.
  • Better communication skills.
  • Conflict resolution skills.
  • Problem solving skills.
  • Many more.

Outpatient programs have an advantage over residential programs in that they allow young people to practice the skills they learn in the real-world and stay active in school.

If a regular outpatient program is not sufficient, the next level of care is the intensive outpatient program, and then a whole-day treatment program.

Outpatient treatment programs are effective, less costly and they keep kids in the family home, so in most situations, they make a lot of sense. In some situations however, such as when a teen cannot or will not stay off drugs or alcohol, when there is concurrent mental illness or when there is instability in the family home, residential care may be necessary.

Inpatient Care

Getting your teen into rehab should be a last resort, but when it's obviously needed you need to act with confidence and strength to get your teen into a program that's going to make a difference.

Teen Drug Rehab

Teen-specific drug rehab offers your child the most intense therapies, a necessary and enforced period of sobriety away from access to marijuana and enough time for them to gain a little self awareness and control over their drug seeking behaviors.

You need to stay actively involved in the process for the best chance of success though. Teens are little removed from the kids they recently were, and although they can act tough, they still need the support and love from mom and dad when going through challenging phases of life. Involved parental participation and loving support throughout the rehab process has been proven to exert the single greatest influence over the likelihood of eventual rehab success.

Don’t Panic, Do Act

You must take serious action when you find your teen experimenting with marijuana, but for the best chance of success you need to stay in control, get educated and take the steps that are going to work. Have the courage to do what's needed, even when it gets difficult.

Very few parents ever look back regretfully from an overreaction to the threat of drug use, but far too many parents, whose kids get trapped in the web of addiction, wish that they had acted before things got bad, and while they still had a real chance to make a difference.

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Page last updated Jun 09, 2014

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