How to Approach Your Child About Addiction

Male teenager and his father sitting on stone near lake and talking about life

If you suspect that your child is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, it’s essential to talk about getting them the help they need. Here are some tips to help facilitate the conversation:

Remember that addiction is a disease. Addiction affects the brain, essentially rewiring the reward and risk centers, which becomes a significant obstacle to overcome once substance use has gotten out of control. Shame, blame, and calls for more willpower rarely motivate individuals to stop using and start recovery. Those tactics often have the opposite effect.

Check in with yourself. Understand your feelings about addiction before talking with your child. Seek guidance from a professional to unpack thoughts and emotions healthily and constructively. Learn how to hone a non-judgmental approach and adopt a growth mindset to help find balance for what’s to come, from celebrating wins to navigating challenges.

Understand the why. Learn the reasons why your child started using drugs or alcohol. It might be stress from school or work, pressure to fit in with a new group of peers, or a way to self-medicate to deal with trauma or other mental health matters. Knowing the motivations for using and not being judgmental can help you figure out how to help them quit.

Do your due diligence. Begin by researching treatment options and present it as a way to heal and grow, not as a punishment or a quick fix. Decide what you will say, including open-ended questions and specific examples of how substance use has affected your child’s life, how you will say it, and if you will talk with them alone or with a group.

Follow through. Your child needs to know that you will be there for them while on their journey. It can be challenging to watch the ups and downs of treatment. Be caring, compassionate, and ready to stand firm and impose consequences whenever boundaries break or harmful behaviors arise that can jeopardize their progress.

Whether the talk happens due to concern for diminished wellbeing or in the wake of the consequences of being under the influence, be sure to establish a safe and comfortable space for conversation. Two-way communication and active listening are a chance to build trust and hope for the journey.

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol use disorder, JADE Wellness Center, Pittsburgh’s First comprehensive medicated assisted treatment center, can help. We provide a comprehensive variety of individualized, flexible drug and alcohol outpatient treatment options for adults, adolescents, and families struggling with chemical dependency issues at all stages of the addiction process. To learn more about our onsite and telehealth services, visit or call 412-380-0100.