As a parent, discovering that your child is struggling with a drug or alcohol problem can be very distressing. Witnessing a child's addiction is heart-rending, and many parents feel a sense of guilt and failure. Seeing a child suffering from the effects of their drug and alcohol use can also make parents feel at a loss as to how to help their addicted child.
It is parental instinct to love and protect a child in all circumstances, but how can a son or daughter be protected from themselves? The older a child gets, the less control a parent can exercise over their lives without risking conflict. But it is impossible for a parent to just stand by and watch their child abusing drugs and slipping further into substance abuse.
Realistically, it is probable your son or daughter will require professional help at some point if they are in active drug addiction. Fortunately, there is much you can do to support them, and perhaps even prepare them for professional addiction treatment.
The drug epidemic in the US continues, and substance abuse is one of the most prevalent mental health issues in society today. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2021 46.3 million people above the age of 12 (more than 16% of the population) were suffering from a substance use disorder. Worryingly, young people are not spared from a nationwide increase in substance abuse. Drug use among 8th graders increased by 61% between 2016 and 2020, and over the past year, 11.2% of overdose fatalities occurred in 15 to 24-year-olds.
An addicted child is often too young to seek treatment or help for their mental health of their own volition. The love and support of informed parents are therefore of paramount importance.
A teenage son or daughter battling addiction may have trouble talking about their substance abuse from fear of being judged. An adult addict may also be hesitant to discuss their drug addiction with parents or family members, for various reasons. They may feel, for example, it's nobody's business but theirs or that they can fix their behavior and mental health by themselves. But parents can help change that.
It is essential that there be open, unambiguous communication between you and your child. And you may have to be the one to initiate that communication, particularly around your child's addiction. If they know you are aware they are using drugs, but nobody raises the topic, it will become the elephant in the room that needs to be addressed.
It's best to start the conversation when your son or daughter seems receptive and not under the influence of drugs. However frustrated or concerned you may feel about your child's addiction, it's important not to blame or condemn but simply explain, honestly and clearly, that you've noticed their drug use and are worried about it.
The aim of communication is not to coerce your son or daughter into quitting drugs. It is to establish a strong channel of communication and to help them feel heard and understood when they choose to open up. It's essential not to become overly emotional, as this can easily obstruct your ability to think and express yourself fairly. It can also make your child feel uncomfortable or judged about their substance use disorder.
Communication should be clear and assertive and requires a balance of focused listening and questions. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) publishes guidelines on communication with an addicted child. It recommends open-ended questions as a good tool.
Asking an open-ended question is much more likely to receive a positive response than stern words. It can also pave the way for another productive conversation about substance use disorders in the future.
You can provide important emotional support by focusing on the positives in your child's behavior. By being encouraging in your words and attitude, you can help reinforce three important messages valued by NIDA.
No matter how old your son or daughter is, they will want to hear positive reinforcement from their parent. Telling your adult son or daughter that you care about them can make a difference.
Creating fixed guidelines around what is and what is not permissible in the home provides a strong framework for daily living and behavior. Ideally, it's best to discuss what these rules and guidelines should be together. If you have an adult son or daughter who no longer lives with you, the guidelines may be more based around when they visit, the time you spend together, or your mode of communication.
You should strive to agree on what the appropriate consequences are for certain situations such as the following.
If you make an agreement with your child that they should talk to you whenever they feel like using, it is a good idea to talk about what happens if they do not.
With an adult child, you might discuss situations such as failure to communicate or not going to a support group.
These guidelines are a bit like a common policy for life and behavior in the household. And strong adherence to them will actually help your son or daughter in battling addiction, because you are setting an example, and demonstrating firm resolve.
Setting boundaries is about you, what you're willing to accept and what you won't tolerate. It's about making a statement in terms of how your own space and well-being are affected by your child's behavior.
By setting boundaries, you decide what you are willing and happy to do for your child and where you draw the line. At the best of times, teenagers are liable to test their parent's limits, but at any age, drug addiction can make a person behave differently in their efforts to achieve their own ends.
Another reason it's important to set boundaries is to make it clear how you expect to be treated by your child. Are you willing to sacrifice your own needs for what your child wants? What degree of substance use (if any) are you willing to view magnanimously, and what corrective action would you take if they go beyond reasonable limits?
