Raising an adolescent can be an extremely challenging time for both parent and teen. With added stressors like drugs and alcohol involved, it can be all the more harrowing. Every parent’s worst nightmare is for their teen to be abusing substances and alcohol. Not only do you fear for your teen’s health, their safety and who they might be associating with to get these substances, there is also the added terror because teenagers normally conceal this behavior from their parents. Once you even suspect your teen is using, the panic tends to set in and your head swims with questions. Hopefully this article can help you sort through some of these worries and give some guidance on where to from here.
Who’s to blame?
The most important thing to recognize is that these things happen. Particularly during the teen years. This is a time where your child starts to test the boundaries and work out their own limits. This means engaging in some risk taking behaviors and no one in particular is to blame for this. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have done anything wrong in raising them and you certainly shouldn’t blame yourself (or anyone else for that matter). Substance is not as straight forward as some might believe. There are a variety of things that contribute to substance use and if anything, it has been found that family factors are generally more positive in fighting substance abuse as opposed to negative. There may be a genetic component, but even so, blaming yourselves for this will get you nowhere. What you can do though is work with your teen in fighting their substance abuse.
How do you know they are using?
It is not always a definite indicator that they have a substance abuse disorder, but generally if your adolescent goes through a drastic change in behavior without a known cause, it could e a sign that something is going on. These changes in behavior could involve withdrawing from their friends, acting hostile or particularly moody, a dramatic drop in their school performance, disinterest in grooming and hygiene, lack of interest in things they previously enjoyed, changes in eating and sleeping habits and a breakdown of relationships.
Now I suspect, what do I do?
Drug and alcohol is a serious concern and can have many health concerns if not treated correctly. For this reason, the best first step is to seek professional help. Book an appointment with your doctor and they can screen for signs of drug use. It may be helpful to speak with them beforehand to ensure they are comfortable with this. If they aren’t, ask for a referral to a drug and alcohol specialist. This can take a lot of courage on both your part and also your child’s part. It is important that you discuss this with your child and let them know that you will be there to support them through this. Be aware that treatment will likely mean having to put other tasks aside such as schoolwork and any other hobbies and interests for your child. However, right now it is most important that your teen receives this treatment as soon as possible and anything else can come after they are back on their feet.
What if they don’t want to go for treatment?
Addiction is a horrible disease and can cause people to change fundamentally. Most addicts have an intense fear of what will happen to them if they can no longer use their vice. This can make getting them to treatment quite difficult. However, focus on giving them incentives for small goals (rather than trying to strong hand them) to encourage them to comply. If they are fearful, explain to them what is involved in treatment and assure them that professionals will keep them safe and comfortable through this time. Most of all, let them know you will be with them every step of the way to support their recovery journey.
What can I do at home to help?
To begin with, talk to your teenager. Try an ensure that you are able to do this in a calm and non-judgmental approach. This does not mean agreeing that the substance use is okay, it means trying to keep emotions out of it (other than care and love). Choose a quiet and calm time in a private space. Start with showing interest and concern, asking questions rather than accusing and encourage them to problem solve themselves around this. Acknowledge their opinions about the subject but be aware that they may be censoring what they tell you in fear of losing access to the substance. Finally, set clear boundaries. These can include:
- Obviously no substances in the house and making it clear to them that using is unacceptable.
- Confiscating their driver’s license to ensure they are safe. This may cause big arguments but it is much better than the alternative of them driving under the influence of a substance.
- Giving an earlier curfew time or only allowing them out for school and family related tasks. This will reduce their access to the substance and likely the peers who were providing it.
Helping someone through a substance use problem can be a very difficult task. It takes a toll on your relationship and on your own mental health. It is most important to involve a professional in these matters and ensure you are taking care of yourself also.