My 13 year old son has been smoking and selling weed for at least a year now, drinks whenever he can get any alcohol, and has been black-out drunk. He also smokes cigarettes and vapes. (He's also done acid once.)

This is just what I know; he's most likely done much more than I don't know about.

He has shown signs of memory loss, is becoming increasingly forgetful, and is often very hostile and angry at home. I'm at my wit's end; I don't know what to do.

Any advice? Should I send him to a rehab of some sort?

  • 2
    Keep in mind that any form of rehab only works when the patient sincerely wants to quit their substance abuse.
    – Philipp
    Jan 8, 2016 at 13:59
  • 5
    Jacob, could you give a little more information? Does your son live with you full-time? What sort of discipline have you tried so far? Where is he getting the substances (even alcohol and nicotine aren't legal to purchase at 13)?
    – Acire
    Jan 8, 2016 at 17:47
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    To add to @Erica's questions, has he been to counseling? Jan 8, 2016 at 19:12
  • Note that memory loss due to marijuana is temporary unless you're using an absolutely insane amount. A few weeks after stopping, memory will return to normal.
    – forest
    May 6, 2019 at 1:46

5 Answers 5


This is not going to be a complete answer, because you have not given much detail (what you've tried, how he gets the substances, how he's gotten around it and why, etc.) I'll modify the answer when additional information becomes available. I'll assume it's as bad as you say, and you've tried grounding, taking away privileges, etc., and nothing has worked.

He is 13, and he's on a pretty seriously life-threatening course (I'm concerned especially with the alcohol abuse, the blackouts, the illegality of his behavior, the quality of his life, and the life-threatening aspect of alcohol abuse. The marijuana use is concerning as well; but the alcohol abuse - and their combined use - is truly alarming.)

As with any life threatening situation, get him to a specialist. If he has not been in counseling, ask your pediatrician for the name of some adolescent therapists who deal in drugs and addiction, and make an appointment immediately. While he's still young, you have some control over his movements and his environment.

I want to emphasize that you've got a limited amount of time in which to act here. A child becomes an adult at 18, and there's very little you can do after that to force change of any kind.

Start treatment in an outpatient setting. (You might benefit from some help as well, on how to best deal with the child's behavior, setting realistic boundaries and consequences, negotiating contracts, etc., so that you don't lose hope/feel at your wit's end.)

Once you start treatment in an outpatient setting, if the you and the therapist feel outpatient therapy is working, great!

If the therapist thinks a substance-abuse program might help, then send him to one. That's one option. That option will probably be covered by insurance as well.

However, if the therapist feels outpatient therapy isn't working - which is something to take very seriously - please strongly consider a wilderness program. (Adolescent therapists and child psychiatrists dealing with drug-abuse will know some effective ones; if they don't, there are specialized consultants that can recommend the best program for your child - for a price.)

At-risk youth tend to be ill equipped to engage in traditional counseling interventions, which require them to be verbal and to disclose thoughts and feelings. Wilderness therapy, a specialized approach within adventure-based counseling, provides an alternative treatment modality that maximizes the client's tendency to spontaneously self-disclose in environments outside the counseling office.

I'm not talking about the more familiar "Outward Bound" type programs, or sloppy programs thrown together to make a buck (where there has been teen-abuse and even some deaths); I'm referring to true wilderness therapy programs as discussed in this article from the American Psychological Association webpage discussing the rationale:

That's because the wilderness is devoid of escape hatches: Hiding in one's room playing computer games is not an option. In addition, the longer stay helps break down defensive barriers, with young people typically going through an avoidance stage, a learning stage, and a stage in which they start to internalize healthier thinking and behavior patterns.

Getting at-risk teens out of their home environment - where friends and social pressures may reinforce self-destructive behaviors - is a potent tool, one you can still use in your child's teens. Once he moves out or turns 18, you have no such ability.

If you live in the US, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) webpage and hotline can also be a source of good information.

Therapy gone wild
Wilderness Therapy as a Treatment Modality for At-Risk Youth: A Primer for Mental Health Counselors


It sounds like your child is heading down a dangerous path. I would recommend considering treatment moving forward. Keep in mind that there are many different treatment options available. From your description, I’m assuming your son has no desire to stop and you have tried to discipline him. This is a tricky scenario. Many people will argue that no matter what, someone who doesn’t have a desire to stop doing drugs will not stop until they are ready. I have found this to be true somewhat, but treatment centers can function as an intervention early on and might end up convincing your son that he has a problem in the first place. I really hope this helps. Just know that you are not alone. Millions of parents are struggling with the same thing. I would suggest doing plenty of research on drug addiction treatment options if you haven't already. Also, find Al-Anon meetings or other support networks for parents that are going through the same thing. Drugs and alcohol do a lot of damage to families, and it is important that you get the support you need as well.


I was a 13 year old kid with drug and alcohol problems. I am now 21 and in the receiving process. It was hard for me because my mother was lenient and my father wouldn't have anything to do with it.

This indeed is an extremely tough topic. First it comes from who he is around. Peer pressure is either horrible or very good. His mind set and point of view are also very important.

Taking him to talk to someone may not work because since this has been going on for awhile now he may be passive to the situation. Right now he is probably thinking he and it is cool. Drugs are extremely powerful and will make everything in life not important. Even sitting him down and showing him the research and the causes and effects may not make that much of an impression on him. I remember how I was and no matter what you would say, I would just laugh. But I do agree with sitting down with him and talking to him as if he was an adult since he wants to mess around with adult things. Ask him if he wants help or if there is anything he would like you to do because you don't want him going down this road, let alone this early. But before you do, do your research on the drugs you know he is doing. But you have to get him before be gets addicted because there isn't an end until he hits rock bottom.

This question also has to do with the family morals and how you feel about certain drugs. I was talking to my boyfriend who is our daughters dad and he said he would sit her down, ask her what drugs she's into and take her to see what the drugs do to you. Talking to him only goes so far but showing him will make a big impression. No matter where you live, drugs are everywhere and are easy to find and see their effects. He is old enough to see the ugly side of it, and don't spare him. You can call treatment facilities or police stations and ask if he can sit down with someone that is going through it. Hell, I'd even drive to the bad side of town to show him how people live while on drugs.

In our family, pot was never bad and some family members are making a career out of growing and selling it (in states its legal in, of course). If I were to pick anything for my daughter to do, it'd be pot and then I would go from there. Kids are kids and I wouldn't be SO worried about the hallucinogens and pot but the alcohol and hard drugs like cocaine, heroin and meth are the ones you have to worry about.

Good luck and welcome to the long road of drugs, sorry to say.


As a Mom of a 14 yr old who I believe is headed in this direction, I would intervene now with professional help. Contact the crisis hotline in your area. If they deem him to be a danger to himself or others, there are more options to get him the help he needs. If he isn't, there are some amazingly trained counselors who can help steer him onto the right path. I wouldn't waste another second thinking about getting him professional help.


A 13-yo will have a tough time engaging in treatment. You are going to have to force it for a while. Depending on his developmental maturity, 2 years at least, maybe 4.

You're up against prison and death. Not to frighten you, but the risk of either is significant. He is in big, bad trouble

Outpatient treatment will be a waste of time until he's cleaned out. Don't wait. Go to rehab. Inpatient. A general mental health center or a specialized pediatric facility depending on your community's resources. Let them figure out the next step.

Expect multiple visits to rehab. Do not expect AA or other 12-step programs to work for years.

Prioritize. Don't let him get a driver's license. In the US, I would highly recommend a military school after he gets clean. It is his best chance. As you are probably aware, the stats are against you.

Good luck

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