Drug Testing News BLOG

Let’s talk intervention.

Now, don’t let that word scare you. When you hear it, you’re probably thinking about things you’ve seen on TV where washed-up celebrities scream at people who are trying to help them.

You don’t want that.

That’s why it’s best to intervene with your child early and do it in a planned, controlled and -- most importantly -- calm manner.

I’ll not sugar coat it; this is going to be uncomfortable for you and your child. You might think talking about sex with your child is awkward, but that’s something you actually want them to do someday. This is talking about something that you don’t want them to do (and that they probably think is relatively harmless).

Whether you know for a fact that your child is doing drugs or you merely suspect them of doing drugs, it is a good idea to talk with them about drugs (it’s also a good idea to talk to them about drugs even if they’re not doing them, by the way). Talking to them about how you feel about drug use even when you have no reason to suspect them of drug use will also prepare them for situations where they will be exposed to drugs (and, unless you live in some kind of alternate universe, this is pretty much a guarantee). While they might be belligerent and standoffish during the conversation, know that they are listening to you and they do care what you think of them.

Interventions don’t need to be huge productions. A short conversation about how you feel about drug use that gets your point across can be a powerful tool. We’re starting small here, remember. Hopefully, they’ll never get to the stage where they need a film crew and caterers for an intervention.

There is never a bad time for an intervention, but you should try to avoid one if your teen is high on a drug. First thing in the morning is a pretty solid time to ensure your teen won’t be high or coming down from some kind of drug. And also remember that you, yourself can’t be self-medicating with anything. You might think that you need a drink or a cigarette to get through the conversation or that a couple of valium will help you, but if your teen sees that you are under the influence of drugs -- and prescription drugs, nicotine, and alcohol count (I did say the sugar coating is off, right?) -- it will completely undermine your point. Obviously, if you’re taking medication like antibiotics or heart medicine or something like that, that would be acceptable.

There are two types of interventions:

1. Formal

This is a conversation that is planned well in advance and that involves your child, you and other loved ones like siblings, grandparents or friends and maybe a trained counselor.

Formal interventions are best for people who have already refused help and who have been abusing drugs for a long time. It can be shocking to find a room full of loved ones waiting for you to try and explain how your drug use has affected them and this isn’t appropriate for a teen who you haven’t talked about drugs with yet. As mentioned before, hopefully, it never comes to that.

2. Informal

This is a one-on-one (if you’re a single parent), or two-on-one conversation with you, your child and your partner.

A private conversation is the best place to start. Try to have it in the morning before anyone has to run off to start their day and possibly get distracted.

Informal Intervention 101

Be prepared

Knowledge is your best tool for an intervention. You’re not trying to guilt your teen into stopping drug abuse or simply saying it’s a bad thing to do. You are trying to get them to realize that it has serious negative consequences for them and the people around them.

Do some research on drugs and collect some facts that you can use. There is a lot of hokey information floating around the internet. Teens believe marijuana is okay and may even cure cancer (the claims are out there) so you should go to reputable sources to get your information and refrain from making outlandish claims or you’ll risk looking as delusional as the marijuana-cures-cancer nuts.

Your kids might be as armed with information as you are and if you do get stumped by something they say, don’t let that discourage you. Take note of it and tell them that you can look into it together but for now you want to discuss the situation at hand.

But this isn't just about cold, hard facts. In fact, intervention is more about how you feel about the situation than anything else. You obviously know how you feel about the situation, but do you know how to articulate that effectively? Try a dry run with someone and see how the words sound coming out of your mouth.

If your teen isn’t armed with information, they might be armed instead with colorful and hurtful remarks to throw at you or issues from the past that will steer the conversation away from their current drug abuse. This is where you have to be polite but firm. Don’t simply dismiss what they say, but instead tell them that you are willing to talk about other things but right now this particular conversation is about their current or suspected drug abuse and that’s where the conversation has to stay for the time being.

Stay calm

There is a very distinct chance that your child will not be calm and level-headed during this conversation, so you have to be. You’re not an accuser, you’re a rational, reasonable, concerned and, above all, loving parent. So, don’t yell and don’t use accusatory statements. Think; conversation, not confrontation. Losing your temper will effectively end the conversation. And speaking of conversations, make sure that this is one and not a lecture. Conversations involve input from more than one party, so ask your child questions so they not only get a chance to talk but are expected to. And listen to what they have to say.

