4 Things to Do If Your Kid Is Caught With Drugs at School

School books and backpack on desk with open pill bottle and scattered pills
fstop123 / Getty Images
Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Discovering that your tween or teen was caught with drugs at school can leave you feeling like you are in the midst of a huge catastrophe. But it may help you to know that your child is not alone.

In fact, the most recent statistics indicate that as many as 20% of high school teens have sold, been offered, or received drugs on school property. Still, this doesn't negate the need to address the issue. Here's everything you need to know about getting your teen the help they need.

Overview of Teen Drug Use

While the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics reported that teen drug use is holding steady, the annual Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey shows the lowest levels in the past 20 years. What's more, 2019 MTF data shows that the usage of illicit drugs over the past year among teens is about about 38% among high school seniors.

Meanwhile, daily marijuana usage was up in 2019 compared to 2018, due to the growing popularity of vaping and the drug's legalization in many states. It was the second largest jump in the MTF's 45 years of survey history (the largest was nicotine vaping in 2017 to 2018).

Finding Out What Happened

Getting caught with drugs at school, including marijuana and even alcohol, can bring a host of complicated issues for parents to navigate. There are the rules of the local school, as well as any juvenile or criminal laws that need to be considered. Keep in mind, laws vary by state and local jurisdiction when it comes to possession of an illegal substance on school grounds.

There's also health and behavioral effects of substance use that need to be considered as well. Consequently, when your child is found with drugs on them at school, it's important to find out what happened. For instance, was your child caught selling drugs, doing drugs, or were the drugs simply in their possession or in their locker?

Knowing the details will help you determine what type of help and intervention your teen needs. But you need to tread lightly; after all this is a criminal offense.

With this in mind, start by talking to the teacher or administrator about what they witnessed. Focus on listening to what they have to say. Ask questions just to clarify things that don't make sense, but don't get defensive, claim your child is innocent, or share personal information.

You also need to remember that if your teen had drugs on them at school this is against the law. So you don't want to provide information to school administrators that may be used against your teen at a later date.

How to Talk to Your Teen

Once you have talked to the teacher or administrator at your child's school, it's time to have a conversation with your teen to get their version of things. Before you start the conversation though, make sure you have taken some time to calm down and gather your thoughts.

Your goal is to find out what motivated your teen to have drugs at school—and why they are using or selling to begin with. Knowing this information will guide you in how to find your teen the help that they need.

Make sure you listen and ask questions. You want to discover what is at the root of the issue.

Try to dig deeper, rather than only asking, "What were you thinking?" Remember, it's about more than just using drugs. Usually, there is a deeper reason why your teen is using drugs. Here are some possible reasons why your teen may be experimenting.

  • Desire to fit in: Kids who are lonely or don't have a solid friend group are really vulnerable to cliques that use drugs. All they have to do to be accepted is use drugs. To a teen, sometimes using drugs seems like a small price to pay to feel like they belong.
  • Got in over their head: Once accepted into a drug clique, it's sometimes hard for kids to get out. The others may threaten them or their family and they feel trapped. So getting caught at school may have been a cry for help.
  • Want to dull their feelings and emotions: Kids who are dealing with a mental health issue like anxiety or depression may turn to drugs as a way to self-medicate. In fact, this is one of the most common reasons that kids use drugs. Be on the lookout for these issues when talking with your child.
  • Struggle with self-esteem: Some kids are so insecure that they look to drugs and alcohol as a way to make them feel more confident and powerful. Additionally, using drugs is an easy way to get attention—even if it's negative attention.
  • Desire to alleviate boredom: There are times when kids will turn to drugs because they are bored and looking for excitement. Part of the allure of using drugs is the excitement that comes from buying them, hiding them, and sneaking around.
  • Have an addiction: For some kids, a simple experimentation with a controlled substance can quickly morph into an addiction, and now they can't quit because their body demands more of the drug. If you suspect your child has an addiction, it's important to get them in a treatment program as soon as possible.

Finally, as you talk with your teen, keep in mind that how you react to the news that they had drugs on them at school is important to their recovery. Consequently, you need to make sure you are calm yet firm. They need to understand the gravity of their choices, but they also need to know that you love them in spite of their mistakes.

Also, make sure that you don't enable your child, or worse, blame yourself for their choices. They may be a teen, but they still made the choice to use drugs and bring them to school. Instead, keep your focus on getting them the help they need.

Legal Steps to Take

Each state and local school district will have its own laws and rules that will impact the situation. While there may not be a one-size-fits-all solution to this dilemma, there are some things to immediately consider that can help you handle the legal consequences that result when your child is caught with drugs.

Contact a Lawyer Right Away

If your teen was caught bringing drugs to school, they almost certainly will be suspected of violating local criminal or juvenile delinquency laws. Each state has its own set of criminal codes that differ from one another. Laws regarding questioning, searches, and property seizures all vary.

