Addiction: The Latest Plague Stealing Our Children

Mother and daughter sitting at a table outdoors on an organic farm, conversing on a bright, sunny day. On the table is fresh produce, including purple cabbage, radishes, leafy green vegetables and a basket of eggs.Parents have long worried about the horrible afflictions that could steal their children’s lives—from the dismemberment and exile of leprosy to an iron lung or life on crutches due to polio. Today, many parents’ nightmare is of their child getting caught in the death grip of an addiction. And the inescapable opiate crisis has turned up the volume of terror in caring mothers and fathers everywhere.

Our adolescents are very vulnerable. Teens tend to struggle with the strong emotions and insecurities that come with individuating and figuring out who they are. Finding a quick way to change uncomfortable feelings with chemicals can be especially enticing for them. On top of that, add the fact young people tend to be curious, want to be admired by peers, and typically see themselves as invincible. Kids also have access to information long before they have the neurological capacity to figure out what’s true, partially true, or just flat-out false. This can be scary for parents who are paying attention.

Many parents hope a schedule full of after-school activities, a religious foundation, or unconditional love will protect their child. Some parents bury themselves in work, over-scheduling, or their own addictions. The thought of a child being addicted to something a parent would never consider ingesting can cause so much anxiety that the thought is just simply suppressed. Addiction is a terrifying condition that can devastate any family regardless of education, socio-economics, culture, religion, or love and closeness.

Dealing with the reality of addiction is the most important thing a parent can do. This means:

  1. Openly talking about drugs, alcohol, and addictions.
  2. Talking about your own emotions and the healthy coping skills you use to handle them.
  3. Eating meals together to facilitate conversation.
  4. Having the passwords to your teen’s electronics, and charging them outside of their bedrooms at night.
  5. Regularly checking histories and social media.
  6. Keeping an eye on homework by logging on often to the school’s website.
  7. Meeting the parents of your child’s friends.
  8. Monitoring where your teen is (not based on just what they tell you).
  9. Drug test (at least once, so your teen can say, “No, I can’t, my parents drug test me”).
  10. Avoid minimizing. If your teen is caught with drugs or alcohol, it almost certainly isn’t “the first time.”

If there is a family history of addiction, your child is at greater risk. Let them know. Talk about the consequences, treatment options, and successes or relapses that family members experienced. The more the challenges of addiction are talked about, the easier it will likely be for your child to ask questions and get mature answers.

What to Do If You Think Your Child Is Addicted

If you discover your child may have an addiction—whether it be to drugs, alcohol, video games, cigarettes, or the internet—there are things you can do:

7. Know that if your teen goes into treatment and works on their recovery, you will be working on yourself just as much. Addiction affects the whole family.

  1. Educate yourself about their addiction. Learn all you can before you set out a treatment plan.
  2. Don’t use fear, shame, or humiliation to try to influence their behavior. These are likely to be the very things they are trying to escape with their addiction.
  3. Get support from other parents in groups such as Al-Anon, Shatter Proof, and NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness).
  4. Write out a contract that includes a decision tree (i.e., “If you test positive in your weekly drug test, you will need to go to four meetings a week for six weeks to earn your privileges back. If you get caught with drugs, alcohol, or paraphernalia in your room again, you will go to a 30-day outpatient treatment program after school. If you use again, you will go to a 30-day inpatient program. If you relapse after that, you will need to live in a sober living home for six months before you can come home. If you use after that, you will need to complete a yearlong program away from home,” etc.)
  5. Write what YOU can be counted on to do if … (i.e., “If I find drugs in your car, I will park it at your aunt’s house until you go to 20 NA meetings,” or, “If I find you have ditched school, I will not write you an excuse,” or, “If I find you are connecting with using friends on social media, I will take your phone until you test negative for drugs,” etc.)
  6. Set up consequences and treatment interventions with respect, dignity, and calmness. If you are raising your voice, displaying rage, or being redundant, you may lose credibility.
  7. Know that if your teen goes into treatment and works on their recovery, you will be working on yourself just as much. Addiction affects the whole family.
  8. Celebrate successes. Let your child know how proud you are of their efforts. Addressing addiction is extremely hard.
  9. Don’t minimize (i.e., “Let’s just get this handled and move on,” etc.). Some addicted people work on their sobriety every day for the rest of their lives.
  10. If your child refuses to participate in treatment despite your best efforts, make sure to get support for yourself. Parents who attend Al-Anon, Coda, Nar-Anon, or go to therapy may be better prepared to support their child when they eventually “hit bottom” and do ask for help.

