Finding drugs or alcohol in a child’s room can be cause for alarm – but not counterproductive overreaction – for parents. Previously, we looked at factors a parent can use to determine whether to seek outside help for a child’s potential addiction. This week we’ll consider what parents should do once they have decided to address the child’s potential addiction.
First and foremost, says Mary Egan, director of outreach at Rosecrance Health Network, parents should stand firm against pressure from their child or other family members or friends to avoid taking action. “The most dangerous course of action is to do nothing and chalk it up as a teenage rite of passage,” says Egan, adding that the initial conversation with the teen about the seriousness and consequences of drug use is an important first step — but only a first step. After that initial conversation, parents need to create a course of action to communicate consequences for alcohol and drug use.
“In a firm but caring manner, parents need to explain that alcohol and drug use are illegal and unhealthy and can result in problems at home, school and with the law, and can potentially result in substance abuse and addiction,” says Egan. She emphasizes that parents should always seek out a professional consultation about what is going on in their child’s life, especially when drugs, alcohol or paraphernalia are found in the home.
Still, teens may work extra hard to convince their parents that they don’t have a problem, often playing one parent against the other or trying to make their parents feel guilty about their concern and plan of action. “A substance abuser will use emotional manipulation to hijack a parent’s normal response to evaluate the seriousness of the substance use,” says Egan. “For example, a teen might say they promise to quit but then just get sneakier.” Egan says teens often say they have just “experimented” without divulging the full extent of use to avoid parents’ disappointment.
Sending the right message
It’s important that a child has a clear understanding of his or her parents’ position on drug and alcohol use, says Mary Roufa, manager of community services and support for Rosecrance, which is why it’s especially important for parents to take action if they feel that a teen’s drug or alcohol use is a cause for concern.
“Not addressing the issue will be interpreted by the adolescent that it is OK. Explain to your child that this is a serious health issue and that you care about the child too much to let it slide,” says Roufa. “Overreacting by yelling and name calling, and then not taking any course of action or grounding them forever can produce the opposite reaction from what the parent intended. It can cause your child to rebel against your authority or to retreat further into substance abuse.”
For many family members, the very idea of asking a third party to get involved in a loved one’s potential drug addiction can be difficult, especially when a child promises to quit. “Many parents want to believe that their child is just experimenting because the alternative is a very scary thought,” Egan says. “Seeking outside help is important to evaluate the extent of the problem. However, uncertainty about what steps to take, shame about what people will think, or guilt that ‘I somehow caused this behavior in my child’ or fear that it might really be a problem are common roadblocks.”
Parents should work with the resources available to them, including school counselors, family doctors and other appropriate individuals. Also, the addiction counselor plays an important role. In addition to providing some possible guidance, an addiction counselor can reinforce to your child that you’re serious about dealing with his or her potential addiction.