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:
- Openly talking about drugs, alcohol, and addictions.
- Talking about your own emotions and the healthy coping skills you use to handle them.
- Eating meals together to facilitate conversation.
- Having the passwords to your teen’s electronics, and charging them outside of their bedrooms at night.
- Regularly checking histories and social media.
- Keeping an eye on homework by logging on often to the school’s website.
- Meeting the parents of your child’s friends.
- Monitoring where your teen is (not based on just what they tell you).
- Drug test (at least once, so your teen can say, “No, I can’t, my parents drug test me”).
- 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
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.
- Educate yourself about their addiction. Learn all you can before you set out a treatment plan.
- 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.
- Get support from other parents in groups such as Al-Anon, Shatter Proof, and NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness).
- 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.)
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- Celebrate successes. Let your child know how proud you are of their efforts. Addressing addiction is extremely hard.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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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