I found evidence of drug or alcohol use: Now what?

Your worst fears have been confirmed. You’ve found evidence of drugs or alcohol that a loved one has been hiding from you. Now what? We outline four (4) steps you can take here. Then, we invite your comments or questions at the end.

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You Found the Evidence. Now What?

So, for the past few weeks you’ve been going through your loved one’s clothes and room, looking for signs that they are using drugs or drinking. Then one day you find what you were looking for.

Here, we review what to do next. We help you form a plan. Rather than react, you can follow these suggestions and then feel in control of your actions. More here on what to do AFTER you find evidence of drug or alcohol use, with a section for your questions and comments at the end.

The moment of realization: Finding the goods

For Barbara J., a mother we worked with, this moment happened when she lifted her 23-year-old daughter’s mattress and found four-dozen empty pint-size bottles of hard liquor.

It’s hard to put into words all that she must have felt in that moment. Barbara remembers that her legs went numb. Her first thought was to chase down her daughter and scream out, “You’ve been lying this whole time! What is wrong with you, are you mad? How dare you treat us like we’re fools?”

But she didn’t. Rather, she took a picture of the bottles and shared it with us.

Staying in control: You need a plan

Families who find evidence of drug or alcohol use need a plan that goes way beyond the day-to-day reactivity caused by the chaos of life, especially when someone is struggling with alcohol or drugs.

This situation is an extremely challenging one to find yourself in. For starters, you may not feel proud about the snooping. However, we believe going through their things is reasonable – after all, it’s not a “fair fight.”  What you find informs a plan. It is key information that will help you assess whether your loved one is using or not.

4 steps to take AFTER you find the evidence

So, what can you do if your worst fears have been confirmed? Here are four (4) simple steps you can take. We suggest the following.

1. Keep it to yourself.

It’s not going to be easy, next time you see them, to avoid a confrontation about what you found, but it is absolutely essential. Keep the information to yourself.

2. Observe and assess their behavior.

And when you see them next, ask yourself this question: “Are they using right now or are they not?” This is the key question you’ll want to ask yourself each and every time you see your loved one. Is he using, or is he not?

But how to tell if a teen or adult is using drugs is a subtle affair. So, put the other things aside (the lack of a job, the sloppy clothes, or flunking out of school…) and focus on what is right in front of you: Ask yourself:

  • How does your loved one look?
  • Is she making that little smile that signals she’s been smoking?
  • Are his eyes drooping?
  • Is he avoiding looking at me?
  • Is her energy normal?
  • Is he on time?
  • Does his voice sound strong?

3. How you answer determines how you’ll act.

How you act is within your control. It changes the immediate environment surrounding your loved one and influences their relationship to the drug or the alcohol.

4. DON’T ask them if they’re using.

For months, Barbara’s daughter had been adamantly denying any drinking at all. The bottles under the mattress proved this untrue. Sure, if asked, her daughter would say they were old or they weren’t hers. But the chances were very good that stashing empties under the mattress was symptomatic of an ongoing problem.

Sizing up your loved one doesn’t include asking them if they’re using. That typically leads to two kinds of answers: 1) defending the right to use or 2) denying the use. Asking has the effect of pinning someone to the wall. Your loved one will feel cornered. Defending or denying is not what we want your loved one to focus on or to articulate.

Putting it into practice

With this information in hand, Barbara looked more carefully at her daughter, especially in the morning when her daughter was getting ready for work. Where before, she had ignored the little signs that her daughter was hungover, she now ruled it in.

Barbara’s daughter worked the second shift and then often went out afterwards, returning home between 2 and 4 AM. Barbara treasured their morning hours together, wanting to use that time to connect with her daughter. After all, it was the only time they got to see each other, given their respective schedules.

But after finding those bottles, she realized her daughter was drinking way more than she first thought, and that being hungover was probably the norm. Barbara learned to disengage from her daughter on those mornings when the signs of a hangover were clear.

Did this one step radically change things? No. But it was an important move towards unblocking the situation.

Changing your behavior can lead to an opening

Mom had always been predictably there for her no matter what. Desperately wanting to stay connected with her daughter, she had gotten in the habit of being cheery and chatty on those mornings.

