Drug and alcohol addiction affect millions of Americans. And, for many of us, those addictions change every part of how we live. For many families, children and young adults are extremely vulnerable and even trying out drugs and alcohol can result in addiction. Today, an estimated 900,000 children between the ages of 12 and 17 have a substance use disorder. When that’s the case, getting them into mental health help and substance use disorder treatment is extremely important, but you’ll have to figure out how to work with them and live with them in the meantime.
That can be extremely difficult when substance use disorder changes how your adolescent behaves. Puberty is already difficult enough, but addiction can change motivations, change how your child feels rewarded, and can remove most social motivations. The result, your child will likely lie, steal, and even deliberately try to manipulate you to get more of a substance or to get away with using.
Addiction changes how people think and behave. Most people with a substance use disorder will develop significant seeking behavior, meaning that they compulsively seek out more of their substance even if it means lying, sneaking, or stealing. Most will also go through significant steps to hide the extent of their usage or their usage – sometimes even to themselves.
This means that you have to expect lying. If you know your adolescent is using, you should expect them to lie about when they are using, how much, and even why. Once you set those expectations, you’re less likely to start arguments or to be disappointed because your child is lying to you. You know they are going to lie to you. Set those expectations with them. “I know you are using and you will keep doing so, I prefer that you be honest about it so that we can take steps to ensure you do so safely”. But, still expect your child to lie to you.
In addition, it’s important to keep in mind that practices like tough love can make things worse. Throwing your kid out, taking away all of their stuff, or isolating them from the rest of the family are preached as helping an addict to hit “rock bottom” so they have to recover. However, the result is often that they lose motivation to recover at all and have nothing to look forward to except increased substance abuse.
It’s easy to judge or to appear to judge when confronted with your child’s substance use. It can feel like a failure. You raised them differently than this. Right? Unfortunately, that kind of shame and stigma is pushed on us by societal misunderstandings of what substance use disorders are. Rather than a mental health disorder caused by exposure and a combination of vulnerabilities to that disorder, addiction is seen as a personal weakness. Changing that perception is important if you want to be able to talk to your child about their health, their future, and their opportunities without sharing that stigma.
Unfortunately, when you talk to you child from a point of shame, you will communicate that you want them to get better so that they can go to school, achieve societal values, stop embarrassing you, etc. None of that will motivate your child to recover. Instead, you want to talk to them from a point of caring about their wellbeing, their health, their ability to live life, to achieve their goals and dreams, and to build things for themselves.
That can be difficult if you’re worried about what people at school think, what your family members thing, or even what the neighbors think.
As long as your child is under the age of 18, you can make them go to rehab and treatment. Unfortunately, you can’t make them succeed at rehab and treatment. Instead, that requires motivation and a want to recover. While most adolescent and youth rehab programs have strong motivational tracts as part of the program, motivation for recovery starts at home.
Often, that means investing in listening to your child, into understanding why they use in the first place, and on being part of recovery. That might mean:
You can’t change that your child is struggling with drugs or alcohol. However, you can focus on the future with their mental health first, understand that that health is influenced by a holistic environment including parenting, home, and school, and take steps to improve that.
Eventually, recovery doesn’t happen without change. That change won’t be just from the side of your adolescent if you want it to stick. Instead, the entire family may have to go to therapy, you may have to change routines, you may have to invest in stress management, in building interpersonal communication skills, and in improving and changing how your build and manage relationships.
However, those steps will often vary significantly depending on your relationship, your family, and the underlying causes behind substance abuse. For example, if you know that your child is struggling after moving, a traumatic accident, or a loss or divorce, you can possibly target where change and emotional health management should happen.
In every case, dealing with your adolescent with a substance use problem should be about building them up to want to get treatment. From there, you can choose a treatment program or do so with your school, go to therapy together, get family therapy to ensure your relationships and hierarchy remain healthy, and make sure that you’re an active participant in therapy.
Living with any addict can be extremely difficult. That’s even more so if they’re adolescent and are lying and hiding substance abuse. At the same time, you should expect that behavior, which will allow you to avoid getting worked up about it as much. Instead, focusing on offering nonjudgmental support and working them towards motivation to recover is the way to go. Achieving that can be extremely difficult, will involve getting therapy yourself, and will involve changes for the whole family. However, you can get your child out of addiction so they can get back to focusing on their life and future.
Asana Recovery is located in Orange County, California. and offers detox, residential, and outpatient addiction treatment services in our modern and comfortable addiction treatment facilities. Please contact us today to speak with one of our experienced addiction treatment team if you have any questions about our programs.