Teenagers and drug addiction


- Written by Dr David Bakker, Clinical Psychologist

How to deal with teen drug addiction

It’s natural for teens to seek ways to cope with the changes they’re going through. But, when drugs become a coping strategy, there can be serious consequences.

The good news is that, even if you believe your teenager may be using drugs, it’s completely possible for them to decrease their use or to stop using them altogether. Clinical Psychologist Doctor David Bakker shares some insights on why teens get addicted and offers tips on how to deal with a drug problem in your family.

Why do teenagers take drugs?

Teens may take drugs to:

  • relieve emotional stress

  • feel more in control

  • feel connected to their friends.

A lot of teenagers experiment briefly with drugs. However, the more regularly your teenager is using drugs, the more likely it is that there are more serious issues. Here are some things to look out for:

  • They’re spending a lot of time where drugs could be present.

  • They’re doing badly at school or quitting school activities.

  • They’re fighting with their friends.

  • They’ve become more withdrawn or secretive.

  • They appear to be affected by drugs at home, alone.

  • They avoid, or make excuses to avoid, stressful situations.

How to deal with a drug problem in your family

At this point, a teenager’s drug use may be creating stress. Open communication can help create a sense of teamwork. It’s not you versus them; it’s both of you versus the problem. Saying ‘I feel like you haven’t been yourself lately. Is there anything you want to talk about?’ will work better than ‘You’re stressing me out! What’s wrong with you?’

If they say: ‘Someone at the party had some and I thought I’d try it’

  • Ask if they knew what they were taking, and discuss the effects of the drug.

  • Ask if they felt pressured – and if they did, discuss some clever ways to say no.

For some more tips on how to respond, check out our drug conversation guide.

There are no hard-and-fast rules here. Try things. Adjust them. Don’t give up if things don’t work. The more open and non-judgemental you can be, the easier it will be to minimise the harm to your family.

Teach them ways to feel better

The most important thing is to deal with the reasons they may be trying drugs in the first place. Once you’ve established there is a problem, try some new things together. Here are some ways to build good habits and to deal with stress and loneliness:

  • Talk about feelings; show that expressing them is normal and useful.

  • Collaborate on decisions, rather than commanding or fighting.

  • Encourage them to participate in sports and creative pursuits.

  • Spend time together whenever you can. (Let them choose what you do together.)

How to deal with the stress of worrying about your teenager and drugs

It’s completely normal to worry about your teenager. There is nothing more stressful than thinking that your child may have a drug problem. It can affect your sleep, your concentration, and your work and home life.

However, if you worry too much, your teen may pick up on it. This might stress them out even more, making it harder for you to work together on solving the problem.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself at times like these. It will put you in a better place to be in tune with your teenager and support them through this time.

Here are some simple ways to calm down and look after yourself:

  • Write about your worries in a journal. Break them down into a simple list.

  • Write down a step-by-step plan to fix the problem(s).

  • Use a stress app like WorryTime.

  • Spend some time each week doing something you enjoy.

  • Break a sweat. Try a free workout video on YouTube or go for a run.

  • Ditch the scroll on social media occasionally for a device-free night.

  • Get some sleep. Nothing will chill you out more than a regular snooze.

  • Confide in a good mate about what you’re going through.

What to do next if your teen has a drug problem

If you’re struggling with your teen and things are getting worse, try these tips:

Visit your GP

Young people often use drugs to self-medicate. Visiting your GP with your child is a good opportunity to see if there are mental health problems or other issues present. Your GP can also help by:

  • asking questions about any signs or symptoms your teen has been having

  • recommending local support services

  • referring your child to a psychologist or other mental health professional. This involves creating a Mental Health Treatment Plan for a Medicare rebate on a series of sessions.

Chat with the online drug and alcohol service Counselling Online

If you’d like to chat with someone online, Counselling Online is a free Australian drug and alcohol counselling service. You can email or live chat with them 24 hours a day. The service is run by Turning Point, a national drug addiction treatment centre.

Search the Australian Drug Information Network

The Australian Drug Information Network (ADIN) is an online search directory. It has a detailed list of websites and apps that provide drug and alcohol resources, information and support services.

Call the 24-hour Alcohol and Drug Information Services

You can call the Australian Alcohol and Drug Information Services (ADIS) around the clock if you have questions about local services, counselling or referrals in your state. Local helplines by state:

Australian Capital Territory (02) 6207 9977

New South Wales 1800 422 599 (Regional) (02) 9361 8000 (Metropolitan)

Northern Territory 1800 131 350

Queensland 1800 177 833 (Regional) (07) 3837 5989 (Metropolitan)

South Australia 1300 131 340

Tasmania 1800 811 994

Victoria 1800 888 236 (DirectLine)

Western Australia 1800 198 024 (Regional) (08) 9442 5000 (Metropolitan)

See a psychologist or counsellor with your teen

A psychologist who specialises in seeing teenagers and their families can help you gain a better understanding and provide strategies to focus on.

Suggest to your teen that they speak with a high school or university counsellor

Suggest to your teen that they visit their high school counsellor or university counsellor. There is a full directory of Aussie uni counselling services, contact numbers and emails on the Universities Australia website.

Did you find what you needed?

  • I need to know more – Check out our fact sheet on teenagers and drugs.