Using decades of extensive research conducted by experts in the fields of health and psychology, we have determined that addiction is a chronic relapsing disease that occurs due to a confluence of social, physical, genetic, and environmental factors. Although the details—drugs of choice, length and severity of active addiction, and so on—vary from one addict to the next, the most consist fact of addiction is that it can and has affected many different people from all walks of life. Therefore, it follows that among the many victims on the demographic spectrum, adolescents and teens represent one of the numerous target groups and are arguably the most dangerous.
Adolescence is a period of rapid physiological change. From puberty onward, teens are learning to become adults while their brains and bodies continue to mature in preparation for the time when they’ll come of age and take responsibility for their own lives. When substance abuse is introduced during this delicate period, the damage can be catastrophic. Among the many problems that teenage addiction can cause, perhaps the most important is the effects that substance abuse can have on the brain and body that are not yet fully developed. When drugs are introduced into the body, the production and levels of essential neurotransmitters and hormones are thrown off balance, causing the body to compensate accordingly. The body is still balancing the natural levels of many of these hormones and chemicals, which means drug use would compound an already complicated issue. What’s more, it’s during the period of adolescence that individuals learn the life skills that are essential for survival. If a teenager doesn’t or is unable to learn the important skills adults need to survive, survival will be dubious at best.
As such, many parents fear the possibility of their children inadvertently developing an addiction to alcohol and drugs at an age when the devastation caused by developing a chemical dependence is compounded. And despite the fact that there are many parents across the country—and even the world—whose fears are realized when they discover some sign that their teenage child is using drugs, this scenario does not mean the battle against the disease of addiction has been lost. On the contrary, parents who discover evidence that a teenager is using drugs should be thankful that their child’s substance abuse did not continue in secret, growing more and more severe in the absence of treatment and support. While it’s a discovery that won’t be memorable in a pleasant sort of way, it’s the moment in which parents learn that a substance abuse problem exists and takes action so that the teenage child can be directed toward recovery.
If you have recently found evidence that your teenage son or daughter has been using drugs and may have a substance abuse disorder or addiction, the following steps will help you to respond accordingly and effectively.
Recruit Other Parents
As a parent, you might expect the first step to entail immediately confronting the teenage drug user, but the parent who discovers that their teenager has been using alcohol or drugs has homework to do first. Namely, the parents should get in contact with the parents of teenager’s peer group, which is likely to consist of friends with whom the teenager has been experimenting with substance abuse. In fact, one or more of those peers has likely been providing the substance to the others or providing access to the substance. It’s important to make sure that the other parents are aware of what’s going on because of all the teens are partaking in substance abuse, then they all need to stop. Even if you tell your teen to stop associating with a certain group of people, if they attend the same school it’s virtually impossible to ensure that the teen obliges. If all the other parents are aware of the situation, the parents can form a sort of coalition, agreeing on rules such as curfews, supervision, and so on. In short, the parents can collectively prevent situations in which the teens were abusing alcohol and drugs.
A Loving Confrontation
When you confront the teen with evidence of his or her substance abuse, it’s important to do so in an unaggressive, sympathetic, and understanding way. When parents attack with threats and aggression, their teenage children with shut down, preventing open communication and making it more likely that they won’t be honest about their future mistakes. Being understanding ensures that the teenager knows he or she can be honest. Over the course of the mini-intervention, parents should calmly, yet assertively lay out the rules and consequences concerning this behavior. If the teenager has either admitted to or shown signs of having a physical dependence on alcohol and drugs, treatment in a recovery program should be encouraged. However, despite the consequences and rules, make sure the teen knows that he or she is still loved and accepted by the parents. Remember the expression: “Hate the sin, not the sinner.” Also, remember that your ultimate goal is to nip the situation in the bud before it gets worse, which is going to require understanding and openness so that trust can be established on both sides.
Treat the Contributors
Oftentimes teens will engage in substance abuse for one or more of many reasons, such as to fit in with peers, boredom, self-medicating due to anxiety or depression, and so on. As a parent, be aware that when a teenager engages in substance abuse, there is almost always a cause or contributor that led the teen to engage in that behavior. If the teen was simply bored and had too much free time, find constructive, productive ways for the teen to spend their time that offers fulfillment and keeps him or her out of trouble. If the issue is that the teen chose to treat anxiety, depression, or some other mental or emotional condition with intoxication, the best action to take would be to find the teen a therapist or counselor, especially one that specializes in teenage substance abuse and addiction. If the issue was the teen’s peer group, therapy or counseling would also be effective in addition to encouraging the teenager to participate or engage with the family in activities that fortify the familial bond and, particularly, strengthen the teen’s relationship with his or her parents.
Substance abuse disorders are characterized by compulsive seeking and imbibing of alcohol or drugs. They’re chronic, requiring ongoing treatment and effort to maintain recovery. However, recovery is not only possible, it’s obtainable. The Palm Beach Institute can help teens and adults who suffer from addiction to alcohol and drugs in beginning the journey to recovery.