Don't Lose the Head - support booklet for parents and carers
Don't Lose the Head is an easy-to-read booklet for parents, whether or not your teenager uses drugs. It is produced by two services involved in drug prevention - Teen Counselling and the Drug and Alcohol Programme [DAP] of Crosscare.
Teen Counselling is a free counselling service for teenagers and their families, for drug use and other issues. DAP offers phone and internet support to anyone concerned about drugs and alcohol. The booklet gives you the benefit of their experience in working with young people and aims to give you the confidence to help prevent your teenager using drugs.
You can download a PDF version here:
(0.5 MB PDF)
Some information for parents and carers
- If your son or daughter may be using drugs
- If your son or daughter has a problem with drug use
- After you intervene
If your son or daughter may be using drugs
If you suspect that your son or daughter is using a drug, it may be because you have seen or heard something that tipped you off or you have noticed problems with their behaviour. This page will help you to intervene in a constructive way rather than in anger.
A good relationship is important
You may feel angry and disappointed over what has happened. You may be furious at being put in a position where you feel you must intervene. But remember that a good relationship with your son or daughter is the most important factor in keeping them safe, so don't make matters worse by going over the top. Let them know you are angry or disappointed, but don't lose the head.
Take care of yourself first
In the safety announcement on an airplane, they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask first before you help your children with theirs. The same applies here. You have to sort out your own issues before you can help your child with theirs. Talk to other adults, ask advice from friends, contact us.
From your tip-off or what you've seen, do you know what drugs are involved? Don't ignore alcohol, which causes more teenage problems than most other drugs. See our signs and symptoms section to help you figure out which drug.
This is important. Has any harm happened to your son or daughter recently? It doesn't matter whether drugs are the cause or not. When a person uses drugs, there is often a "honeymoon period" at first when the drug causes little or no harm that you can see. It is easier for you to act when there is visible harm you can focus on.
As young people grow from 8 to 18, they also become more independent and, we hope, more responsible too. At 14 or 15, some teenagers will generally do what you ask them to do. At the same age others are very independent, wanting as much freedom as an 18 year old.
When your child is 8 to 12 years of age, you have responsibility for knowing where they are, keeping an eye on them, keeping them safe. As they become more independent, you have to remind them to take responsibility for their own future, their well-being and safety.
Many young people will be offered an illegal drug sooner or later, and you will not be there when this happens. If somebody offers them a drug, they (not you) have to take responsibility for what they do.
You know best
You must choose the way to intervene that is right for you.
If you act to try to change your teenager's drug use, this is called an intervention. To be successful, keep these four points in mind:
- Show your care and concern.
- Stick to the facts - stay focused on what you know for sure, such as drugs you have found, poor reports from school or work or weight loss.
- Hold them responsible for their own choices. Remind them that you cannot protect them from harm that they bring on themselves, whether it is caused by drug use or not. Clearly state what you expect from them, such as that they keep off drugs, get up on time, or not use bad language.
- Give them the choice of support or sanctions. Tell them you will give them as much support as they need if they make an effort to change their behaviour. If they don't try to change, clearly state what you will do. You must decide for yourself what action you should take as a sanction.
Remember, you cannot "make" your son or daughter change their behaviour. You cannot "make" them say no to drugs once they become independent. They control their own behaviour.
If your teenager changes their behaviour, you should give them credit for it. You must also prepare for the possibility that they choose not to change. You must then decide what to do next.
Look for help
Children do not come supplied with an "owner's manual", and most people don't read instructions anyway. When it comes to your children and drugs though, asking for help may be the best thing you can do. You have made a start by looking at this website. For more help, go to our Live Helper service or call us on (01) 836 0911.
2. If your son or daughter has a problem with drug use
First, look after your own needs. The first four points are about you.
Many parents have survived their teenagers' drug use. This crisis could become a turning point for the better.
Get your own feet on solid ground
If you want to help someone stuck in a swamp, you have to have your own feet on solid ground. Families often get drawn in to the "swamp" of the person using drugs. Talk to other people before you tackle your son or daughter, so that you are clear and reasonably calm.
Understand your powerlessness and your power
AA and Al Anon teach us that we are "powerless" to stop an alcoholic from drinking.
There is nothing that you can say or do that is guaranteed to "make" a young person never use an illegal drug, even if that person is your son or daughter. You cannot watch over a 16 or 18 year old all day long. You may spend long sleepless nights searching in your head for a magic formula that will make them change, but it doesn't exist.
Your power lies in being able to take responsibility for what you do yourself. For example:
- You can talk to friends, family members or counsellors.
- You can hold back pocket money or other privileges.
- If there are serious threats of violence, you can call the Garda.
- You can still make plans for a holiday for the family.
Take care of your family
You may find yourself disagreeing with your partner and tending to blame each other. Two heads are much better than one. If you and your partner have different approaches to the problem, that's great. Each approach will have its own value in its own time. Try to work together on this.
Trust your instincts
If you suspect your child of using drugs, you have either seen or heard something that has tipped you off. You don't have to tell them how you found out.
Don't ignore the drug use
If the young person put muddy feet on a good chair, you wouldn't ignore it, so why ignore it if the person uses a drug ?
Carefully consider the outcomes
Ask yourself (and your partner): what outcome do we want? Probably you want your son or daughter to become a self-managing, happy, healthy, responsible human being, and you desperately hope that they will not ruin their own life or anybody else's by using drugs.
Don't waste time looking for confessions of "guilt"
Most young people will not want to admit their drug use to a parent. This doesn't matter. Even without knowing for sure there is a lot you can do.
Preparing to intervene
Choose your time to talk to your child about your concerns. It may help to have another person there, to avoid angry outbursts.
- Prepare well
Talk to other adults, phone a counsellor, discuss with the other person who will be there. Be clear about what you want your child to do and what you will do if they don't change their behaviour.
- Focus on the harm you can see
You can't usually tell whether a person has taken a drug or not, so focus on the harmful effects you can see, such as poor exam results, not getting up in the morning, strange phone calls, undesirable friends, strange smells, mood swings, breaking the law, bad language. Make a list of these in advance if it helps you.
The intervention meeting
Be subtle. Don't try to change your child's behaviour. Let them be responsible for their own choices. But you can clearly spell out:
(a) the harm that you see happening as a result of what they are doing, and
(b) what you will choose to do if they don't try to change.
- Remind them you love them, and that you want to help them to be happy and well.
- Tell them why you are concerned - focus on the harm you can see.
- Talk about your fear that the harm could be caused by drug use.
- Remind them that you cannot and will not take responsibility for keeping them out of trouble and free from drugs. This is their responsibility.
- Be clear about what is unacceptable to you. Spell out what you will do if they don't change their behaviour.
- Tell them you will give all the support they need to help change their behaviour, as long as they are making an effort.
3. After the intervention
- Be prepared to be tested.
- Keep your promises about support and sanctions.
- Don't "enable" or make it easy for them to go on using drugs by rescuing them, giving them money, paying off debts, making excuses for them or covering up for them.