Some parents may think that having a one-time conversation with their children about the dangers of alcohol and drug use is sufficient, but that one conversation is not enough. Your children are constantly changing, and with the fluidity of peer pressure and social media, things that you may have said about drugs a month ago, a week ago, or maybe even thirty minutes ago, may be yesterday’s news. The following are common mistakes that parents make regarding teenage drug addiction and some tips on how to help your teenage drug addict.
1. Hiding Your Past Drug Use—if you have done drugs in the past and are asked by your child if you have ever done drugs, you may be tempted to lie. But, if you have, being honest with your child is the best policy. Focus the conversation on your past experiences with teen drug abuse, and what you learned from those experiences. Teens and adolescents respond well to honesty.
2. “It’s Just a Phase”–while experimentation with drugs and alcohol may not ultimately lead to addiction, it can lead to other problematic behaviors, such as drunk driving and sexual assault. Instead of having the mindset that experimentation is a “rite of passage,” be clear on all the dangers drugs and alcohol pose for your children.
3. Talking to Your Child While They Are Under the Influence—if you catch your child in the act of using drugs and alcohol, or if they are clearly under the influence, the normal reaction would be to lecture, scream, and punish your child. While your children need to understand there are consequences for their behavior, it is better to seriously talk to your children once the effects wear off.
4. Blaming—shouldering the blame or blaming your spouse for your child’s problems will only make matters worse. It is important to see the big picture, and realize that you need a unified front to tackle this issue. If your child is in drug and alcohol rehab, you can help make things right by attending therapy sessions.
5. Enabling—covering up and hiding your child’s drug use issues will have serious, long-term repercussions. If your child is facing consequences for their behavior while using drugs and alcohol, it is important to tell them you will love and support them, but they will have to understand and accept the consequences of their actions. If you are enabling your child, know that you could potentially have a hand in their death. Enabling is not a laughing matter. It really is a life-and-death situation. If you love your child, you will do what is best for the health and well being, as opposed to being a people-pleaser.
6. Setting Bad Examples—if you don’t think your teenager notices when you are drunk or high, think again. One of the best ways to steer kids away from drugs and alcohol is to set examples and display sober behavior.
7. Being Judgmental—while laying down the law is part of being a parent, being too firm or strict can cut off lines of communication. If you want your child to come to you for help, you need to show concern and empathy and be careful about not jumping to conclusions.
8. Not Having Leverage—treatment is voluntary and your child may refuse to go. Instead of throwing up your hands and caving into your child’s refusal, have consequences on the table if they refuse to go. Some examples may include removal from extracurricular activities, loss of privileges and even placement outside the home.
9. Not Noticing Changes—while there are many changes that occur during the teenage years, if you ignore changes in sleep patterns, decline in academic performance, and sudden changes in friends, you are missing tell-tale signs of substance use. Pay attention and monitor sudden changes in moods, especially after major changes, such as breakups, changes in school, or traumatic family events.
10. Ignoring Mental Health Issues—drug use is often a symptom of a deeper mental or psychological issue. Often, if parents have kids evaluated for substance abuse issues, clinicians focus solely on the substance abuse, and not underlying issues. If you are going to have your child evaluated for substance abuse issues be sure a complete mental health screening is also completed. The best way to begin treatment of any kind for a substance abuse problem is to enter into a medical and drug detox facility.
11. Putting off “The Talk”—parents may wait until their kids are older and more mature to have “the talk” about drugs and alcohol. While you may have to simplify the conversation with younger children, your child is never too young to talk about the risks and dangers associated with drug and alcohol abuse.
12. Ignoring Family History—if a family member has previously struggled with substance abuse, it is common that the illness is treated like a dark family secret. If there is a family history of substance abuse, it needs to be talked about openly, like other diseases, such as cancer or heart disease.
13. Not Locking the Medicine Cabinet—prescription drug abuse is common among teens, and the easiest place to obtain drugs is the family medicine cabinet. Keep track of all prescription drugs in the home and safely discard unused drugs. Also, keep track of other products, like aerosols and paint thinners, which have the potential for abuse.