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Drugs, Alcohol and off to University!




Our son is 17 and he is finishing grade 12. We know that he likes to smoke dope and we have caught him drunk several times. He wants to attend university outside of town and we want him to attend locally. We are worried about his drug and alcohol use and that it will get worse if he goes away. What should we do?


While drug and alcohol use is in part within the normal range of teenaged behaviour, we know that those teens who start using drugs and/or alcohol in their early teens are more apt to develop drug and alcohol related problems in their latter teens and adult life.

We also know that a subset of teens who use these substances do so in a way that interferes with their academic, home and/or work related activities. Lastly, there is also a subset of teens whose substance use is more sporadic, yet excessive when consuming. This style of substance use is known as bingeing. Binge users, while typically more apt at maintaining ongoing responsibilities are also at far greater risk of unintentional injury, disability and death owing to the degree of intoxication and lost judgment whilst using.

Given your son is 2 years under the legal limit for alcohol consumption, uses dope and has been caught drunk several times, you are right to be concerned about him when away from any semblance of supervision. If his current drug and alcohol use causes family strife, interferes with his school or job, then you should be even more concerned.

Time is marching and he may seek to attend university out of town to further "enjoy" these misguided recreational activities. It is best to address these issues as soon as possible and as far in advance of choosing to remain local or not.

The only true way you will ever know what is in your son's system is through random drug testing. Whilst this raises issues of trust and his independence and is contrary to the normal pulls of adolescence towards individuating form family, it remains the only strategy to determine his consumption. Further, the other indicator of performance is his grades.

Thus if your son wants independence and the paradox of your support to facilitate it, he can agree to drug testing and maintaining reasonable grades to continue to receive your support.

That your son remains drug free and hopefully refrains from any or excessive use of alcohol, whilst obtaining acceptable grades is a fully reasonable request of any supportive parent.

If he balks, you may have a bigger problem on your hand that could require professional support.


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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
(905) 628-4847  


Gary Direnfeld is a social worker in private practice. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider Gary an expert on child development, parent-child relations, marital and family therapy, custody and access recommendations, social work and an expert for the purpose of giving a critique on a Section 112 (social work) report.


Call Gary for your next conference and for expert opinion on family matters. Services include counselling, mediation, assessment, assessment critiques and workshops.


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20 Suter Crescent, Dundas, ON, Canada L9H 6R5 Tel: (905) 628-4847 Email: gary@yoursocialworker.com