Even though epidemics have caused much damage to families through the ages, this is one you can educate yourself about and use what you learn to protect your child.

References: 

  1. Rigg, K. K., & Monnat, S. M. (2015, July 26). Comparing characteristics of prescription painkiller misusers and heroin users in the United States. Addictive Behaviors, 51. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306460315002695
  2. Spear, L. P. (2000). The adolescent brain and age-related behavioral manifestations.
    Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 24
    (4). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10817843
  3. Understanding the epidemic. (2017, August 30). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html

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  • 8 comments
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  • Angela

    Angela

    September 20th, 2017 at 10:49 AM

    It sort of feels like people look at you as the parent like you have done something wrong if your child becomes addicted to something. They don’t think about the fact that there could be a family history or that the child may have undergone some kind of event that could have caused this… all I’m saying is that we all have to be a little more open minded and not so quick to judge those things that most of us don’t really even understand.

  • jeff

    jeff

    September 20th, 2017 at 3:04 PM

    Addiction is s stealing our children because where else does it have to go? It has already taken away quite a few adults so the kids are a whole new breeding ground.
    Of course I am being a little farcical but it does seem that addicts continue to start at a younger and younger age so it is only natural that this generation of our youth is getting caught up in the vicious cycle earlier than ever before.
    An this is sad, because so much of this could be prevented if we as a society as a whole had a whole different mindset about living with and dealing with chronic pain.
    But we have become a citizenry that thinks that there should be a pill to pop for any ailment that plagues us… and so here we are.

  • Peter W

    Peter W

    September 21st, 2017 at 10:35 AM

    I have a good friend who just lost his son, who had just graduated from college, to a heroin overdose. Here it is happening to kids that you would have never thought that this would happen to, and it is tearing more and more families apart every single day.

  • Paige T

    Paige T

    September 22nd, 2017 at 2:04 PM

    How bad is it when even CVS has to step up and say enough is enough with this stuff??

  • doc

    doc

    September 23rd, 2017 at 9:14 AM

    And just a reminder that many of them get hooked by simply being curious and going through our own medicine cabinets

  • Dawn

    Dawn

    September 24th, 2017 at 7:23 AM

    This article is an eye-opener. Helpful not just to parents of teens but to anyone. It’s true, when someone in the family becomes an addict, the whole family is affected. Hearing a story about someone getting hooked on marijuana or any kind of prohibited drugs is sad. What more if it’s a family member who got involved? What if it’s your child? I have a 16-year old son. Everytime I learn or read something about how I can keep him from drugs, I tell him. So thanks a lot for this article. The good thing in our relationship is that we have an open communication, trust and respect.

  • petra

    petra

    September 25th, 2017 at 3:27 PM

    I don’t think that addiction is somersetting that is new, it is just that the substances that we find people that we love addicted to are different from those of the past and will probably be different from the newer trends that are now on the rise. But I guess that in the long run it doesn’t matter what they are addicted to, just that drugs have once again made their mark on yet another generation and we are all paying the price for that. I wish that there was a magic trick where we could forget that this was happening or that would take addiction away at all but unfortunately that’s not how life works. So we carry on, ever vigilant, but continuing to be hurt by addiction in our families and friend circles.

  • GiGi

    GiGi

    September 26th, 2017 at 2:30 PM

    Is it time to go back to Just Say No?
    Did that even help when it was a thing?

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