Dear Rae: Is My 15-Year Old Using Alcohol & Drugs?

Dear Rae:

My teenage son has begun to worry my husband and me. He is sullen and non-communicative – which is very new behavior in our house. We are a close family and he is our only child. In the past, John was open about school, friends and outside activities. But recently, he has been secretive – one-word answers to questions and snapping at us when we try to talk to him. He also says he wants to quit soccer next year – it has been his favorite sport since first grade…

I would pass it off as typical “teenage behavior”, but he has also seemed out of it when he comes home from an overnight at a friend’s house. And I swear I have smelled alcohol on his breath. I am frankly scared to confront him for fear he will close down even more. He and his friends have never given us cause to worry. Should I give it some time or search his room? Confront him? Hide the alcohol in the house? My husband and I drink.




Dear KL:

First, if you are concerned about John’s behavior, you need to talk to him. There is a reason you have that “feeling” in the pit of your gut. It is easy in this busy world to let things fester or feel disconnected with loved ones. Establish dependable times to be together – dinnertime, or first thing in the morning when you can get a good benchmark on his behavior and general mental and psychical health. And never let things go – with teenagers there will be conflict. Try not to be afraid of confrontation – and speak without anger or accusation.


The facts are indisputable. According to the CDC, approximately 30% of high school students drink alcohol and about half of those binge drink. In West Michigan, the average age of first use of alcohol and other drugs is 13. The negative ramifications include introduction to other drugs and dangerous behaviors while under the influence. And the impact on brain development could have life-long effects.


Talk to your son.


Before you start searching his room, talk to your son. Allow him a “safe place” to express honestly. If there is alcohol in the home, this could present an opportunity to talk about why the legal age for drinking is 21 and the vulnerabilities associated with early use. Follow your parental instinct. If the behavior continues, seek help/guidance through a professional with a specialty in adolescent behavior or a local support group.


What you are asking is important. Don’t underestimate the impact of early use on your son. Statistics tell us that 9 out of 10 people who struggle with substance use started using before the age of 21. A good first place to educate yourself is online with the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) Parent Resources .

Rae Green




Rae Allyson Green, JD, MA, LPC, CAADC, is the Founder & President of Sanford Behavioral Health. After extensive experience working in residential treatment centers, Rae sought a new treatment approach for addiction and co-occurring disorders. Together with husband, David Green, she established Sanford Addiction Treatment Centers in 2015. Their mission was to elevate the effectiveness and availability of treatment for individuals diagnosed with substance use disorders (SUDs). Today, Sanford is an addiction, eating disorder, and co-occurring mental health treatment facility, serving the state of Michigan and beyond.