Module 3: So You Think Your Teen is Using Drugs





True or False

Typical Behavioural Changes

Signs of Possible Drug Use

How to Start Talking About Drug Use

Having the Talk





Welcome to "So You Think Your Teen is Using Drugs," the third interactive module in our "Talk About Drugs” series.


This series was developed by Peel Public Health to help you as parents talk to your children about drugs.


My name is Clair and I’ll be your guide for this module. We will look at the subtle signs and changes in behaviour that may point to drug use and offer tips on how to ensure open and honest communication.1t


As parents, our relationship with our children is one of the main influences on whether or not they will choose to use drugs. But we also know many other people have an influence over our children. These modules are meant for anyone that cares for and nurtures a child, including parents, caregivers, grandparents, older siblings and others.


It's time to introduce some of the people who will be sharing their insights and experience related to talking about drugs: Barry, his daughter Kim; Eve and her son Ryan.


Although we often refer to teenagers throughout this module, this information is useful for a child of any age that you think is using drugs.




Let’s start with a brief quiz.


True or False: A bong hidden under your teenager's bed is likely a sign of drug use. This is True. A bong hidden under your teenager's bed is likely a sign of drug use.


True or False: Your own attitude and practices related to drugs have a major impact on your child. This is True. You are your child’s biggest role model. You influence their thoughts and behaviours. So what you say and do makes a difference.


True or False: Any drug use, including alcohol, can have damaging effects on brain development, especially in teens as the body develops into adulthood. This is True. Drug use can have damaging effects on brain development.


True or False: If your teen is not using, experimenting or trying drugs, it is not important to talk about it as a family. This is False. Children are less likely to use drugs when parents talk to them early and often.


True or False: Changes in  behaviour are always a sign that a teenager is using drugs. This is False. Changes in behaviour are also a normal part of beng a teenager.




As parents, the more we know about drugs, the better prepared we will be to talk to our children. We'll start by looking at typical behavioural changes that you may notice in a teen on drugs.


Behavioural Changes in Typical Teens:

      Sleep more

      Mood swings

      Act differently

      Talk differently

      Want more money

      Body changes


Behavioural Changes in Teens On Drugs:

      Sleep more

      Mood swings

      Act differently

      Talk differently

      Want more money

      Body changes


Did you notice the behavioural changes in typical teens and teens on drugs are the same? Changes in mood and behaviour associated with drug use are also typical of adolescent behaviour. This makes it difficult to tell if a child is using drugs.


Barry: “Kim seems to have more ups and downs than a yo-yo.”


Kim: “Hello! If you had gymnastics, track, term papers to write and finals to study for, you wouldn’t be happy all the time either.”


Barry: “She's also got a little more attitude when she talks, although you might not notice because she can go through the whole day saying nothing.”


Kim: “Ok, so I don't talk sometimes. I just don’t have anything I want to share with my dad. Why is that such a problem?”


It can be difficult to know what is really going on. That’s why it’s important for parents to take the time to understand the reasons behind a teen's behaviour.  Try and see the world through their eyes and don't be too quick to judge.




All teens go through changes. Nonetheless, there are certain signs of possible drug use that a parent should be aware of. 


Signs of drug use to watch for:

      Sudden changes in behaviour

      Red/irritated eyes

      Difficulty sleeping

      Slurring words

      Drop in school grades

      Less involved with family

      Harder time focusing

      Changes in friends

      Moody, depressed

      Changes in appearance


Items that may indicate drug use:

·         Rolling papers

·         Bongs or water pipes

·         Pipes

·         Grinder

·         Lighter


When looking for signs of drug use, the most important thing is to trust your feelings.


If you think something is not right or concerns you, talk to your teen and find out what’s going on before you assume they’re using drugs.


If you see a major change in their behaviour, friends, grades or interests, trust your feelings and talk to your teen about the changes you are seeing.




So how do you start talking to your child about drug use? If you are concerned that your child is using drugs the first step you should take is to stop and think. You may want to jump into action right away—but I can't stress enough the importance of thinking things through, before talking to your teen.


Think about what is okay and not okay for your family; such as, how you’d like your children to act when they are exposed to drugs.  Every family will be different. Now look at your own actions and ask yourself what message is your behaviour sending to your children.


Barry: “I really had to take some time and think about what I believed was right for me and my family. I realized I couldn’t just set down a bunch of rules for my kids and then set a bad example by continually breaking the rules myself. Looking at my own behaviour and beliefs was challenging, but I knew it was important.”


Your teen is likely confused about their identity and what they want, who they are and what others think of them. Likewise, you as a parent are likely feeling strong emotions and struggling to understand and relate to your teen. You may be worried about your teen’s behaviour in and outside of the home; sad that your teen isn’t talking to you about their life—or about anything; and feeling a loss of control when your teen makes their own decisions.


There are no right or wrong emotions and these are all normal for both you and your teen. The important thing is to recognize and accept what you are feeling, because it will help in what comes next: Talking to your teen about drugs.




First, you need your children to feel that the home is a safe place where they can talk openly and honestly without being judged or punished. If you talk outside of the home, choose a place where it is comfortable for both of you to talk. Second, you need to choose a time when emotions aren’t involved and you are both feeling calm. For example, it might not be a good time to talk if your teen comes home late and has been drinking, or if you’ve been fighting about an issue.


Barry: “I made that mistake, trying to talk with Kim one evening.  She came home from a party, I could smell alcohol on her breath and she let it slip that no parents were supervising. I hit the roof!! But, the more I yelled, the more defensive she became. So I left it until the morning when we had both settled down. This time around, I remained calm and asked her to explain why she'd gone to a party with no parental supervision. I listened as she told me that her friends were going and the parents would be home later so it seemed ok. I explained why I was concerned and how often these parties led to serious things happening. Kim knew that she'd broken our family rules and our value of trust and there were consequences for that. She also knew I wasn't about to let her off the hook.”


Here are a few things Barry learned:


·         Remain calm, ask for explanations – don’t assume anything.

·         Wait for their answers.

·         Explain why you are concerned and the changes you have seen.

·         Remind them of the family rules and consequences for breaking them.


Let’s check in and see how Barry wrapped up this conversation.


Barry: “Kim, here’s where I’m at right now. You knew I didn’t want you drinking alcohol, because we’ve been clear that underage drinking is not ok in this family.  So, I am struggling with the idea of letting you go to any more parties because I feel you’ve broken our trust.”


Kim: “Ya, I get where we’re at right now but I think you need to give me the opportunity to rebuild your trust. Isn’t everyone allowed to make a mistake?”


Barry: “I know everyone makes mistakes, so I need you to be open and honest about the next party you’re invited to and we’ll talk about it at that time. In the meantime, I’d like you to go upstairs because I need to think about appropriate consequences for this incident. Hey Kim, you know I love you right?”


Kim: “Ya, I know.”


Barry started off on the wrong foot, but the next day, he took a better approach. Follow his example and after you talk, make sure you carry out the consequences that are appropriate for you and your family. And remember, if you need it, it’s ok to get help from others.


A final recap of tips for talking about drugs include:

·         Trust your feelings and observations

·         Think about your emotions and family values

·         Look at the example you are setting

·         Make the home a safe place to talk

·         Follow through on consequences




Please note: If your child or someone you know displays signs of serious drug use, don’t be afraid to seek help. Consider speaking to your family doctor, or visit for a list of community resources.


To learn more visit


Thanks for joining me.  And remember, talk early and talk often.