How To Talk To Your Child About Substance Use

There are many life talks that parents need to have with their teens, and substance abuse is one of the big ones. It is important for teens to understand the real risks and consequences of drug use.

Teens are at the threshold of adulthood. Not children anymore, but not adults either. They crave independence and want to test boundaries as they begin to discover their identity outside of the family unit. This is also a time when their relationships with friends tend to carry more weight than their relationships with family, especially when it comes to decision making. That is why this time period is crucial to addressing drug use. 

Talking to Your Teen

It may feel uncomfortable for both of you, but sitting down to talk to your teen about drug use creates a foundation of communication and trust that you can continue to build on as they face challenges throughout their adolescence. Below are some things to keep in mind when you talk with our teen:

  1. Set clear rules: Teens look for the grey area. If you say: “Make good choices”, they may hear: “It’s OK to drink as long as you don’t blackout.” Make sure your teen understands your expectations around drugs and alcohol. Help them understand your reasoning behind the rules. Any substance use impairs judgment and teens are more likely to find themselves in problematic and potentially dangerous situations like driving drunk or having unwanted or risky sexual encounters. It can also affect them in school. If they get caught it could go on their record—something they won’t want when they’re applying to colleges—and if they play sports they could be cut from the team.
  2. Ask and listen: Many teens seem like they’re always primed for a fight and conversations have a tendency to escalate quickly. When talking with your teen about drug use, show them that they can talk without receiving any judgment. Ask them what they know about substance use and abuse and listen when they tell you where they got their information. Be sure that you are providing them with the facts, instead of the rumors they may hear from their friends.
  3. Discuss the danger of legal and illegal drugs: Teens may feel that some drug choices, such as legal marijuana or prescription pills are a “better” choice when experimenting with drugs. They may believe that because it is possible for them to get a prescription for these substances, they are safer than illegal drugs. Talk with them about the dangers and potential consequences of these legal choices as well. 
  4. Explore the why: If your teen has already begun experimenting with drugs, try to have them explore why. Are they feeling pressured by friends? Are they struggling with their emotional or mental health and using drugs to numb their symptoms? Exploring the root cause of drug use can be the first step in addressing underlying issues before they lead to addiction.
  5. An ongoing conversation: Know that talking about drug use isn’t going to be a one time conversation. Risk factors for substance use can change and multiply as teenagers weather the trials and pressures of adolescence. Keep an eye out for changes in your child’s mood and demeanor, shifting peer groups, and other signs that it might be time to check in about their safety and your expectations.

Trails Carolina Can Help

At Trails Carolina, our wilderness therapy program’s mission is to give your child the confidence, coping mechanisms, and communication skills that will help them become the best version of themselves. Throughout our wilderness program, families restore and rebuild their relationship with their child. We believe that by connecting with nature in a wilderness therapy setting, your child can learn to address their problematic behaviors, gain valuable personal insights, and learn important lessons. Free from the distractions and negative influences of everyday life, they can focus on their own personal growth and healing process.

Our multidisciplinary team of caring, expert staff will be there to guide your child along their unique path to psychological and emotional wellness. This journey can lead to a renewed sense of self and a happier, healthier future brimming with opportunity. For more information please call (828) 408-0396.

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Jeremy Whitworth

As Executive Director at Trails Carolina, a leading wilderness therapy program for youth and teens, I oversee operations and collaborate with our leadership team. Since 2022, I've also hosted the Common Ground Podcast for parents: With a background in Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education, I've managed adventure-based therapeutic programs across the US and Canada. My experiences in competitive athletics and adventure sports have honed my leadership, risk assessment, and decision-making skills, which I apply to running a successful business like Trails Carolina.

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Trails saved my daughter’s life. Amanda is an amazing human and a brilliant therapist. I am so grateful to her, Science Steve, and the other wonderful people who could reach my daughter at a time when I could not.

Margot Lowman August 2022

Great life changing experience for our son. After becoming addicted to gaming during covid he was very depressed. At Trails he experienced the wilderness, Science Steve, learning survival skills and top notch therapy and support etc… I highly recommend! This gave our son and our family a renewed family bond full of love and excitement about his bright future.

Winnifred Wilson July 2022


Outstanding clinical work and superb staff! There’s a great culture at this company and it shows with how they engage with families/clients.

Kristin Brace June 2022


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