As they say, a “journey of a million miles begins with one step”.
But when your child’s life hangs in the balance, and the first step isn’t all that clear, how do you know what to do?
That’s exactly the situation many parents find themselves in, while their child suffers from addiction. It’s very scary for people, and it’s one of the hardest parts of the treatment process.
One wrong move could spell disaster.
I spoke with addiction industry experts, and got opinions on how parents can help their teen addicts.
Shirani M. Pathak, LCSW
Licensed psychotherapist and founder of the Relationship Center of Silicon Valley in San Jose, CA.
I have extensive experience with supporting addicted loved ones and here is what I suggest:
The best way parents can help their teen who is suffering from addiction is to get involved in a 12 step support program for family members of addicted loved ones. If your teen’s drinking bothers you, that would be Al-Anon. If it’s narcotics, it would be Nar-Anon. Addiction is truly a family disease and every family member has a part.
The best thing you can do is learn more about the disease of addiction, how it is a family disease, your role in it, and how to effectively cope (which includes loving detachment and unconditional love, with firm boundaries in place). The area most families dealing with addiction get stuck is in trying to fix, save, or rescue..
You can’t do that, only the addict themselves can.
Arden O’Connor O’Connor Professional Group
Recent research shows that fear of losing parents’ trust and respect is the greatest deterrent to adolescents’ drug use.
– They will not tell you this fact.
– Repetition of expectations is good for them
Parents should look out for changes in behavior, appearance and mood.
Many parents don’t want to admit that there is a problem with their teen or seek treatment out of fear that it will impact their long term educational and career trajectory
– Protecting dysfunctional behavior or over-functioning on behalf of your loved one will not help them on a journey towards recovery, in fact, it might prevent them from getting the help that they need.
– Having a child with an addiction issue does not mean he or she will live a less impactful or full life, in fact, most individuals who struggle and then get the help they need blossom into better versions of themselves.
Our company advice includes the following:
– Seek Professional help
– Set up a quiet time and place to talk
– Be prepared for anger and denial
– Don’t expect insight or buy in
– Stay focused on the goal
– Remind teen that life will be there when they are healthy
– Use appropriate leverage
– Seek to be involved in their treatment
– Set healthy boundaries
– Keep the lines of communication open
Michelle Dunbar, Executive Director of Saint Jude Retreats
“Don’t panic! Too many parents of teens panic when they learn their child is using drugs. They immediately succumb to the propaganda and misinformation so rampant today that their child is going to become hopelessly addicted and will be doomed to a lifetime in and out of treatment programs..
This does not have to be the case. More than half of high school seniors admit to using illicit drugs (and those are the ones who admit it). Yet the vast majority of those teens stop using substances or moderate their behaviors without issue on their own. Sadly, when they are told that they have a progressive, incurable brain disease called addiction, the cycle of addiction, recovery, and binge usage begins and can perpetuate indefinitely.
To avoid this, have an open, honest, and kind conversation with your teen about substance use. Avoid accusatory statements and moral judgments but, instead, be curious. Remember how it was being a teen and think about your own experiences. Meet your teen where he is and, if he says he may have a problem, seek a program that will not diagnose and label him/her with a disease, but will instead focus on helping your teen to regain control over his/her life as that is the key to long-term success.
The most dangerous and damaging statement you can make to a teenager struggling with drugs and alcohol is that they are an addict or alcoholic and that they are diseased or powerless over their choices. This will do nothing but shine a spotlight on their negative behaviors. A more beneficial approach is to reinforce that even now, in their teen years, they are accountable for their actions. As they grow older, having a foundation of being accountable and responsible for their actions will be more valuable then telling them they are powerless over their own choices.”
Lynette Louise, MS, BCN, BCN-T (Neurofeedback Specialist)
“There is really no replacing a change of environment and a restructuring of the roles everyone in the family is playing. Too often people want to hang onto the life they are living and “fix” their children’s problems, without having their own lives derailed.
However, the life you are living led to this problem in some complicit way.
The first step to really helping an addict is an acceptance that the job ahead is huge and requires an absolute nonjudgmental commitment from everyone in the support network.
Step two is to approach healing from the concerns of the addict not the wishes of the parent.
Addicts don’t stop using because we want them to. They stop using because they want to stop more than to use. This is a very challenging re-balancing of motivators to achieve but once it’s done you are on the same team.”
Todd Crandell, LPCC, LICDC and founder of Racing for Recovery
“Parents can begin to help by first listening and empathizing with their child. Everyone in the family needs to get fully educated on how addiction takes place. Recovery is achievable and sustainable but parents need to take their child to a professional to see if there’s any co-occurring issues taking place.
They also need to learn how to support positive recovery choices and not enable their teenager. Additionally, it’s important to identify if the parent, or any other family members, is in a similar situation and using drugs themselves — this, in itself, can be a reason for a child’s usage.
If a parent or close family member is using, they must change their own issues to establish credibility.
Never give up hope on recovery.