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When You’re Worried About Substance Use Where Your Child Plays

How to tactfully ensure the environments your kid goes into are safe.

Drinking alcohol and using marijuana is not uncommon, but what if you suspect these substances are being abused at a home where your child wants to play? Two parents and a substance abuse expert weigh in on how to handle the situation.


“I’ve learned that many kind families who love their kids are just comfortable with different behaviors in their homes than I am. I can’t convince another parent otherwise or control their habits, even if I am uncomfortable.

I tell my kids that if they feel uneasy about behaviors in a friend’s house, to trust that feeling, come home, or call me to come get them, no questions asked. I tell them to blame me if they want to leave, but don’t know what to say: “My mom needs me to come home.” When teens are involved, in my opinion, it’s no longer about whether parents are socially using or abusing, but whether kids have easy access to substances that they know would not be allowed at their own home.” 

—Lydia S., mom of two teenagers, Arvada 



“Before making assumptions about substance abuse, focus on observable information, i.e., open alcohol, marijuana, paraphernalia, or behaviors such as visible intoxication.

If you don’t know the family well, talk to them, focusing on your own values for yourself and your family. Tell them that you’d like your child to be in an environment where similar values and behaviors are practiced. If you have a closer relationship, start by expressing concern. Typically, individuals respond better to nonjudgmental sentiments. 

For younger kids, set clear limits about who they can hang out with. For teens, try to get to know their friends and their families and set limits (to the extent you can with teens). For serious problems or concerns for your own child’s behavior, consider seeking out professional advice.” 

—Dr. Christian Hopfer, medical director for UCHealth’s Center for Dependency, Addiction and Rehabilitation (CeDAR) and a professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine



“I would ask myself the following questions: Is it substance use or abuse? Which substance? Could there be a racial or class bias here to the feeling that the parent has a substance abuse issue? There’s a difference between a parent smoking pot on the porch and a parent who is regularly passed out or stumbling around drunk in front of the kids.

If it was the latter, I would tell my kids to never get in a car with that parent, suggest they meet in the park, and encourage the kids to come to my house instead. I’d also get to know the other parents, build a friendship, and gather more evidence than just a feeling to resolve my suspicions.”

—Jennifer M. mom of a three-year-old son, Santa Rosa, California

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