When Barbara began disengaging from her daughter when she looked hungover, it had the desired effect of isolating her daughter. In other words, Barbara was removing the reward of her cheerful company, because her daughter had been using.

Barbara had been ignoring the signs her daughter may have been drinking. She wanted nothing to be wrong. Finding those bottles made her reassess her daughter’s state on those mornings. Barbara let go of her stubborn attempts to make everything seem normal, when all signs pointed to her daughter fighting off a hangover.

It was a subtle, yet profound, shift in their relationship. Mom wasn’t so reliably close-at-hand anymore.

And the photo? We suggested she hang on to that disturbing photo. When the time was right to talk treatment, the photo might prove to be useful.

Need more information or help?

To read more about helping a family member with addiction or intervening so an addict hears your message, please check out Dominique’s articles on Addiction Blog. Or leave us your questions in the comments section below. We’ll do our best to get back with you personally and promptly.

About the author
Dominique Simon-Levine is a Ph.D. substance abuse researcher, who is in long-term recovery. She runs an award-winning program for families called Allies in Recovery. Founded in 2003, Allies in Recovery has helped hundreds of families to climb out of the abyss of addiction. Her work is featured on HBO and on alliesinrecovery.net.


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  1. I found out mCrystal Meth. I have done all the wrong things, from confronting him, yelling at him, and begging him to tell me the truth. How do I now approach him after all of this. Do I apologize? Do I start the conversation over after some time? Thank you for this article.

  2. Hi-this site has been very helpful. I will get straight to the point: my partner and I have been together 3 years, both are over 45 with grown kids, so it is just us in the home. I have unfortunately been peeling back the layers of lies and destructive behavior of my partner over the past 12 months. I am an educated, intelligent and fairly savvy woman, though I admit that the recent discovery that he has a penchant for cocaine at the first opportunity he is away from me is a blow-we are never apart more than 2 nights due to business travel, though his biggest coke binge happened when I was sleeping in our boat and he took taxi to our house 15 minutes away to continue partying with 26-year old guy who is a huge cocaine user; my partner came home at 11:30 am on Monday stoned out of his mind and wanted to have sex for 3+ hours…I discovered cocaine in his nostrils and his blue eyes were black, his pupils were so big…I was completely shattered and told him so. He promised it was just a quick sniff, that he doesn’t do it often, etc. I am slowly coming to grips with this new facet of my reality. I am a moderate drinker and I can enjoy a few hits of a joint at a party, but I have never done drugs and am firmly against self-abuse with anything including sex, gambling etc. I have learnt that my partner has no impulse control, is a functioning alcoholic (he is CEO of a very large firm) I know that he regularly loses $10-20,000- online gambling, He had several mistresses when we first met, though he has stopped that, I “documented” that he slept with 6 escort prostitutes throughout 2015…though I have found “evidence” that this escort thing has been a habit for a very long time. He is is so careless with his phone that all of the contact info, etc for escorts are still on his phone! I get that my partner is a narcissistic, self-destructive person…I have worked hard to get where I am and am not emotionally or financially stable enough to get out of this situation. I know that he cannot be “saved” and I have not confronted him about any of his destructive behaviors (not in any real way, though there were arguments a year ago about the mistresses) I don’t see the point in trying to reason with a person whose mind is intoxicated by chemicals and alcohol and whose outlook on life is completely self-absorbed. In the past 8 years he has had 3 blood clots in his brain, so he takes blood thinners every day. He was diagnosed with a heart murmur 6 years ago and takes medication to control this every day. Last year he was diagnosed with a kidney disease that there is no treatment for, though progression is gradual. He is overweight and takes medication every day for high blood pressure. I feel as though I have a front-row seat to a gradual suicide; he swears he cannot live without me, loves me-all of which is mostly true, though the hitch is: his demons and addictions are far greater than his love for himself or anyone else…Here is my “question”: how do I find a place in my mind and soul to deal with this until I can or will leave??? How do I keep biting my tongue?

  3. I just found my husband cocen I told hem he sided thank god you found he side he needs help .he has been off it for 3 day put now he is. Hearing Things need help

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