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Getting past ‘no’: Advice for parents whose child resists treatment

It’s not easy talking with a teenager, especially when the topic is as sensitive as drugs or alcohol.

When a parent catches a teen sneaking out of the house or notices significant changes in the child’s grades, disposition, or social activities, it might be time to have a conversation.

Unfortunately, it’s not easy talking with a teenager, especially when the topic is as sensitive as drugs or alcohol. Emotions may run high on both sides of the conversation, with parents perhaps facing denial or fear, while the teen may be experiencing a range of emotions as they are trying to find their place in the world.

“We often hope that things will magically fix themselves, but that might not be the case with substance use,” said Rosecrance Outreach Director Mary Egan. “Because it can be a powerful illness, we know parents walk a fine line trying to maintain a good relationship with their child while looking out for their best interests, even if that means tough conversations and decisions.”

For parents who need to get a child help when they are resistant to it, the most important things parents can do are stay calm, listen, and love. Experts call this “detachment with love.” Separating harmful behaviors from the person will empower parents to focus on the concerning behaviors without jeopardizing the relationship.

“Being there for your child is really important,” said Rosecrance Griffin Williamson Campus Clinical Director Jason Relle. “Be truly present and listen to what they have to say. If they know you love them and want the best for them, they will be more likely to respond in a positive way.”

When talking to the child, parents should be aware of the options available. While some teens may benefit most from a residential setting such as the Rosecrance Griffin Williamson Campus, outpatient treatment may be appropriate, as well as prevention education programming. Knowing the range of options may decrease fear and resistance in the teen as they have more information to consider.

In addition, parents should prioritize self-care while they face these challenges.

“Be encouraged that recovery is very possible, but don’t underestimate the power of support as you manage this time in your family’s life,” Egan said. “The journey of recovery is best walked together with others.”

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