What Should Parents Do With Their Addicted Teens?

Are you facing the challenges of parenting an addicted teenage child? It is common to be unprepared for the substance use epidemic among teens. After the initial shock, you may sink into an emotional cloud, even blaming yourself. Perhaps you are at a loss about how this could have happened. Relationship tensions can escalate, and keeping your child grounded only adds to more resentment and resistance. How should your parenting skills adjust to this new challenge?

The first step is to get more education. You may consider addiction a result of poor self-discipline on the child’s part. With this assumption, it is common to expect the child to quit by mere willpower. The fact is, addictive substance use at an early age can become hardwired because the brain structures of teens are developmentally fragile to the influence of drugs and alcohol. 

Teenage addiction may have a lasting negative impact on your teen's neurocognitive development. If you also harbor a kind of stigma, and there may be hesitation to get your child into detox treatment. All these may delay your teen's chance of long-term recovery from substance use.

How Do Teens Become Addicted? 

Addiction is a complex medical condition led by a combination of factors, including genetics, parental influences, stress in the home environment, social influences from peer groups, and more. If you discover that your teenage child is suffering from substance addiction, it is time to do some diagnosis of what has exposed or triggered it. Did they learn from a friend? Were your own drinking problems influencing their drinking now? Is their depression contributing to it? Or is their substance use triggered by that traumatic event?

As a parent, you have the responsibility and the knowledge of a child’s personal history to find out about what got your children addicted to substances. Although, you may find it hard to talk with your child about this topic without getting angry or judgmental. Learning to re-invent your parental role can be difficult, but also rewarding. 

As an adult, you have also been socialized to enact the stigma attached to addiction. Learning more about addiction may help you better understand your child's situation and enable you to regain some emotional calmness. Another option is to find an interventionist who can help both you and your child through this difficult process of communication. Working with health professionals can help your child better identify the risk factors.

What Are the Triggers to Avoid at Home?

You play a critical role in their teenagers’ chance of recovery from addiction. First and foremost, you need to re-establish healthy boundaries at home. This includes putting away visible triggers (such as access to prescription drugs and money) as well as managing invisible triggers (such as family conflicts and stress factors). The latter type, which involves changes in family relationships, often proves to be the hardest. 

The moment of crisis is also one for growth. Many parents realize that they should have been more present, both physically and emotionally. Some regret having been too controlling but not understanding enough. Many families wake up to the call by becoming more educated on the topic of drugs and alcohol. 

These can also be negative impacts among parents and children, including distrust, mutual-blaming, and more distancing. Negative family dynamics tend to add more stress on the recovering teenager, which may lead to relapses even if the child is making progress. During a teenager’s first year in recovery, the whole family can be at a fragile stage. 

How Can Our Family Recover Together?

Being a parent, you need to restructure your relationship with your children. If your child is struggling in the grip of addiction, and you are the healthier of the two of you, then it is your job to regain hope and model accountability. There are concrete steps and strategies to take towards healthier boundaries that help rebuild a recovery-supportive home environment. Here are a few guiding principles:

  • Clarify the values and the science around the issue of substance addiction. Take a firm but loving stance on the use of any substance.
  • Become more present with your child, both physically and emotionally. Show your unconditional love and care.
  • Respond to situations without judgment, but support.
  • Create de-stressing and relaxing family times, like taking a walk or watching a movie.
  • Model self-control and resilience in your own habits and lifestyle.

If you feel overwhelmed by these demands, you can also seek help from a parent coach who works with parents of addictive youth. It takes awareness, education, and patience to grow into a recovery-supportive parenting style. If you let health professionals do their job in educating and guiding your child into treatment and recovery, you just need to do your part – to love and support your child without judgment.

All in all, as a parent, you are still in the best place to care for your children, even during recovery from addiction. There is a lot of burden on you as you care for and support a teenager in this situation. Remember you are not a miracle worker. Self-care is very important for you and your entire family. If your child accepts detox treatment, maybe you can also consider relationship coaching so that both you and your family can rebuild healthy boundaries.