1. Signs of Problematic Substance Use



It can be hard to know whether your young person’s partying is problematic and has evolved into a substance use disorder. A lot of parents who have a young person with a substance use disorder wish they could turn back time. ‘If only I had known sooner’, is a common reflection. It is not until looking back that we realize that there were clues.

At the time, we did not have the experience to understand where the road would lead and did not know where it could take our young person, nor that it could drag parents like us along for the ride. Like you, we love our young person fiercely. Maybe also like you, we were paying attention but still managed to miss the subtle and not so subtle clues. Sometimes we know our young person so well that we filter out the possibility that they could be involved in something so dangerous and harmful. Saying to ourselves, ‘not my child’, can make us one of the last ones to fully see the precarious place that our young person has found themselves in.

One of the biggest factors that finally pushed many of us to seek outside help was that the behaviours and risks escalated exponentially. What started off slowly quickly picked up steam, and our young person tanked, hard and fast. The sooner we grasp the reality of our young person’s increasingly self-destructive behaviours, the better chance we have to support them, keep them from experiencing further trauma, and to reduce substance use related harms.

The good news?

Once we can acknowledge where our family is at, we can be one of the strongest allies in getting our young person the help they need. We have intimate knowledge of our young person’s history. We LOVE and see the whole person.


Each young person’s story, and each family’s journey in (and out) of substance use is unique. That said, like a growth chart for a child’s first years of life, their substance use also follows a development chart of sorts.

Here are common changes in behaviour and signs to watch for:


Violent behaviour might seem to come out of nowhere. It can be scary when you do not recognize this new behaviour and it is not clear what is happening. Remember that this behaviour is likely due to their reaction to the substances they are using or their reaction to your attempts to limit their access to substances.

The first time it happens, feelings of guilt may arise based on how you handled the situation. However, your safety and the safety of your other children matters. Avoid getting physical with your young person. Find a solution that works for you and your family.

Although you cannot prepare for everything, it might be helpful to make a plan for the what-ifs so that you do not have to make a rash decision in the moment.

For more information on signs of problematic substance use, check out the From Grief to Action Coping Kit: Dealing with Addiction in Your Family.[4]

Figure 4 Love Never Fails (Artist J. Correa)


[4] Available at: www.bccsu.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Coping-Kit.pdf