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The Do’s and Don’ts of Parenting an Addicted Teen

how to help an addicted teen

Substance addiction does not just affect one person; it can affect an entire family. If your son or daughter is battling a drug problem, you already know this firsthand. Every day, you may fear for your child’s life. You may experience heartbreak over and over again. And on top of this all, you may be feeling overwhelmed, helpless, and unsure of what to do. As much as you want to help your addicted teen, you may not know how.

Parenting an addicted teen or young adult is not easy. While most all parents want to help their child overcome the drug problem, many wind up enabling their child’s substance abuse instead. There is a fine line between enabling and helping your son or daughter. Helping means doing something in your child’s best interest, such as bringing them to therapy. Enabling, on the other hand, means helping to make your child’s drug use possible. This is often done inadvertently, such as lending them money, or letting them take the car. 

Are you helping your child overcome their drug addiction, or are you unknowingly facilitating the problem? Below, we break down the do’s and don’ts for parenting an addicted teen or young adult.

What Parents Should Not Do

  • Don’t be judgmental, or jump to punishment.

It is easy to feel angry and lash out at your child. You may want to punish your child by taking away their cellphone, or preventing them from going out at night. While it is important to establish expectations and consequences at home, you must remember that addiction is a disease. It controls how users think, feel, and behave. It takes over the brain and body. Your addicted teen or young adult may want to stop using, but their body is demanding the drugs to function properly. Not only this, but teens and young adults are at an age of acting out. By reprimanding your teen for using drugs, without listening or talking calmly to them first, you may break any trust between you and your child. You may isolate your child even further, or make them more defensive towards you. Your child may not be open to conversations in the future, if you are judgmental and harsh from the start.

  • Don’t ignore the problem.

As a parent, you may wish to ignore the problem altogether. You may have tried to address it in the past, but have been unsuccessful in curbing this disease. Perhaps you wish to turn a blind eye to your child’s drinking and drug use, because you are somewhat ashamed. You may avoid talking to your child and finding out the truth. You may cover up the problem by putting a front on for friends and family members, saying that you are fine, or making excuses for why your child couldn’t be there. We don’t blame you—however, it’s time to acknowledge the problem at hand. The more you delay in recognizing your child’s addiction, the longer your child will suffer physically, mentally, and financially.

  • Don’t enable your child.

It’s simple: the more you do for your child, the less they will do for themself. If you let your child live at home for free, and they continue to use drugs, that qualifies as enabling. If you loan your child money, that is also enabling the problem. There are many different signs of enabling, which can range from supporting your child physically and financially, to blaming others—including yourself—for your child’s behaviors. As a parent, it is important to push your child to be independent. If your child does not want to get a job or take steps to stop using drugs, then it’s important to let your child experience those consequences. As much as you want to protect your child, you must allow your child to endure the costs for their behaviors. This is how your son or daughter will learn, progress, and grow.

What Parents Should Do

  • Do have open conversations at home.

Open and honest conversations are key to any successful intervention, and especially those for addicted teens and young adults. Right now, your child may be afraid to talk to you about their struggles. They may be afraid of getting punished, or of disappointing you. The problem is, this avoidance can make you less aware of what’s going on in their life. Many young people start using drugs because of a mental health issue, a self-esteem issue, or because they want to fit in at school. Will your child turn to you? Let your child know you are there, that you love them, and that you are willing to listen. If you encourage open conversations about difficult topics in this manner, your child may feel more comfortable going to you for help. Your child may be more honest with you about what they are going through, and may be more open to advice. As a parent, you have the power to establish a healthy line of communication with your child—and this can protect them from larger problems down the road. 

  • Do address your child’s behavior, not your child as a person.

As noted above, parents should never judge their child for their behaviors. Remember, addiction is a disease. It does not make someone a failure, or a morally-wrong person. As you approach conversations with your teen, be understanding of this. Ensure your child knows that they are not a bad person, but rather, have simply partaken in bad behaviors. Don’t be afraid to point those behaviors out, and to tell your child how they have affected for you. For example, you may say:

  • “I worry about your safety when you come home late at night.”
  • “I am scared that you will take a laced drug without knowing it.”
  • “I fear for your life when you get behind the wheel while high.”
  • “I am heartbroken that you no longer want to spend time with me/your family.”

By focusing on your feelings, you will leave less room for debate or defensiveness from your teen.

  • Do offer support, and find support services.

When substance addiction comes knocking, it can be very hard for teens and young adults to stop it. It can be hard for them to even recognize that a problem exists at all. As a parent, you can help your child by offering emotional support during this time. You can do this by sitting down with them, and listening to their problems. You can also do this by researching different drug treatment programs for youth, and finding one that best fits your loved one’s  needs. Do not be afraid to line up and enroll your teen in a treatment program, either—this can be an extremely effective step in preparing for an intervention. 

Once your teen is settled into a treatment program, you can also help by encouraging them throughout the recovery process. In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Involvement of a family member or significant other in an individual’s treatment program can strengthen and extend treatment benefits.” This includes better engagement, higher rates of success, and increased participation in an extended care or sober living program.

If you do not know how to help your teen or young adult, do not be afraid to ask them what you can do. Ask your child what they need from you in order to succeed (as long as it does not involve enabling them further). Let your child know that you have their best interests at heart, and you want them to live the best, longest, and healthiest life possible. This is key to getting your child on a path towards recovery. 

Turnbridge is a dedicated treatment center for teens and young adults battling addiction. For more information about parenting an addicted teen or young adult, or to learn about our programs for young men and women, do not hesitate to call us at 877-581-1793.