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How to Help a Teenager (with a Drug Addiction) Who Doesn’t Want Help

how to help troubled teen with substance addiction

Studies show that teenagers are highly inclined to act on impulse, engage in risky behavior, and get into fights or argue (sometimes, just for the sake of arguing). They are less likely to think before they act, and more likely to misinterpret emotions or social cues. As a parent, you may have asked, “Why is my teen so difficult?” or “Why can’t I get through to my teen?” The answer is actually quite simple: biology.

The teenage brain is “under construction.” The prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain dedicated to thinking, judgment, and decision-making – is still in development. As a result, teens are more prone to act out and rebel without thinking about the long-term consequences. They are also more likely to be avoidant of and resistant towards their parents. 

If you have a teenager who is using drugs or struggling with a mental health issue, you may have tried to get through to him time and time again. You may be constantly worried about her whereabouts, health, or whether she’s safe. You may find yourself at a loss, wondering how to help a teenager with a drug addiction – let alone, how to help a teenager who doesn’t want help.

Parenting a drug-addicted teen is one of the greatest challenges you’ll face in life. But it’s important to know that this condition is very treatable, especially at a young age. Teenagers and young adults who receive early intervention and treatment for a substance use disorder are more likely to remain abstinent with no further problems later in life. The thing is, they need help getting into treatment. 

Most teenagers do not actively seek treatment for addiction on their own. In fact, in most cases, they do not even realize that a drug problem exists. This is again due to their stage of brain development. Teens are often not able to recognize the harmful consequences of drug use. They may not see the difference between bad choices and good ones. And, they may misinterpret any negative feelings associated with their drug use, because they feel they’re invincible. 

So, when a parent expresses concerns or says enough is enough, teens are going to push back. They are going to tell you that “everyone is doing it” and that they are “not going to get addicted.” They may tell you they are independent enough to make their own decisions or even, “This is just how I am.” Alternatively, your teen may close off communication altogether – going up to their room and shutting the door on the conversation.

So, what’s a parent to do? How can you help a teen who doesn’t want help for their drug problem?

You’ve come to the right place. Here, we will offer tips on how to talk to your teen, gain their trust, and get them onto a healthier path.

5 Strategies to Help Teens with Drug Addiction

  1. Hear your teenager out.

Teenagers are inherently resistant to help, but as a parent, it’s important to try and understand the root of their apprehension. Don’t just try to convince your teen to get help without hearing what he or she has to say first. More than likely, your child is hurting and does not know how to communicate it. Give your teen a chance to explain how they feel, and listen closely so that you can give a thoughtful and non-judgmental response. Validate their feelings, and be empathetic. According to the Child Mind Institute,  “Not only will [this] improve your relationship with your teen, it will also make her more likely to listen to you.” It will establish trust, honesty, and respect between the two of you.

  1. Stay calm.

It is easy to jump to anger when you find out your teen is using drugs. However, in order to maintain an open line of communication with your child, it is important to keep a level head. Try to avoid yelling at your teen, skipping to punishment, or calling them names. This will only feed any anger that your teen has pent up, and may encourage them to continue acting rebellious. By staying calm, you will be able to have a more productive and collected conversation with your teen about your concerns.

  1. Determine what your teen wants.

Your desires as a parent are straightforward: You want your teen healthy and safe. You want your teen to make better decisions. You want your teen to go to rehab, or get help for his/her mental health problems. The question remains, what does your son or daughter want? 

Part of listening to your teen means listening to his or her goals and priorities in life. Your teen may not agree about having a drug problem, but he/she may be open to seeing other areas of improvement. For example, your teen may have symptoms of depression or anxiety, and may just want to “feel better.” Most mental health issues surface in the teenage years, and are among the most common causes of teen drug use and addiction. By understanding more about how your teen feels now, and how he/she wants to improve in life, you can better motivate your child to want to get help. Together, you can come up with a strategy for change. 

  1. Be supportive and don’t give up.

If your child continues to push back on the idea of getting help, don’t give up. Continue to be the most positive and most supportive parent you can be. Continue to tell your child you want him/her safe, and continue to ask how he or she is feeling, or what he/she needs. Progress will happen over time. As Dr. Dowd at the Child Mind Institute states, “If you lay the groundwork by strengthening your connection with him now, he’ll be more likely to turn to you for support when he’s finally ready.”

  1. Involve a clinical professional.

No one expects you to handle this all on your own. If your teen still does not want your help, despite your efforts to have a calm conversation, consider bringing in a professional to intervene. Therapists can be a valuable asset and ally to your child. Alternatively, you can talk to your pediatrician or family doctor about the issue. The National Institute of Drug Abuse recommends asking the doctor ahead of time if he/she is comfortable screening your child for drug use and related health conditions, and further referring your teen to rehab if needed.

You may also reach out to a rehab program yourself, and get your teen enrolled. It’s important that you find a treatment center that is specifically tailored to the needs of adolescents and young people. Turnbridge, for example, is a teen rehab center for adolescents battling substance addiction and co-occurring disorders. We understand the unique pressures and mentalities that teens possess. Our programs are specially tailored to meet the unique needs of teens, and give them a safe, comfortable, and effective treatment experience. If and when you are ready, we are available to help.

Just call 877-581-1793 and we will put you in touch with one of our admissions specialists. We can talk about your teen’s experiences, challenges, and goals for recovery. If you are interested in getting more tips on how to help your teen, we recommend exploring the following articles: