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5 Psychologically Damaging Things You Can Say to a Teen in Recovery

One of the most damaging misconceptions about addiction is that it is a moral failing. Addiction is a disease that affects the brain, not an individual’s character. This disease can happen to anyone, but too many use psychologically damaging statements that can either prevent or hinder a teen’s treatment for SUD. For this reason, Clearfork Academy encourages our team and parents to approach teens with a supportive and non-judgmental attitude.

#1. Refrain From Stigmatizing SUD

The stigma around SUDs continues to persist because of the residual presence of unevolved language and ideas regarding SUDs. Today, doctors and clinicians alike recognize SUDs as a chronic, treatable medical condition. Often, misinformation results in stigmatizing language being used. Unfortunately, teens with SUD often suffer the brunt of the stigmatizing language.

Affected by peer pressure and insecurities, any stigmatizing language, especially from the public, can prove detrimental to these teens and their treatment. Whether their peers, loved ones, or the public use stigmatizing language against SUD, it fosters certain sentiments like fear, pity, or anger amidst teens with SUDs, which will make it harder to convince the teen boys to enter treatment.

To assist their recovery, refrain from labeling your child with the term “addicted” or “alcoholic.” Such labels reduce their personhood to this chronic condition. Instead, choose “person-first language, which focuses on the person — not their illness.” Also, consider applying the following terms:

  • Person with a substance use disorder (instead of addict, user, substance or substance user, Junkie)
  • Person with an opioid use disorder (OUD)
  • Person with alcohol use disorder (instead of using alcoholic, drunk)

Listen instead of being condescending to people. Encourage them and give support in the right ways. They can provide you with the words that they prefer to describe their illness.

#2. Don’t Minimize Their Circumstances

Teens suffering from SUD benefit from the boundaries of sobriety. The structures of sober living clarify that all substance use should cease. Refrain from minimizing the severity of their addiction regardless of the length of sobriety. It’s not uncommon for those managing addiction to replace one addictive behavior with another. To show your support, avoid such sayings:

  • “One hit, puff, drink, or a few grams won’t hurt you.”
  • “You’re not addicted to marijuana. Just take it to relax.”
  • “It’s just beer.”
  • “You deserve to have a drink now and again.”
  • “It’s all about balance.”
  • “Just step away from the drink now and again.”

A part of recovery is avoiding other substances, such as alcohol, to minimize any relapse. Rather than minimizing the journey of recovery, find new sober ways to accompany them.

#3. Don’t Ignore Them Sharing Their Experiences

When a person shares their experiences regarding SUD, others may find the process of active listening challenging or daunting. If you find it hard to know what to say or do, don’t panic. Teens, at such a young age, particularly desire a listening ear. Try asking them a few open-ended questions that show you’re interested. You can even offer to listen at another date. It’s not always easy for people to talk, but it makes all the difference if you remain present.

#4. Avoid Complaining About Their Treatment Plan

Despite the cost of treatment, the time it takes out of the family schedule, and the impact on family dynamics, critiques can hurt your child’s chances. Your child will need a support system through thick and thin of their treatment plan. Complaining about the plan shows a lack of support for your child. When their recovery inevitably affects your time, finances, or emotional labor, it is essential that you are prepared to do what needs to be done for them to continue their recovery. For instance, they may desire your help with:

  • Taking them to or joining their weekly/daily recovery support groups
  • Attending family therapy sessions
  • Rearranging work or family responsibilities so they can attend to their treatment

Though the quick fix is tempting, the path to recovery from a SUD is often complex. Be patient, show up, and listen compassionately, for the reward of recovery is worth it for both you and them.

#5. Limit the Ultimatums

Ultimatums rarely work. Don’t create unnecessary added pressure by giving an ultimatum to your child with SUD. Instead of ultimatums, consider motivating them to seek treatment. Motivation is the key to making difficult lifestyle changes. Helping your child strengthen their own motivation increases the likelihood of them committing to treatment. Having a sense of confidence and independence also sets them up for sustaining recovery long after treatment.

It’s never too late to seek addiction treatment. This chronic condition holds a harmful influence over teens’ minds, bodies, and emotions. At Clearfork Academy we believe that having help and encouragement from loved ones makes all the difference. Often, people with SUD notice the stigma surrounding addiction. Stigmatizing language can stunt their motivation for finding treatment. Therefore, as you seek help for your son, we recommend educating yourself on this disease and how to address it with your child properly. As a parent, you want to help your children. Let them know that you’re here, that you’re listening, and that you care. It’ll help them feel less alone in the challenges they will face. The Clearfork Academy takes a supportive, non-judgmental approach to SUD education. We focus on the effects of drug use, the social contexts of drug use, and the treatment needs of teens who use substances. To learn more about our approach, contact us at (817) 259-2597.

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