There can be a fine line between being a supportive and loving parent and enabling your child. Enabling happens when you start to take on too much responsibility for your child's actions. You may find yourself making excuses for them, or blaming yourself.
Enabling will erode your credibility in the eyes of your child. They may then think they can get away with certain things in spite of the boundaries discussed.
You need to be particularly vigilant here if your adult child has moved out of your home. If you've agreed that your adult son or daughter should have their own place and are providing living expenses, you don't want to end up unwittingly financing their drug addiction.
It's important that your boundaries be very clear to your child, that you stick to them, and that you stop enabling them in any way. Your child will understand that only they can take responsibility for their own actions and their own decisions. It also introduces a degree of accountability. Both a sense of responsibility and accountability can greatly increase the chances your child will be willing to seek treatment.
Having an adolescent child or adult child with a drug addiction can place parents under considerable emotional and mental strain. It is important that you look after your mental health and your physical well-being.
Take time for yourself, and don't for a moment suppose you have to go it alone. There are family support groups for people with someone battling addiction in their family. In these support groups, parents can meet other parents with addicted children. Lean on these communities to create a supportive environment for yourself.
It's important to protect your own time, for things that help you relax, and for those activities that support your physical health. You can't put your life on hold while you wait for your son or daughter to get better.
If you find yourself growing depressed, irritable, or having mood swings, you may be neglecting to look after yourself enough. And there's always the option to seek professional advice to help you cope with the situation. People with substance use disorders aren't the only ones who can benefit from appropriate treatment. Other family members may need a little extra support too. Remember that self-care is important.
One of the hardest things about helping addicted children is that sometimes it's necessary to relinquish control. Parental instinct is to want to save them from their substance abuse, to jump in there and haul them out. But addiction is a very powerful thing, and the pull of drugs can be stronger than anything else – until your child is ready to seek treatment.
Parents can reach a point of desperation and feel they'd do anything to remove their son's addiction or their daughter's alcohol problem. But nobody can save an addicted son or daughter unless they're ready to be saved. And even then, the recovery process is a bumpy road, of which relapse is a part for many.
Indeed, addiction is often described as a relapsing brain disease because the urge to use drugs may return at any time, even cyclically. However, thankfully it doesn't always lead to actual drug use.
It can be very difficult for parents to see their child in active addiction, harming their physical and mental health, knowing that there's nothing they can do to stop it. That's why it's important to educate yourself about this mental illness and understand that there are no miracle solutions.
However, if you are able to communicate with your child, show encouragement and support, and keep guidelines and boundaries in place, you have already done a great deal. One of the most impactful things you can do when you feel your child may be receptive is to show them that help is available. Most children who feel loved and cared for will sooner or later be willing to give addiction treatment a chance when they realize they can no longer control their substance use.
Once your son or daughter agrees to receive help, a few things may start to sink in for them. As you look into treatment options, they may start to grasp the harmful consequences of drug abuse. Part of this is understanding that drugs and alcohol are risk factors for the development of physical and mental illnesses.
Addiction treatment providers and mental health professionals generally recommend inpatient programs. A residential stay in a treatment facility may seem much more daunting for a teenager than an adult child. If you are able to reassure them that a treatment center is a safe environment in which to start healing, it is a very beneficial option, and the most likely to lay the foundations for long-term recovery.
Transitioning back to life outside of alcohol or drug rehab can be challenging. That's why many treatment centers offer outpatient programs so that the addicted child doesn't lose all the support they've had overnight. This allows them to ease themselves gradually into a life of greater self-reliance.
In all cases, it's a good idea to help your child set up a support network, and connect with support groups, while they still have the backup of treatment in some form, such as outpatient care.
It is traumatic for parents to see a teenage child in the grip of drug addiction during what should be the joyous years of their life. Yet, adolescence is also a great time to nip addiction in the bud and halt its progression as your child approaches adulthood.
At Clearfork Academy, we specialize in helping teenagers overcome struggles with substance abuse, and we are experts in our field. Our addiction recovery treatment is open to adolescent males and females, on separate campuses. We provide detox, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient programs.
The treatment program for drug or alcohol rehabilitation includes individual and group therapy, family counseling, art and music therapy, and adventure therapy. Your loved one's recovery at Clearfork Academy will be a time of learning and development.
If your son or daughter is battling alcohol or drug addiction, reach out to us, and together we can help them find wellness and prepare for a brighter future in which they can fulfill their potential.