People do drugs more than just because they think they’re fun. They do them to fit in or because they relieve anxiety for them (at least to begin with). If this is the case with your child, talk to them about different ways of fitting in or relieving anxiety like playing sports or music or doing some kind of other constructive activity.

Don’t be judgmental

Interventions aren’t about punishment or discipline, they’re about the health and well-being of your child. Refrain from making them feel like you’re ashamed of them or that they are facing some sort of punishment for their actions. It’s a good idea to declare immunity for them for whatever is said during the intervention. And mean it. That means that if your child tells you that they stole money from your wallet to buy drugs a week ago, that theft has to go unpunished. Openness and honesty are what you’re after here.

Be direct and honest with them

There’s that ‘H’ word again. It’s an important one. Refrain from making outrageous statements like their drug use is tearing the family apart. Just honestly tell them why you want them to stop abusing drugs.

And being honest also involves being honest with yourself. Alcohol, cigarettes and prescription drugs were mentioned earlier and you know that your child is going to jump at the chance to point out the hypocrisy of talking about drugs with them while you are doing them yourself. This would be a good time to talk to them about the difference between social drinking with friends and getting drunk every night. It might also be a good time to talk about possibly giving up some things that you’re addicted to yourself, like cigarettes. But don’t let the conversation turn to you, though. You can always talk about that later (as long as you follow through with that) or talk about it once you’re definitively done with the intervention, as it’s rather difficult to set parameters around conversations. All of this should be open to discussion, but this intervention should be focused on them until you’ve gotten your point across.

Should you be honest about your own drug history? There is no definitive answer for that. Debate rages about this with some saying acknowledging your own drug abuse history is tantamount to giving them implicit permission to experiment while others say it’s important that your child sees you as someone they can relate to and if you share your experience with drugs, they’ll be more willing to share theirs.

Personally, I’m an advocate of acknowledging your own drug history, especially if your child asks you point blank about it. You can always use it as a talking point, but best of all, you get to avoid lying to your child about drug use. (Lying about drug use is something you’re trying to prevent, remember?)

Pay attention to your child

This means turning off your phone and TV, making sure other children don’t disturb you, ignoring the door or other distractions. This is one of the most important conversations you will have with your child and it should be given the weight it deserves. Make sure they know that at this moment, they are the most important thing in your life. This also goes for making sure their phone is off and they have no distractions, either.

Have a goal

This goes back to being prepared. You don’t want the conversation to end ambiguously. You want them to take something definitive away from the conversation. Are you satisfied that you’ve told them how you feel about drug use? Or do you want them to verbally agree to seek professional help or stop doing drugs? Do you want them to be more forthcoming about their activities and whereabouts when they’re with friends? You might want to try drawing up a list to make sure that you cover all your points. And although you’ve granted them immunity for things brought up in this conversation, it’s imperative that you let them know the consequences for continued bad behavior. Some parents like to draw up written contracts with their children. It helps to have things in writing. But be sure they also understand that your door is always open to them to talk.

It’s also a good idea to accept that your child isn’t likely to openly admit to drug use the first time you talk about it, so don’t go into it with the expectation that they will, even if you know for a fact that they’ve been abusing drugs.

Take a break if you need to

There can potentially be crying and yelling during interventions, so go ahead and take a break if one is required. (No breaks for general awkwardness, though. You’ll just have to suck it up and work through that.) Give you and your teen five or ten minutes to cool off before proceeding if things get too heated. This does not mean turning on the TV or starting to do something else. This means actually setting a timer for five or ten minutes and letting your child know that once that timer goes off, you’re going to be talking again.

As you prepare for the intervention, don’t forget to take a look at drug abuse in your family. If we have reason to suspect our kids of drug abuse, we all want to think that it’s just experimentation and that they’ll eventually grow out of it. But if there is a family history of abuse, drug abuse may just be a more serious problem for your child than you thought. You need to be prepared for that, too.

By following these tips, you can have a constructive and fruitful intervention with your child.

Good luck!