Addiction is a family disease—here’s how to make sure your teen isn’t struggling alone.
Addiction touches the lives of entire families, not just those of the individuals struggling with the disease. It can be difficult to tell when a loved one—especially a teen—is struggling with an addiction. It can be a source of interpersonal conflict within your home, not to mention hugely detrimental to your loved one’s health.
You have an extremely important role to play in those tough times though. Research shows that family involvement is key to assessing the problem, seeking the appropriate treatment, and sustaining lifelong recovery. The more time you spend talking and healing together as a family during the treatment and recovery process, the better chance your loved one will have of avoiding relapse. Here are six ways to support a teen struggling with an addiction.
1. Know the signs.
Concerned your family member might be suffering from an addiction, but not sure how to tell? Knowing the warning signs will help. Some of the larger warning signs of addiction in teens include destructive or risky behavior, pulling away from friends, and loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed. There are also many small indications, like irritability and sleeping too much, that is often brushed off as normal teen mannerisms and are therefore harder to detect. If your teen has been exhibiting these symptoms for more than a month, however, it’s time to seek help.
2. Educate yourself.
When someone important to you is in crisis, it may be tough to keep a clear head. Remember that they’re in a vulnerable state. Teens are especially susceptible to giving in to substance abuse, since the part of their brain that makes decisions and exercises self-control is not yet fully developed.
Before getting involved, do your research. Approach the topic carefully, from an informed point of view. Note that addiction is usually connected to other mental health or behavioral issues, so you want to consider the full picture before sitting down with your loved one. Roughly one in four individuals with a serious mental illness, such as major depression, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder, will also develop a substance abuse problem.
3. Talk about substance abuse with them.
Open up lines of communication with your loved one about addiction and substance abuse. You can use pop culture and real-world examples of teens drinking, smoking, or using drugs as a way into the conversation.
Discuss the consequences of substance abuse in terms of the immediate risks, such as decreased school and extracurricular performance. It’s also important to emphasize that addiction can serve as an obstacle to the things they want in the future, such as going to college or landing their dream job.
4. Reserve your judgment.
Always be non-judgemental in your approach. Fear of judgment or shame has been proven to be a huge barrier to someone seeking help and ultimately treatment. The stigma surrounding addiction can make it hard for someone to admit they have a problem in the first place, let alone ask for help.
If you can create a safe space for your loved one to talk openly about their disease, you’ll have the opportunity to help them. Ensure that this open communication goes both ways—you’ll need to be able to discuss your feelings in a non-confrontational way as well.
5. Encourage them to seek treatment.
Addiction is a chronic disease and there’s no shame in seeking medical help for it. There are a variety of options available to suit individual needs. Caron offers varying degrees of clinical care with inpatient and outpatient rehab programs as well as long-term support for individuals and families. Speaking with a professional will help you determine which course of treatment will best support your loved one.
6. Get the whole family involved in recovery.
Counseling for the whole family is a useful tool for supporting a family member with an addiction. Family therapy is especially beneficial for teens and young adults. It can help families and teens learn how to communicate and work through the issues behind substance abuse. Enlist the help of a therapist to get to the root cause of your loved one’s addiction and learn how everyone at home can support them.
7. Take care of yourself.
Don’t neglect to care for yourself, either. Be sure to establish healthy boundaries with your teen and develop an external support network. Above all, understand that self-care in this situation isn’t selfish—it’s imperative. Your role in the recovery process is incredibly important, so you need to make sure that your needs are met as well as your loved ones.
It’s never too early to begin looking into how to help a child struggling with substances like drugs and alcohol. Contacting a professional is the best way to understand what treatment options are available for your child and your family. As someone close to them, you’re in an ideal position to help them along their road to recovery.
Written by Caron for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.