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Ask BTI: My child came home drunk, what do I do?

Welcome to our first “Ask BTI”.

In this new forum, we will answer commonly asked questions related to youth substance use and offer practical advice for typical real-life situations. Please read on and send us questions you’d like answered in the coming months.


Q: My child came home from a party and was acting drunk. How do I handle that situation?


A: No matter how much you’ve discussed alcohol and drugs with your child - the risks, facts, your rules, values, expectations, consequences - there’s still a chance you may be faced with this situation. The good news is that it presents an opportunity to have a more in depth conversation, not only on substance use but what’s going on in your child’s life. It can be a learning experience for both of you - and one that can lead to a closer parent/child connection. 


IN THE MOMENT.  First, assess your child’s condition. Ask them what substance(s) they used and determine whether your child may be seriously impaired and at risk for alcohol poisoning, other drug overdose or otherwise in need of medical attention. Monitor your child while they fall asleep. Stay calm and avoid reacting out of fear or anger. Postpone any in-depth conversations until your child is sober.


THE MORNING AFTER. Agree on a time to talk about the previous night. Practice “connection before the correction” by reminding your child that it is your job to keep them safe and healthy. Ask questions from a place of curiosity. Give your child a chance to explain what led them to drink or use other drugs. Talk less and listen more. Pay close attention to details such as the where and how of the situation, when and why they decided to use, and how they felt then and now. 


CONSEQUENCES. When deciding on an appropriate consequence, consider your child’s age and whether you've made clear your rules or expectations. In “No Drama Discipline”, Dr. Dan Siegal writes, “Discipline is essential… to teach. We use discipline moments to build skills so kids can handle themselves … and make better decisions in the future.” Discipline is not punishmentThe Latin root for the word discipline” means “to learn” and is more effective than “punishment” (whose Latin root means “causing pain” or “taking vengeance”). One possibility is to have your child attend a drug and alcohol skills training class like those provided by Youth Transforming Justice.


HAVE A PLAN. Agree on a plan for the future. Keep communication open. Does your child need some extra support to deal with stress or other risk factors? Would it be helpful to co-create a family agreement regarding alcohol and drugs? The science is clear that delaying the use of substances until the brain is fully developed decreases the chance of future problems. Whatever you decide for your family, make sure you can stick with it. And remember parents need support too! 


We want to hear from you! Did you find this advice helpful? Let us know in BTI Facebook Group. Do you have a question for BTI? You can pose a question (or anonymous query) by emailing BTI’s columnist and Founder, Laurie Dubin at lauriepdubin@gmail.com


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