My niece and nephew are getting into drugs — how do I talk to them about it?

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By: Erich FerdinandCC BY 2.0
I have a niece, 20, and nephew, 16, who do drugs regularly. It started with pot, but now they’re into Molly, popping and snorting crushed pills, mushrooms, and taking cold medicine to get high. I know this because they’re pretty active on Twitter and post references to it and photos of their dilated pupils. They’ve also told me and other family members.

I know that lots of people went through this phase and turned out fine, but I’m afraid something bad is going to happen to one of them, or they’re going to try other drugs that are addictive.

I don’t have a problem with experimenting, but I don’t think they’re being smart about it, and I think they are doing it too much. I’m not the “cool” aunt that they feel they can talk to, and I also don’t have much experience with drugs, so I’m not sure they would even take me seriously. I know there’s not anything I can do to stop them, but I also know that if something bad happens, I will feel like I could’ve prevented it.

I read the post about talking to kids about drugs before they start doing them, but what do you say to them when they’re already doing them and seem to be taking it too far? If you ever went through a drug phase, is there anything anyone could’ve said that would’ve made you slow down or rethink what you were doing? — The Uncool Aunt

Comments on My niece and nephew are getting into drugs — how do I talk to them about it?

  1. I really have no idea about what to say to them about curbing their drug habits, but maybe a reminder that posting about their drug habits on the Internet isn’t a great idea – rarely is twitter or Facebook as private as people think it is, and do they really want future employers finding out about their dilated pupils when they are applying for a new career?

    • Seriously, this.

      Some might not care so much about the future employers part (maybe they have certain career goals where that wouldn’t be an issue, or maybe they feel that they wouldn’t want to work for someone who would judge them on it anyways, or maybe they just don’t have that kind of foresight/ability to take the big picture seriously) BUT…. nobody wants to get arrested!! If they ever got in any kind of trouble, you don’t want evidence all nice and ready to help put yourself in prison!

  2. This is a pretty tough situation, and I know from experience what’s it’s like to see people go too far, too fast with drugs. I’m still going through a drug phase, in a sense. Although I no longer experiment with different drugs, I have a few that I visit regularly, and enjoy, in the same way some people enjoy wine or beer.

    A few things stopped me when I was 15, 16, 17, 18, from doing really dangerous drugs. First, have them watch Trainspotting. With you, or without you, recommend it as an interesting movie. If you have not watched it, it’s simply about the downward spiral that heavy and hard drug use leads to. It scared the shit out of me. I vowed after watching it to never, ever go near anything that hard. Ever. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was interesting.

    Second, I had people to do drugs with. My mom. My current fiancee. They showed me a cool, mellow side to drugs. They showed me that I didn’t need to snort coke or take E or molly. They showed me moderation is key. Now, if you’re not into drugs, this won’t help, but maybe you know a cool, responsible adult you can introduce your neice and nephew to. Yeah, doing drugs is bad and all that, but it’s worse if you don’t know what you’re doing and that leads to something awful. Having an adult with you (as a sitter, for example) is kind of like a ‘better safe or sorry’ approach.

    Third, find some music they like. Are they into metal? Rap? I know an artist named Macklemore who wrote a song called ‘Otherside’. That changed the way I thought about drugs. Do some Googling to find some cool music with drug-safe messages.

    I think in school now-a-days (at least where I went to school), adults have taken the approach of ‘well, they are going to do it anyway, might as well teach them to be safe’. I think that’s a pretty legit train of thought. It’s easier to get drugs than it is to get alcohol or cigarettes now. In one sense, I want to say ‘let them have their fun, they’re young adults looking for a good time’, but I’ve seen enough ‘good times’ go wrong. I’m sure it could have happened to me. Not all those things might click with the kids in your life, but hey, it’s worth a try.

    • Yes! I honestly feel that reading and watching Trainspotting in my early teens kept me from trying anything beyond marijuana. There was something so intense and frighteningly realistic about the film.

      The idea of using drugs in a safe and relaxed space is key. So is responsibility. Having important responsibilities that one feels strongly about can often curb the urge to overindulge. If one has an important meeting or assignment due the next day, they may not be likely to get into the habit of getting wasted every night.