Contacting an attorney early on can help protect your child's rights. Often, the earlier an attorney is contacted, the more they can advise you and your child of your options.

The idea behind getting an attorney isn't to prevent your child from experiencing consequences, but to help ensure the best possible outcome given the circumstances.

Unfortunately, criminal and juvenile delinquency cases can have long-lasting effects on a young person's life. In addition to the possibility of having a court record that could follow them into adulthood, this misstep could potentially impact their college admissions and career choices.

Utilize First-Time Offender Options

Fortunately, most states have special juvenile or first-time offender options that can keep a first drug offense from permanently impacting your teen's future. A knowledgeable attorney can guide you through the local process.

Find an attorney specializing in youth drug-related crimes who is familiar with how local cases are handled. Some areas have local youth courts or are able to dismiss charges if a teen attends treatment or counseling. Your attorney should be able to offer advice beginning in the investigation period, and then provide legal counsel throughout the case if charges are filed against your teen.

Keep in mind, you will need to consider the rules of the school, as well. As a result, if you want the attorney to advise you on issues with the school, be sure to make that clear upfront.

Get Disciplinary Measures in Writing

Most schools will place a student who is caught with drugs or alcohol on some sort of suspension where the student at least temporarily loses their rights to sit in a classroom. These disciplinary actions are usually governed by a series of policies written out in the school's student handbook.

Be sure to get, and keep, a written copy of any disciplinary measure that is taken by the school toward your child. This document should tell you exactly what your child is being disciplined for, and outline the exact disciplinary measure being taken by the school. The document also should detail how long the suspension should last, and what your child needs to do to return to school.

You also should receive information on how to appeal the suspension. And, if your child has an IEP (individualized education plan), they may have some extra protections. The needs of the student as listed in the IEP will need to be considered in the disciplinary process.

This doesn't mean that a child with an IEP cannot be suspended, but rather that the circumstances of the suspension need to be considered along with the disability.

In some cases, your child may be expelled rather than suspended. Again, you should get and keep any records or documents. If your child is expelled, find out if the expulsion is for the remainder of the school year or longer.

Ask if there are conditions that will allow your child to return to school. You also should research what other options your child will have available to them, whether that involves transferring to another school or attending a program for students who have been expelled.

Make a Plan to Return to School

The suspension paperwork may list steps your child needs to follow before being allowed back into school. But keep in mind that it may not include everything your child will need to do to return to regular schoolwork and be successful.

In addition to the actions listed in the discipline document, your teen may miss schoolwork during the time of any suspension. Ask what work your child will need to complete, and how they will be able to complete it while suspended.

Eligibility for extracurricular activities also may be affected. Ask whether your child will be excluded from any school activities, and if there are steps they can take to become involved again.

Getting Your Child Help

Regardless of whether your teen has an addiction, is using drugs to numb their pain, or is trying to fit in with the wrong people, they need help for their substance abuse problems. For many teens this help begins with counseling and a drug treatment program—especially if it's part of their sentence.

If you're not sure where to turn for help or referrals, start with your child's pediatrician. They can recommend counselors as well as treatment programs. Likewise, they can conduct screenings that will help identify any underlining issues like a mental health issue or a behavioral issue. If you have consulted with an attorney, they also can provide advice on getting an evaluation as well as discuss how that will impact your child's case.

If your teen is struggling with drug or alcohol use, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

A Word From Verywell

While the repercussions of being caught with drugs or alcohol at school can be serious, these same incidents often lead to the discovery of an issue that needs attention, whether behavioral, emotional, or related to chemical dependency. And, armed with that information, you can get your teen the help that they need.

Additionally, the fallout from your teen being caught with drugs in school can be very stressful. But rest assured that in time and with adequate support and intervention, things should return to normal. Resist the urge to define your teen by this mistake.

11 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth risk behavior surveillance system (2019 results).

  2. National Center on Drug Abuse Statistics. Monitoring the future 2018 survey results.

  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. Marijuana.

  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Marijuana drug facts.

  5. Porter ND, Clemons T. The Sentencing Project. Drug-free zone laws: an overview of state policies.

  6. National Conference of State Legislatures. Privacy protections in state constitutions.

  7. Center for Community Alternatives. Criminal history screening in college admissions.

  8. Drug Policy Alliance. Beyond zero tolerance: a reality-based approach to drug education and school discipline.

  9. National School Boards Association. Drugs, substance abuse, and public schools.

  10. Shapiro B, Coffa D, McCance-Katz E. A primary care approach to substance misuse. Am Fam Physician. 2013;88(2):113-121.

  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teen substance use & risks.

By Lisa Linnell-Olsen
Lisa Linnell-Olsen has worked as a support staff educator, and is well-versed in issues of education policy and parenting issues.