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What Should Parents Do if Their Teen Comes Home Smelling Like Alcohol or Weed?

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT

Meet The Team >

We generally try to be positive in our posts, and give you tips about what to do as opposed to what not to do. In this case – if your teen comes home smelling like alcohol and/or marijuana – we’re going to go straight for three crucial dont’s:

  1. Don’t ignore it.
  2. Don’t fall for the typical, predictable explanations, such as:
    1. Someone spilled it on me.
    2. Other people at the party were smoking.
    3. I only had a sip.
  3. Don’t let them gaslight you. Most adults know perfectly well what alcohol and marijuana smell like. We bet you do, too. Trust your nose and your experience.

The Obvious Signs

If you smell alcohol on their breath, they drank alcohol. If the smell of alcohol is accompanied by slurred speech and drunken behavior, there’s your answer: your teen is probably tipsy or drunk. That’s a simple fact. If they smell like weed, you may not be able to prove they smoked weed, but they were clearly in a place where other people were. If the smell of marijuana is accompanied by glazed, red eyes and non-typical mood or behavior, there’s your answer: your teen is probably high.

Remember you’re the adult. You have decades of experience on them: don’t fall for any nonsense.

That’s enough of the dont’s.

Time for the do’s:

  1. Do take it seriously. Whether you think it’s serious or not, we think it is. And we think you should take it seriously, too. Innocent experimentation and boundary pushing or not, the negative consequences of allowing your teen to develop an alcohol or drug problem through your inaction are too great to ignore. That’s our position and we won’t budge.
  2. Do have the serious conversation – but wait until morning. If you think reasoning with a teen is hard on a good day, then we recommend not trying to reason with them when they’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The next morning, state facts, like this: I smelled alcohol on your breath last night. We need to talk about that (see items 2 and 3 above).
  3. Do enact consequences (or outcomes) and don’t wimp out on following through. If alcohol and drugs are behaviors you don’t want your teen to engage in, then you have to hold them accountable for their actions. We don’t recommend any free passes on this: the outcome should be swift, logical, and match the behavior. If your car was involved, then the go-to outcome is a no-brainer: take the car away for a period of time, but let them know there’s a path to restoring the privilege.

The Talk: Stand Together

When you have the conversation, make sure you do it without emotion. Be firm, be the adult, and if both parents are involved, present a united front. If one of you thinks it’s a big deal and the other thinks it’s not, you need to resolve that before you talk to your teen. Get on the same page – we recommend the one that says no alcohol and drug use allowed – and stick to that page you present during the talk. Teens can smell parental discord a mile away and they’ll do their best to exploit division in order to avoid getting in trouble. Be strong, be the responsible adult, and take action the first time: the consequences of inaction are far too great.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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