  3. This is an interesting subject to me, as a former miscreant, future mom-of-teenager, and current/future health educator. Recently, in one of my classes, we were discussing the Truth campaign (, and the ideas behind it. The thing is that teenagers think themselves immortal, and it’s tough to convince them that their actions could have long term consequences. Two memories I have from being a teenager: My middle aged guitar teacher telling me his personal story about quitting drugs. I was not super impressed, but I quit for a bit to prove to him that I could. My uncle admonishing me about drinking. I was super not impressed, because he wasn’t much of a friend to me.
    What finally got through to me? Having a boyfriend who was straight edge. Getting over my depression. Having important things to do with my life. (in that order, not all at once) Even though I wasn’t impressed by my interventions, I think anecdotes can be powerful for teenagers, especially if it’s a story about another teen who seems a lot like them. Like, maybe you could google around and find a story about someone who faced negative consequences (like getting fired) for posting drugged out pics on social media, and then forward it to the kids. If you don’t have a close relationship with them, they might not receive it well, though. So maybe the first thing to do is spend quality time with them? Kids who have meaningful relationships with adult role models are less likely to do stupid stuff. I don’t see my nephew as often as I’d like to (physical distance), so when I do, I try to listen more than give advice.

    • Chances are, they know someone who’s taken drugs and had bad outcomes. But there is the issue of teens believing they are invincible and it won’t happen to them. I dabbled in drugs like almost all of my friends did, and the one thing that scared the crap out of me was a girl who had taken acid one night in 8th grade and had never been the same. Something in her brain was triggered in that one night that had serious consequences. She lost her mind. Seeing the effects of that was enough for me to decide I’d never do acid. It also helped me to limit my own experimentation later on. I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to go to college and be something, and that kept me from doing anything too excessively too many times.

  4. I had some really good talks with my mom that really kept me from getting too stupid with drugs. I smoked a lot of pot and tried some other things like acid and mushrooms, but I did it as responsibly as I could and was wary of “harder” drugs. My mom talked to me very honestly about her own drug use in the 60s, and I got to hear her stories of smoking hash and dropping acid, and it really made me feel good that she talked to me so honestly, and not like a child. She explained to me how she understands why teenagers always ignore adults when they go on about the horrors of drugs, because as soon as you try a drink or a puff you realize how much you were being lied to so you don’t listen to anything they say. So basically what she told me was that pot isn’t a terrible thing, so it can affect some people badly or exacerbate other problems they already have. My parents hated that my use was “more than recreational” and they’d get mad at me for having it in the house, but I was never punished for doing it, and that would only have made me angry and rebellious. Hallucinogens are also mostly benign, because they aren’t addictive or super dangerous – but she also told me if I ever did them I should be in a comfortable environment, with people I trust, and have someone sober around to look out for us, and other safety precautions.
    She did make me frightened of speed and heroin, and other drugs that can be highly dangerous and addictive. Of course they probably feel amazing, but it’s too easy to lose control and ruin your life. Not everyone will have terrible experiences with those drugs, but it isn’t worth the risk.
    Basically I just liked how up-front she was with me, told me some of her own personal experiences, seemed understand and respectful of me, and gave me some basic safety guidelines to go by.
    And if I ever posted stuff like that online my parents would lose it – that is truly stupid. One way drugs can ruin your life is through addiction, the other is if you get busted. Kids need to learn some priorities – not getting arrested should pretty high on their list of priorities.

    • Speaking as a person who has taken a lot of drugs in late teens/early twenties and is now a 30-something occasional user of some drugs (and acknowledges that they are in fact a lot of fun) I have to absolutely disagree that hallucinagens are benign.

      That is simply not the case for everyon. There is an abundance of anectodal evidence out there that they are most certainly not harmless to all people.

      I personally know several people who have gone from acid trip to the psych ward. In fact, same said for pot, alcohol and all the others… It is a fact that just like peanuts, some drugs can have very negative impacts on some individuals. Often you don’t find that out until after the event.

      And that is without getting into the whole realm of addiction, which for some people (such as myself, looking at my family history) is a significant risk.

      The conversations I will have with my son (now 10) will focus on the fact that he has some high risk factors for addiction due to his family history and that should be a serious consideration when deciding when and what drugs.

