When in Doubt, DO Act on Suspicion of Drug Use by Fern Weis

Updated: Jan 14, 2019



"When in doubt, don't." The version that I heard from my parents was, "If you'd be embarrassed to tell me about it, then don't do it." It's a great message for teens to hear, since they are so impulsive and will do just about anything to fit in. This guideline applies to adults as well. Most of the time. There are a couple of very important exceptions, though: when it comes to their health and safety, DO! When it comes to suspected drug use, DO!

Here in New Jersey, if a teacher observes a student behaving in a way that fits the profile of drug use, he is required by law to report it. The student is taken from class and sent for drug/alcohol testing. If the test comes back negative, there are no repercussions for the staff member. (One year one of my students was seen falling asleep in several classes. He was sent for drug testing. Happily, the results were negative; however, his parents learned that he was seriously sleep-deprived because he was texting a friend in California throughout the night. This was a problem that was more easily fixed.)

Drug use is a dangerous symptom of other problems: depression, rage, inability to resist peer pressure, low self-esteem. If you suspect your child of using/abusing drugs, which would you prefer: to know the truth and intervene, or to live in ignorance and have a potential crisis later on? I can't tell you how many parents have said, "What if I'm wrong? I don't want to falsely accuse my child." There is an immediate fear at work here. These parents are afraid of the backlash if they are wrong. They worry about loss of trust. I'd rather deal with that, because there's no turning back from addiction, or worse.

"Oh, but it's only pot." "My child has only tried it once or twice." More rationalizing about why not to act. If you already know or believe they are dabbling, there is probably more going on than you know.

The district I used to teach in instituted a voluntary, random drug-testing program. It is a very successful program. What's the point, you may ask? Aren't those the kids who wouldn't use anyway? If the test result is positive, it is potentially a life saved. Random testing is a deterrent, too. Knowing that they can be tested at any time helped some kids 'say no to drugs'.

You can't afford to take a head-in-the-sand, wait-and-see approach. You can't wait for beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt proof. You must be strong enough to withstand the anger and attitude and even rejection. When in doubt, DO. Your child's life could depend on it.

Reflection/Action

1. Do you suspect your child of using or abusing drugs and alcohol? If so, what conversation have you had, or action have you taken? If you haven't talked about it, or acted on it, what's stopping you?

2. Prepare children for how you will react if you suspect something. Let them know that this is a non-negotiable issue. Explain that you recognize that they will be furious with you for doubting them, or discovering their secret; however, you are 100% committed to their safety and future and are willing to risk it.


Fern Weis is a Parent Coach and Family Recovery Life Coach. She works with parents of teens and young adults who are going through difficult situations, from the homework wars to addiction recovery, and all points in between. Fern helps parents release guilt, end enabling, and confidently prepare their children to thrive and be successful through life's challenges. FernWeis.com | 201-747-9642

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