Probably no situation makes a parent feel more helpless than watching their child slowly destroy themself. The problem of drug addiction among teenagers and even younger children has been a major concern for over half a century, and despite repeated attempts to educate children on the dangers of drugs, close to half of U.S. youth still experiment with drugs at least once before graduating high school. Over 600,000 minors have an alcohol addiction, and the largest age demographic of Americans needing prescription drug addiction treatment are those 18 to 25 years old.

Not that knowing you’re in widespread company is much comfort when your child is addicted to drugs, or that knowing an encyclopedia worth of facts about prescription-opiate detox, benzodiazepine detox, alcohol detox and treatment for drugs in the “illegal” category makes you feel any less helpless, but you should know that help is out there and can make things better. In the beginning, your child may refuse to consider treatment of any kind. The refrain “I can handle it. I don’t need help” haunts every day of your relationship, and you’re beginning to despair that your relationship is going down the tubes with the rest of your child’s life. Take heart; there are ways to help when your child is addicted to drugs. Most of them, however, don’t involve demanding, “educating” or pleading.

1. Be Sure Your Concerns Are Legitimate.

While many parents deny clear evidence of drug addiction, others worry to the point of seeing evidence without cause. Your child has every right to be angry if you hack into private diaries or conduct interrogations “just in case,” without a concrete reason for suspicion. And that may trigger the very thing you fear. Teenagers do crazy things under the influence of I’ll-make-them-sorry moods.

Signs that indicate your child may have a drug problem include:
  • Changes in personality, energy levels, eating habits or sleeping patterns
  • Unusually intense mood swings
  • Sudden drop in grades or loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Unexplained disappearance of money or personal property, perhaps being diverted for drug funds
  • Unusual smells, stains or paraphernalia in your household or on your child’s clothing

Stay aware that some of these may simply indicate normal hormonal changes — or one-time experimentation. Unless things obviously warrant immediate intervention, start by approaching the situation with just the facts. You might say that you’ve noticed things about them and are worried something might be wrong.

2. Make Sure You Aren’t Personally Giving Them Excuses To Continue Their Addiction.

If you automatically take a drink at the first sign of stress or a pill at the first sign of pain, your children will absorb the idea that chemical relief is the answer to everything. Alcohol kept at home could tempt your child. If you pay their debts, cover for their bad days and clean up their messes, they’ll have far less incentive to want to get off drugs.

3. Get help for yourself first.

Find a therapist, who you can share your concerns and explore your options. Find a peer support group for parents in your situation. Be open to suggestions on where you need to change. The problem is yours as well as your child’s — not because you have the right to plan their lives for them but because your emotional connection means that whatever you do affects each other.

4. Research detox treatment centers with experience treating adolescents and young adults.

Look for conveniently located places with references and well-established reputations. Check what your family’s health insurance will pay for. Visit premises and talk to treatment providers. Even if you can’t register your child immediately, you’ll pick up a good feel for what to expect and new ideas for coping with your concerns.

5. If your child is a dependent minor, you have the right to invoke parental authority.

This sometimes means telling them they’re going to alcohol detox, drug treatment or family therapy, whether they like it or not. To help the situation, phrase it in a way that emphasizes your concern rather than your authority. “Because I said so” will only generate resentment and encourage your child to see you as a power-hungry dictator rather than someone who really cares about their best interests, which won’t do much for them accepting your help. They’ll be more cooperative if you show them some genuine respect. Listen to their point of view without letting them argue you out of doing what’s best for them, and if possible, take them to visit two or three detox centers and let them make the final choice.

6. If you have a child over 18, remember you aren’t legally their “boss” anymore, even if they share your household.

In fact, doing what’s best for them may mean kicking them out of the household. It’s unlikely any court will grant you custodial rights unless your child has been diagnosed with an incapacitating mental illness, and it’s even more unlikely any doctor would evaluate them without their consent. You’ll have to approach the problem as you would with any other adult; express concern without making demands, keep communication channels open, and avoid giving them money or room and board if that’s making it easier for them to stay addicted. Heart-wrenching and terrifying as it is to refuse them their primary option for a roof overhead, the immediate danger of being broke and on the streets is often less than the long-term danger of slowly destroying oneself through addiction. Removing them from the house may be felt proof of their inability to handle things alone and may be the spur that finally convinces them to get treatment.

7. Once your child does get into detox, be fully prepared to support them in long-term sobriety.

Stay in close touch with them throughout the inpatient period. Arrange for the whole family to get long-term therapy and get active in support groups. Help your child avoid any triggers that might tempt them to relapse. This may mean anything from changing their school to getting them away from a drug-addicted peer group to not pressuring them to make straight A’s or pursue your preferred career.

8. Above all else, constantly reassure them you love them and are there for them.

This applies to the pre-detox, detox and post-detox periods, however long any of them take. It also applies to any children you have who aren’t addicted. The best tool ever found for achieving long-term sobriety, or meaningful success in any aspect of life, is a strong sense of self-confidence. And in nearly every case, that grows from the soil of knowing someone else believes in you no matter what.

Written by Inland Detox.

Articles posted here are primarily educational and may not directly reflect the offerings at Black Bear Lodge. For more specific information on programs at Black Bear Lodge, contact us today.