      On a lighter note, I did take too many drugs for too long…. and remain unscarred (through luck more than design…). Sometimes it is just a phase, and to be honest pretty much everyone I know my age has done or still does some kind of drug. And most of them are normal, happy people.

  5. Yeah, as others have suggested, maybe start by asking them about what safety precautions they are taking (especially with shrooms, yeesh).
    I’d also ask them what else is going on in their lives – their drug use sounds pretty heavy and like it’s getting worse, which seems like they are either really bored, or they’re trying to escape from other stuff.
    I also think them posting all this stuff online is stupid but I wouldn’t necessarily suggest they stop doing that as it’s a way to monitor them.

  6. There is a truly amazing place on the interwebz, called Erowid.
    “Documenting the complex relationship between humans and psychoactives.”
    One of the most valuable portions of the site is the Experience Vaults, were you can search for peoples’ trip reports of any individual substance or combination of substances. Advanced search has many options for refining search criteria.

    Depending on the personality of the niece and nephew, this could be a beyond amazing resource. If they are not into being smart about their use, maybe reading stuff isn’t their thing, but I really think it would be worth sending it along. Because everyone is naturally curious, and reading about the adventures of others is fun, fascinating, empowering with the new perspectives and knowledge they offer….. and of course, some of the experiences they’d read about would include some things that might make them think “oh my god, I would never want to go through that myself.” They could come to that conclusion on their own rather than hearing it from a real-life adult that they might roll their eyes at.

    For any substance I’ve experimented with, I pored over people’s stories of their experiences with them. It taught me so much and gave me an idea of the huge range of possible ways it could go, helping me to make wiser, informed decisions. And what’s more, I got to read many stories about people’s experiences with substances I would not try myself – it sated my curiosity to read countless reports of people’s experiences with, say, opium, while also making me feel pretty strongly that there would be an uncomfortably large risk of addiction for me. So I can steer clear and still know what it’s like.

    If it were my niece and nephew, I might send them an email saying something sort of like this (being very aware of not making my tone that of another Concerned Adult):

    “Hey, I found this really cool website where people write “Trip Reports” about their drug adventures. You can search the experience vaults for stories about pretty much any substance or even specific combinations of substances. People’s experiences range from the glorious to the good to the bad to the ugly – read a bunch to expand your mind to ALL the possible outcomes, not just the bad and not just the amazing. They also have a really useful section about how to not get busted/arrested. Check it out!!”

    Then I would specifically link to these pages, as opposed to JUST the main page, for the very best shot that they start clicking around out of curiosity:

    Since you are not extremely close to them, any more specific advice (for the love of god stop posting about illegal stuff on twitter, for example) would possibly just take away from their willing interest in reading up. So my two cents would be to save that for later. They might figure it out on their own from reading in the “freedom/police” section, or more of a dialogue might open down the road if they are (eventually) really impressed by the resource you gave them. Even if you never hear a peep about what they’ve read, it could change their lives and give them a ton of knowledge – which, as they say, is certainly power.

    Good luck to them, and you! (And anyone else!)

    • Very much seconded on the Erowid rec. The people behind that site are very serious about providing good information, and the experience reports in particular are reviewed by multiple people before they go up. I’d also recommend reading the history sections, and learning why certain drugs are illegal. (Pot, for example, was outlawed for anti-immigrant reasons.) This context helped me to begin to separate the politics around certain drugs from what scientific information we have about them.

      Another good read is Alexander and Ann Shulgin’s PIHKAL (Phenethylamines I Have Known And Loved) and TIHKAL (Tryptamines I Have…). Alexander Shulgin is the chemist, once employed by Dole, who first synthesized MDMA (ecstasy) and a bunch of other psychoactives, and has a lot of interesting stuff to say in this area.

      For what it’s worth, I too wouldn’t try to talk them out of doing drugs. They’ll do what they do. Information is the best thing you can give them, followed closely by contact with people who might help them create safe spaces to experiment.

      And to add to the media recommendations: both Nurse Jackie (Showtime? show with Edie Falco in the lead) and House deal extensively with addiction to prescription painkillers. I like the ways both shows approach addiction, and find them to be accurate representations of (pieces of) real life that we don’t often see in the media.

      • I definitely second PIHKAL and TIHKAL as well.

