A Guide for Parents of Addicts: How to Help Your Child

If you suspect or find out that your child is using drugs or alcohol, it can be frightening. The most important thing you can do about it is to address it before it’s too late. But how? Before you confront your child, it is important and necessary to take some time to prepare.

Be aware that your child may not be truthful and honest about his or her problem. Giving into the dishonesty can cause you to feel helpless and it can even delay your child from getting necessary help. So, it is best to be prepared to face the truth and help your child to do the same.

Help for Parents of Addicts

Work Alongside Your Spouse or Co-parent

We all know that children will turn one parent against the other if one of them says “no”. So it’s better if you, and anyone who shares parenting with you, can get on the same page about substance use before bringing up the subject with your child. 

  • Remind each other that no one is to blame.
  • Reach an agreement on the position you’ll take.
  • Promise not to bad-talk or undermine each other.
  • Even if you don’t agree, present a united front anyway.
  • Remind each other to approach from a place of love when talking to your child.

Prepare for Your Child’s Response

Whether your child is a teenager or an adult, your guidance may be necessary. But, due the way substance abuse affects those who suffer from it, you may face serious pushback from your child. It is important to be prepared for the response your child gives you.

For instance, your child may ask you, “Have you ever tried drugs?” There are ways to answer honestly that keep the attention less on you and more on what you want for your child. For example,  you could tell them that you smoked, drank, or tried drugs to try to fit in. But then you found out that’s not a good reason to do anything.

Emphasize the fact that substances affect everyone differently and just because you weren’t harmed by substance use, you have seen it affect others in very bad ways. Also, remember to focus on the main issue: you want to keep your child healthy and safe.

If you are currently in recovery, think of your past substance use as an experience you can use to help your child learn and improve their future. You might tell them “I did these things but it was the wrong choice and I want you to avoid it and know your family history.

Collect Evidence

If your adult or teen child is living in your home, you may find drug-related paraphernalia around the house. You may also find signs of alcohol use. You may even find signs of substance abuse in your child’s room. When you confront your child about his or her substance use, you may need to present these materials as evidence.

As you collect evidence of alcohol or drug use, try to prepare for different ways they may deny any responsibility. “I’m holding it for someone else” is a common one. Even if you don’t have an airtight case, everyone will be prepared for the vital conversation that lies ahead. Some of the most common hiding places are:

  • Under the bed
  • Inside or between books
  • Small boxes–pencil, jewelry etc.
  • Purses, backpacks or other bags
  • Under a plant or buried in the dirt
  • Dresser drawers, under or between clothing
  • In containers made for concealment–fake soda cans, lipstick, chapstick, etc.
  • Inside over-the-counter medicine containers–Tylenol, aspirin, etc. 

Remain Calm Before and During the Conversation

If you think this conversation will be uncomfortable for you, think about how your child will feel. Prepare yourself to hear things that will shock you, denials of even the most convincing evidence, and accusations of distrust or worse. Prepare yourself for how you’ll deal with an angry or resentful reaction from your child:

  • Be determined to remain calm, no matter what your child says.
  • Don’t let yourself be lured into responding with your own anger.
  • Take a pause and come back to the conversation later if it gets heated.
  • It’s important to tell your child that you love him or her and that’s why you’re concerned.

Set a Realistic Goal

Things will go better if you have considered the outcome you want from the initial conversation with your child. It’s probably for the best if you keep your expectations low. Expecting them to admit to substance abuse and promising to stop may be an unrealistic goal. Something more reasonable like expressing that you don’t want them to use could be considered a good outcome.

  • Keep your expectations to a minimum, particularly if this is your first time talking about it.
  • Set a small goal and move toward it, little by little.

Establish Rules and Consequences

Before you even begin the conversation, think about the rules you would want to establish and what the consequences will be if they’re broken. Besides making the goal of your conversation clear, it can help you set a clear next step.

  • Make sure your spouse or co-parent is ready and able to enforce the rules.
  • Pay attention to the feedback from your child. If they have a hand in creating the rules, they are more likely to obey them.
  • Don’t set consequences that you’re not likely to enforce.

Helping Your Child Work Through Causes of Addiction

Before your initial conversation, you should have some information about why they try substance use. Many types of challenging behavior are normal during the teen years but experimenting with substance use isn’t one of them.

It’s not true that “everyone drinks” or “everyone vapes”. However, there is a variety of common teen experiences that can become an excuse or reason for substance use. Understanding why some teens use substances or drink is an important step toward keeping them healthy and safe and avoid making bad choices.

