Every parent wants the best for their child. You take them to school, put band-aids on scraped knees and help them through life’s challenges. By showering your child with care and love, you set them up for success, all while hoping that nothing bad will ever happen to them.
Unfortunately, addiction does not discriminate. According to a recent survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA), over 20 million people in the United States have a diagnosable substance use disorder. No matter how well someone’s life is going, it is possible to start down a slippery slope of drug or alcohol misuse. If you notice that your child seems to be struggling with addiction, there are specific steps you should take today.
Is My Child Addicted?
Before confronting your child, you should first determine to a reasonable degree of certainty that they are misusing drugs or alcohol. Signs of substance use include:
- Becoming secretive
- Lying about their whereabouts and activities
- Socially isolating themselves from family and friends
- Seeming “off” – acting restless or extremely sedated
- Exhibiting external signs, such as dilated or constricted pupils, skin picking, or rapid weight loss
- Spending time with new, unsavory “friends”
- Finding paraphernalia or signs of drug use in their room
It is important to note that some signs of substance use, such as secretive behavior or changes to one’s personality, are also hallmarks of young adulthood. It is natural for teenagers to withdraw from their parents and attempt to act out or assert their independence. Because this is exactly when they are at risk for addiction, parents must navigate this difficult time by upping the strength of the relationship with their teen.
Strengthen Your Relationship
Young adulthood is a difficult period full of transitions and tough choices. This is when open, honest communication becomes a key pillar in any parent/child relationship. By asking nonjudgmental, open-ended questions and creating opportunities for topics to be explored in a safe way, you can ensure that your teen will feel safe coming to you with any struggle.
If this is not the way your relationship has functioned until now, it is not too late to change. When speaking to your addicted child, stay focused and engaged on what they are telling you. Always respond kindly and try to diminish negative reactions when possible. Overt emotionality is not helpful in these conversations; if you are too upset to properly regulate your feelings, try to set up a plan to revisit the topic when you have both calmed down. However, keep in mind that addiction is not a problem that will go away on its own – you need to step in to help your child find recovery.
Don’t Enable Your Child – Set Clear Expectations
One of the most difficult aspects of parenting a child with addiction is the breakdown of boundaries within the family unit. This disease thrives in secrecy and passive-aggression – if you don’t address it, nothing will improve.
It can also be tempting for loving parents to cover up for their child. Maybe they will call in an excuse to school when their teen is too hung over to attend or will even provide the financial means to purchase more of a drug when their supply runs out. Parents who exhibit this behavior focus on alleviating short-term pain, but they unintentionally reinforce their child’s substance use in the process. This is called enabling, and it is an extremely unhealthy approach to any loved one’s substance use disorder.
The best way to avoid enabling is by defining cause-and-effect consequences with your child. These boundaries should be set during calm periods, not during a binge or fight, and will help to define which behaviors will be tolerated. By holding to consistent standards, you can help your child to understand the problems inherent to their behavior. This also provides you with evidence of tested boundaries down the road. By painting a clear picture of their behavior, you will be better able to convince your child to accept treatment.
Identify Resources and Seek Treatment
Finally, you should seek professional care for your child and your family. Conduct some research to learn more about credentialed treatment centers in your area. Ideally, you will find one that offers the full continuum of care – this means that everything from detox and residential treatment to outpatient services and transitional sober living is provided by the same facility. The best programs will be accredited and will be helmed by industry experts who can help your child to rid their body of toxic substances while also building new, substance-free coping mechanisms for the future.
Don’t forget to care for yourself and other members of the family as well. Addiction is a family disease, meaning that everyone from parents to siblings can be affected negatively by one member’s substance use. Programs like Al-Anon can provide group support and individual counseling sessions can be helpful for the process of working through past trauma.