        Also: “For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t try to talk them out of doing drugs. They’ll do what they do. Information is the best thing you can give them, followed closely by contact with people who might help them create safe spaces to experiment.” <—THIS times a thousand.

  7. Along with what everyone else said, if talking to them as a family member doesn’t help, try other resources in the community. I have found that Harm Reduction centers are really useful for having these dialogues, particularly because they emphasize safety first. I have brought friends, their kids, community members, and many other people I care about to these spaces to make sure that they are protecting themselves. Sometimes, this conversation about risks helps guide folks away from the choices they were making. Other times it just helps them make safer choices.

    Also, make sure they know if anything goes wrong they can call you and you will help them. Knowing there is an adult in their lives that will help them navigate a crisis without blame, judgment and anger will encourage them to ask for you when they need it most.

    • “Also, make sure they know if anything goes wrong they can call you and you will help them. Knowing there is an adult in their lives that will help them navigate a crisis without blame, judgment and anger will encourage them to ask for you when they need it most. ”

      I really agree with this!! Sometimes kids and adults alike can end up in situations where they want help, need help… but do not get it because they will get “trouble” more than “help.” It is so valuable to have someone you know will have your back if you’re in a terrible spot, without giving you lectures or nasty looks or anything while you’re still reeling from whatever happened/is happening.

      • I definitely agree with this as well. I called my Mum once when I had a bad mushroom trip. I was crying and totally freaked out and she came and got me and sat in the van for hours listening to me ramble on and on knowing that getting mad would be the worse thing to do especially while I was still high. The next day I was so thankful that she had come to get me. On the flip side I had friends during that time in my life who were also experimenting with drugs who knew they couldn’t call anyone and ended up getting into WAY worse situations because of it.

        I think its great too that you are trying to go about this in a way that they actually might listen to. Too often adults just try and shove their thoughts or beliefs down kids throats and it only makes the kids feel like they have no where to turn and that no one understands them during such a rough time in their lives.

  8. There wouldn’t have been too much that would have stopped me at that age. While I’m straight edge now, I have about 15 years of experience using drugs recreationally.

    I was told by my dad when I was 14 to smoke weed instead of drink if I was going to intoxicate myself, and that was great advice. I truly believe that alcohol is far more dangerous to use when you are young. But, I was smoking a fair bit in high school, and living with my grandparents. When they caught me smelling like weed when I was 16, all they did was ask me to stop. I didn’t get in trouble at all. Because I respected them, and it was their house, I did stop until I moved out when I was 17.

    I experimented with quite a few other drugs when I was a raver from say, 17-20, and while I wasn’t as cautious as I could be, I still made sure I was taking appropriate dosages from trustworthy sources. I did tons of research on sites like Erowid. This was also 10-15 years ago, in a small Canadian city and things were safer. I’m sure my parents were aware there were drugs at the (small) raves I was attending, but they encouraged me to go these dance parties. They knew that I would do what I was going to do regardless, but would rather have me in a supervised setting with EMS and security on scene rather than hanging out in a park, or some random’s house. I survived and thrived and my drug use just petered out pretty naturally, although I occasionally partied at festivals and special events right until my late 20’s.

    We tested many pills and powders over the years and nowadays it seems like things are much more likely to be adulterated. You might not be getting what you paid for, especially with Ecstasy (even “pure” molly), cocaine or ketamine. These drugs that are not usually too dangerous when used in moderate dosages become deadly when they contain chemicals like PMMA.

    I highly recommend (and if it were my nieces or nephews I would insist) that they use a test kit to verify the purity of what they are taking. Too many people are dying or having super bad trips now because they aren’t getting “real” recreational substances.

    A great site is <——— HIGHLY RECOMMEND!

    These test kits are legal, easy to use and discreet. I've bought many for presents for friends and I'd buy them for family as well.
    It's a natural human instinct to want to alter our states of consciousness, we've been doing it since the dawn of time. I wouldn't I support our rights to do so in a safe manner!

  9. This is a little scary, because it seems beyond experimentation. I have years of personal use/ abuse experience, so this is just my personal opinion. But it’s time for concern when the drugs go from being harmless ones like pot to being the ones that can either get you addicted or kill you. You don’t specify which pills they take, but if it’s the popular ones like Oxy or Methadone, those can definitely kill you. Overdose of these drugs causing heart attack, brain damage and death are getting common. If these were my kids, I would be alarmed and taking action. Please talk to their parents about your concerns, and provide them with info about prescription drug/ opioid overdose.