Peer Pressure

Feeling like an outsider and wanting to be included and liked by others are pretty evident during the teen years. Whether your child is a teenager or an adult, peer pressure could be causing substance abuse in his or her life. You may need to talk to the individual and let them know you are there to support them. Talk about their need for acceptance and to fit in.

Help them identify friends (or even family members) who encourage them to abuse drugs or alcohol. Once you identify some of the negative influences in your child’s life, you may be able to help him or her come up with a plan to avoid situations that may lead to substance use.

Social Insecurity

Sometimes, teens and young adults will use drugs and alcohol to reduce insecurities and let their guard down to feel more confident socially. This can make them feel like substance use is the only way to achieve a certain level of social interaction. 

Real Emotional & Psychological Distress

Whether it’s the emotional weight of family problems, everyday drama (for teens), work problems (for adult children), stress, or trauma, some people will use substances to numb the very real pain in their lives.

Low self-esteem, loneliness, depression, anxiety disorder, and other mental health issues are common causes for teen substance abuse. Additionally, many of these issues happen in combination. Each one magnifies the intensity of the others. Some things you can do are:

  • Show empathy and compassion and let your child know that you understand. Let them know that everyone struggles sometimes. 
  • Remind them that you are always available for support and guidance and that it’s important to you that they are happy and healthy and make safe choices.
  • Exemplify healthy coping skills like exercise, meditation, or mindfulness. Show your child how to learn from setbacks and mistakes.
  • Work together to find healthy ways to manage stress like getting more sleep, getting outside, or spending time together. 
  • If your child is suffering, make sure they understand that you will get appropriate professional help and then do exactly that.

Mental and Emotional Tendencies

A teen or young adult with these mental or emotional tendencies may have an increased risk for addiction:

  • Impulsiveness
  • Diagnosis of ADHD
  • Low academic achievement
  • History of an anxiety disorder or disruptive disorder
  • History of depression or bipolar disorder; this might appear after substance use begins
  • Low family income with little access to opportunities
  • Need to take part in risky or dangerous behaviors
  • Problems maintaining emotional stability
  • Belief that drug use is harmless

Also, abnormal socialization between the ages of 7 and 9. This means having peers or parents who behave in ways not acceptable to most people, for example, using drugs, can be harmful to young people. Teens and young adults in these situations may develop substance use habits as a result.

Transitions and Changes in Life

Teens and young adults may be negatively impacted by major life changes. like moving, divorce, puberty, changing school, or an illness or death in the family can be a confusing time and lead some younger people to find comfort in alcohol or drugs. Things a parent can do include:

  • Increase the monitoring and communication during and after transitions.
  • Encourage open conversations about their experiences.
  • Set aside regular one-on-one time with your child to bond and have fun.

How Parents of Addicts Can Identify Their Child’s Struggle

Whether your child is a teenager or an adult with a family of their own, it is important to look out for their health. If you’ve noticed some things have changed in their behavior and lifestyle, it may be a sign of a deep-rooted issue. Substance abuse may be to blame for these changes in your child. Below are some signs that your child may be suffering from substance abuse or addiction:

  • Depression or fatigue
  • Hostility and irritability
  • Unusual odor on breath
  • Isolation or emotional distancing
  • Behavioral issues and poor grades
  • Evidence of drugs and paraphernalia
  • Financial problems (in adult children)
  • Marital problems (in adult children)
  • A dramatic change in their appearance, friends, or physical health
  • Lying and increased evasiveness about where they are
  • Lack of interest in personal appearance
  • Changes in mood, eating, and sleeping
  • Dizziness and memory problems
  • Dilated pupils even in bright light
  • Pinpoint pupils even in low light

Parents of Addicts Can Help Their Children Get Treatment

A qualified family therapist can evaluate your child, then recommend appropriate treatment which might include outpatient treatment and therapy or therapy in a residential treatment facility.

Therapy during treatment focuses on their life choices along with their relationships with family members. It’s vital that you be involved in the treatment. Positive relationships with parents are a critical part of combating a teens drug problems.

There is experienced, caring help for parents of addicts and their children at Harmony Place in Woodland Hills, CA. Our addiction professionals will design a treatment program to address the needs of your child and yourselves, including family therapy. In addition, we can offer residential treatment or outpatient care, so your child can continue to attend school. Don’t wait. Contact us today and find out what we can do for you and your loved one.