My son has been using prescription drugs and painkillers

Your Life
Dr. Cathleen McGreal
June, 2015

Q: I just found out that my 15-year-old son, who’s always been a great student and a well-behaved kid, has been using prescription painkillers and synthetic drugs he’s gotten from a classmate. My wife and I never thought we’d have to deal with this problem – what do we do?

A: In my adolescent development class, my students raise a “virtual child.” There are random challenges and a small number of virtual teens experience substance abuse. My students are stunned when they have to confront unexpected problems. Confronting substance abuse in real life is a devastating discovery for parents.  

Have a conversation with your teen. Talk with your son about his use of drugs. Instead of a confrontational approach (How could you do this?), maintain an objective demeanor.  

Warning signs. Have there been changes in his appearance or physical hygiene? Is he truant? What about marked changes in his personality? 

Take action. Your son may try to convince you that it was simply a misunderstanding; take action anyway. Consult your family doctor in order to get a referral to an appropriate specialist. Seek a licensed substance abuse counselor who will tailor therapy to your son’s individual needs. Medication, cognitive-behavioral therapy and group therapy may be suggested as part of an effective treatment and recovery plan.  

Relapse may occur. Changing maladaptive behaviors is challenging. If your son relapses, then there may be a need to adopt a new strategy in his treatment and recovery.

St. Teresa of Avila wrote, “You pay God a compliment by asking great things of him.” Ask God to walk beside your family on a path toward healing.