  10. First, do you know anyone – an adult – who did a significant amount of drugs in the past, and has MODERATE opinions on them? These kids may very well not have talked to any adults that they feel they can trust about this stuff, and it might help them to discuss it with someone they feel is credible. That’s why I specify moderate – someone who can say “yeah, I had a lot of fun and I can tell you about that, but I can also tell you how I had some scary experiences and problems.” That would also give YOU more credibility, because instead of claiming you spoke from a position of authority, you’d be honestly admitting your own limitations and giving them access to someone who does have that authority.

    The other thing I’d say is that you might discuss their friends with them. When I was a wee drug connoisseur, I had a group of really good, honest friends around me. We were all doing the same stuff, and at one point, regarding one specific drug, they pulled me aside and told me I was overdoing it a little. Nothing remotely as strong as an “intervention” or an accusation of being addicted – just some friends who knew me and really cared about me being honest about what they thought. We discussed it, decided it was a good idea for me to stop taking that drug, and agreed that they’d help me avoid it, which they did. I think for this kind of thing to be successful it needs to be friends who consistently take drugs WITH them, who will know the specifics of their habits and reactions, and who they trust not to be overprotective. So, you might want to ask them if the have friends like that, or if their friends are all new people they’ve met by doing drugs. If the friends are all new, you could remind the niece and nephew that the friends don’t know them sober or generally well, and therefore even though they might be fun and cool people, they might not be as committed to your niece and nephew’s wellbeing To some degree, they could also serve this role for each other, especially if you facilitate a discussion between them about it.

    Finally, you could also just show them this thread! It’s clear that you aren’t trying to meddle or get them to stop everything cold – that you’re just concerned and want to figure out what would be best to do. They could probably look over all the responses and info here, see what they think is useful and what isn’t, and go from there.

  11. Oh – and you could also show them this, which I seriously wish I would have understood at that age:
    It’s an article showing that research demonstrates we usually underestimate how much we are going to change in the next 10 years or so. This can be a good way to think about drug decisions – if you assume you’re way underestimating how differently you’ll feel about it in ten years, do you still feel like it’s probably a good choice? There is nobody more important to be responsible to than your future self.

  12. We were hit-or-miss with my step-sister’s own drug use, but let her know that she could always come to us when things got hard, or when she was in a place that she felt was unsafe, and that really helped her make better decisions. We talked to her openly and honestly about our own drug use, and did not hide the ugly truths. She’s made some bad decisions, but we made a safe, judgment free place for her, and that has helped her steer clear of some harder drugs that have really taken down her high school friends.

  13. Doing drugs doesn’t give them free pass for being irresponsible. There’s a huge difference between someone being irresponsible and someone doing drugs. Sadly, most of us are thought they always have to go together. Telling them they can still do drugs and do the responsible thing at the same time would be my advice.

    Three general ground rules for taking drugs: Water wets. Fire burns. You are not superman. (i.e. don’t go anywhere near water/pool/lake, don’t play with fire and don’t try anything superman would do)

    My mother’s rules for me taking drugs: Not during weekdays (or at school), not from people/pushers I do not know and not with people I do not know, don’t get too wasted that you can’t maintain control over what’s going on (i.e. being able to call the police if anything goes wrong)

    Good luck!

  14. My approach is to ask what their safety plans are, and if they blow it off, I say, Well, you might not care what happens to you, and that’s fine, but I really do, so could we come up with some things to keep you safe? Sometimes kids don’t care if they live or die but are really astonished that you do. I’ve literally said, “I care if you live or die.” It seems like stating the obvious, but it really isn’t always obvious. And I just lay bare my feelings: “I know I can’t control you and I don’t want to. I just get scared when I think about what you’re doing.” You don’t have to have a close relationship to say this or be taken seriously. Sometimes kids really just need to know that someone cares. They won’t change overnight, but it can help them begin to value their own lives/well-being, as well as form a connection to an adult on the outside of their daily lives. That’s important, because the relationships in their daily lives might be filled with pain, anxiety, neglect, stress, or abuse, leading to the drug use. Sometimes it is good to be the distant adult.

