Teen Drug Intervention

A teen drug intervention is a way of talking to, and offering treatment to, teens who are using drugs or who are at risk of using drugs. Family members or friends can use an intervention to help teens realize they have a problem and start on the road to recovery.

Teen drug interventions are conversations with teens about the dangers of using drugs or alcohol in hopes of changing their thinking about drug use. Teen drug interventions can be informal, where a parent or loved one just talks with a teen, or they can be formal, where a loved one or group of loved ones sits down with a teen and tells them their concerns.

Informal teen drug interventions, where parents remind their teens that drug use is dangerous and unacceptable, can take place at many times and for many reasons:

  • Major life events, like starting high school or getting a driver's license
  • Being exposed to TV shows, movies, songs, or news stories about drugs or alcohol
  • If a family member or friend is using drugs or has an addiction, or if someone you know is in a drug-related accident
  • A checkup at the doctor’s office, where the doctor can explain the health effects of teenage drug use
  • Any time parents are concerned about something they see in their teen's life

If you find evidence that your teen is involved in drugs you should talk to them about it as soon as practical.

Informal teen drug interventions should be conversations, not lectures or confrontations. This means that you should have these teen drug interventions when the teen is sober and both of you are calm, and when there are no other distractions like TV or cell phones. Be prepared to ask questions about what the teen thinks about drugs and if they know anyone who uses drugs, and to listen to their answers. If you have specific concerns, like you know that a teen's friends uses drugs or your teen came home past curfew or smelling like smoke, ask directly about these incidents.

Teens may have a negative reaction to an informal teen drug intervention, especially if they are already using drugs. Prepare yourself to remain calm and to answer questions or accusations you think your teen may make. You can tell them what you know about the dangers of drug use, and remind them that you care about them and have a responsibility to help them. It’s okay to tell teens if you don’t know the answer to a question, and it’s also okay to take a break from the conversation and continue it later if either of you are losing your cool.

Set realistic goals about what you want to accomplish in a teen drug intervention, especially for the first conversation. It may be enough just to let teens know that you are concerned or that your family has rules against drug use.

Sometimes parents may need to hold a formal teen drug intervention, especially if their teen is using drugs and isn’t changing their behavior. This can help teens realize they need help. In a formal teen drug intervention a small group of people close to the teen, usually not more than 6, gather to tell the teen their concerns and how the teen's drug or alcohol abuse problem is affecting them. They then ask the teen to get help, and explain the consequences of not getting help.

Family members, mature friends, and other adults who the teen respects and likes, like a coach or religious leader, may be good people to include. Don’t include people the teen doesn’t like, younger children, or people who are not mature enough to help. It may be useful to include a doctor, counselor, or teen drug intervention specialist, especially if the teen has behavioral or mental health problems.

To hold a successful teen drug intervention:

  • Plan carefully ahead of time. This means each person should plan exactly what they will say. It is often helpful to write down specific points each person wants to make so they don't forget. The whole team should meet and plan together, and it may help to rehearse the teen drug intervention and prepare for objections.
  • Research the dangers of the drug you suspect the teen is using, or drug use in general, so you can clearly outline the consequences of drug use and how to treat it.
  • Choose a desired outcome, like the teen going to counseling or entering a treatment program. Be specific and have the best treatment option already prepared for the teen. Ask the teen to make an immediate choice about whether they will start treatment.
  • Decide on consequences if the teen refuses treatment, like not being allowed to drive or being taken off the sports team. Be prepared to follow through immediately on these consequences.
  • Keep the teen drug intervention a secret until the planned time, then invite the teen to talk with you. Hold the teen drug intervention in a private place. A counselor's or doctor's office may be appropriate in some cases.
  • Keep the teen drug intervention calm and caring. Don't yell, accuse, or call names.

When teens agree to quit using or enter treatment after a teen drug intervention, parents need to follow through to make sure the teen goes through with it. This may mean checking up on teens or requiring them to check in. You may also want to consider other methods like random drug testing with your teen’s counselor or family doctor.

If teens refuse help even after a teen drug intervention, you may have to try another strategy, like requiring the teen to attend family counseling with you. A doctor or another professional may be able to help you decide on other strategies to help troubled teens with their drug problem if an intervention doesn't work.


The Parternship for a Drug-Free America, Time to Act, "Intervention eBook" [online]

Mayo Clinic, Mental Illness, "Intervention: Help a Loved One Overcome Addiction" [online]

Related Article: Teen Substance Abuse >>