  15. I saw this article today:
    I was surprised and disappointed by it. I think the problem is that they’re operating on a premise that most here wouldn’t agree with: People should never try drugs. Message: So if the objective is to get your kids to never do drugs, you should tell them to be abstinent, and hide your own experiences, lest they think there’s an acceptable way to do drugs.

  16. the only thing i really wanted when i was 16-18 was respect as a thoughtful individual from adults. i know this sounds lame but if my parents/teachers talked to me like i had a right to an opinion of my own, i would have listened to them more. i think at 16-20 children will make their own decisions and if you give them all of the information- what recovery is like, side effects, possible consequences of conviction, future hardships due to conviction, etc.. then you’re doing the best you can for them. try to appeal to what your teen thinks of most- is it appearance? show how drugs can take a toll, is it future career and goals? show the possibilities of your employer finding your drug tweets. it’s all truth and maybe a little scare. but as adults they can revisit this topic again.

  17. I have to say I had a hard time reading some of these posts. To give you some background, our 15 year old daughter entered a drug rehab center about 2 weeks ago. It all started with her trying Ecstacy and then it was a downward spiral from there, a very fast downward spiral (about 4 months). Some of the more serious drugs she was taking was speed (snorting it and as she stated, ‘was her drug of choice’), MDMA, Ecstacy and Ketamine. These are very serious drugs and are easily accessible to our kids these days.

    I too have done drugs during my adolescent years and wasn’t too concerned at the beginning when I suspected she was smoking pot. The problem these days is that the drug dealers know what they are doing and are soliciting very dangerous and highly addictive drugs to young kids these days. If you google Ketamine, you will see how dangerous this drug can be and can truly kill them if they mix with the wrong drugs.

    When you say they are taking cough medicine to get high, this says to me that they are more then just taking drugs recreationally and they now need whatever they can get to get high….this says to me that they have an addiction. When it gets to this point, caution goes out the window and they will do whatever it takes to get high.

    One thing we were thankful for was the fact that our daughter came to us and told us she has a drug problem and needs help. I think she realized how close she was to getting to the point of no return. I agree with what a lot of the others are saying and that they will eventually need someone they can trust and know they can come to without judgement for help when they are scared and don’t know where else to turn. I think that is the only thing that saved our daughters life knowing we would be there for her and help her through this horrible time.

    Keep the communications open with them, tell them that you love them and that they can come to you if they are ever in trouble.

    Wishing you, your niece and nephew all the best and hope everything turns out ok.

  18. I watched my nephew’s life spiral downhill – when he was in elementary school he started ‘experimenting’ In a few years he was having psychotic episodes – His young life was very bleak. Needless to say the entire family was on high alert – helping him as best they could, afraid when the telephone rang. I ended up going to CAMH to get help for myself. I took an 8 week program for families of addicts.
    Somehow this gave others courage to look at the situation for what it was. I was a mess the first meeting, but by the end of the 8 weeks I felt alot better, just talking to other people facing similar issues. My nephew is now working and has his own apartment. There was nothing ‘recreational’ about this experience.

  19. My opinion may not be of the majority and I did my share this however is how I plan to deal with my own children and how I’ve dealt we other adult friends.
    I will let them know my concern and if it continues and my worry is taken lightly than I’ll will either report them and or withdrawal from them. Especially regarding the adult, reporting would recommended for the minor.

  20. I would agree with the posts above that say you likely won’t convince them to stop, but you should definitely let them know that if they ever need help or even just a safe ride home, that they can call you and you won’t judge them or create more problems than help.

    The other thing I haven’t seen mentioned is that I believe several states have made Naloxone available over the counter. It’s a medication that blocks or reverses the effects of opioids and is used to treat overdoses. If it isn’t available over the counter where you live, you can let your doctor know about your concerns about family members and they will usually write a prescription (not sure if it matters whether a parent, family member or friend seeks the prescription…but from what I’ve read, it shouldn’t matter.) Additionally, most EMTs and many police officers also carry this medication, so in a pinch, that may also be worth investigating. Sometimes it can make all the difference…if someone is close to death, the trip to the hospital may take too long.

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