teens addicted to drugs

Teenage addiction is a troubling but very real problem. Across the United States, about a million kids between the ages of 12 and 17have a substance use problem – meaning their drug use has reached a level of dependence, or addiction. Of these, only about 198,000 teens received treatment.

The biggest problem for youth in America today is that treatment is not very easy to get or suggest. Many prefer to pretend the issue isn’t real, while others fear that taking on treatment will ruin their potential future, ruin their parents financially, or ruin their reputation.

The truth is that the alternative – ignoring the issue– is much worse. There is more than one kind of treatment, and while it’s generally agreed that there is no one treatment that works for everyone, treatment is usually necessary for successful and timely recovery.

For parents with teens struggling with addiction, the first and most important step is to convey the importance of getting help, while explaining that getting help is the best way to mitigate the havoc that addiction can wreak on their future. But getting to your teen in the first place can be a great challenge. Here are five tips to help get through to your teen and talk to them about addiction.

Learn How to Communicate

It’s important to know how to communicate with your teen. Teens can be extremely obtuse to begin with – getting them to open up to you about certain problems can be even more difficult. If you don’t have a great relationship to begin with, it’s important to start at the beginning and build a deep sense of trust between you two.

This is where open-ended questions become useful. These are questions that don’t demand a yes or no answer but require a longer discourse. If you want your teen to open up, you want to give them the opportunity to talk at length – and it’s through questions like this that you can get more information about how they feel and what they actually think.

On top of this, it’s important to shed any judgmental thoughts and be non-judgmental in your approach. Chances are that, if your teen has a problem, they’ve noticed – and part of why they haven’t talked about it or done much to fix it is because of the mass of guilt and shame that addiction brings with it.

Pointing out how what they’ve been doing is bad only serves to further stress the bond between you two: it has no useful purpose. Instead, focus on asking why. Why do they feel the need to use? How did it start? Teens can sense ulterior motive, so don’t ask one question in preparation for a scolding.

If your child feels comfortable talking to you about how, when, and why, then you’re making good progress together.

Encourage What You Want to See

The last thing you want to do is make your teen feel like the behavior they’re working hard on was for nothing. There is an issue with communication between parents and children where they expect something from their children, and then don’t encourage it, instead focusing on how long it took, or the fact that they were so reluctant to do it in the first place, or how it wasn’t that hard/bad.

Instead of being negative (even in an effort to seem encouraging), just encourage your teen. They would do it faster if it wasn’t hard, and any bit of progress at all should be celebrated rather than criticized.

Change is hard, especially for someone struggling with an addiction. Fighting the addiction often means not only tackling the cravings and the temptations but fighting all the feelings that come with them. Aside from guilt, many feel helpless or struggle to stay motivated. They view their actions as failures, especially early on when there are little successes to be celebrated.

Because of this, it’s not uncommon for people in addiction to develop anxieties and fears, or even depression. In their hardest hours, even the smallest criticism will compound and grow within a person, turning into a nagging feeling, an unshakable voice, a heavy load on their shoulder. Addiction is not a condition that can be beaten by wrapping your teen in a bubble– but be sure to understand just how the addiction is affecting them, and if they need help beyond addiction treatment.

Talk About Bad Behavior

It is critical to address bad behavior when it happens and be sure to stress that certain actions simply will not be tolerated by you or the rest of the family. While addiction can make it hard for an individual to truly be in control of themselves, accountability is important as well.

Your teen needs to understand that their drug use is not just something that falls squarely onto them and is within their responsibility, but it affects everyone around them, and by not getting help they are effectively hurting others and putting those around them at risk to their potentially dangerous behavior and unaccountability. Which ties into the next point:

Detail the Consequences

Addiction is a serious issue – but it does not excuse terrible behavior, and without agreed-upon consequences, your support goes from helping your teen onto the right path to enabling their destructive tendencies.

Everyone struggling with their drug use needs a wakeup call, and as a parent you’re first in line to provide it. Doing so without being critical means addressing a teen’s behavior and the way it affects others, rather than attacking them or being judgmental of the way and rate at which they achieve progress. There’s a difference between slowly coming to terms with sobriety, and actively ignoring responsibility.

Have a sit down with your teen and cover some situations that may come up in the future regarding previous behavior and tell them what consequences you’re ready to draw if they decide to break the rules you’re setting before them.

Do Not Ignore Your Own Needs

As strange as it might be for you to even consider your own needs while attending to your child, you’re only an effective caregiver when you function as a rational human being. Make sure to take the time to handle your own stress levels and relax every once in a while. Taking on too much without a break will hurt you as well, and in turn, hurt your teen’s recovery.

Not to mention that people who need help often feel as though they’re being an unnecessary burden on others. If you focus too much on your child and let their condition wear you down as well, it can kill their motivation to keep striving for sobriety.

All you need to do is ask yourself every now and again if you’re truly okay – and if not, find a way to let some stress out safely. Take up sports, or reading, or pamper yourself every once in a while. Addiction is a long and hard road, and if you’re committed to supporting your teen to the best of your abilities, you’ll need to be able to manage your own feelings and struggles first.

10 ways to re-connect with your children in 2018

Perhaps it was a divorce or work, or years spent drifting apart after the recovery began. Parents and children walk separate paths at some point, and some do so far sooner than others. But when addiction becomes a problem in your teen’s life, being a supportive parent is more important than anything else. However, not everyone can smoothly transition to a peaceful life at home with their teen after rehab. Learning how to reconnect in a meaningful way can bolster your relationship and make a difference in your teen’s life.

If you’re here to learn how to reconnect with your teen not just because of addiction, but because of other factors such as work and divorce, then there is still much to learn here. Whatever the reason may be, if you want to reconnect with your child, you have to understand what that would mean – and how best to go about it.

This article is meant to help give you a better idea of what is expected of a parent when it comes to reestablishing a bond with their child.

Every point made here can help you be a better parent, and understand how to connect with your child. Before we get into what you could do to reconnect with your child, a few things first.

There Will Be Anger

Being a teenager is hard. If you don’t remember what it’s like, just ask yourself how much you would be struggling with your emotions if, on one hand, your hormones and brain structure drive you towards brash decision-making and moodiness, while on the other hand, you have no clue what to do with your life and the reality of living hits you with its full might.

Add to that the temperament and confusion of early recovery, the temptations of addiction even weeks into sobriety, and feeling of betrayal and struggles with shame as a teenager fluctuates between blaming their parents for their problems and blaming themselves for every bad decision, and you have a cauldron of volatility.

In all of this, it’s important to remember that you love your child – and they love you. Children rely on their parents until they don’t – and the transition is always painful. Yet even if your teen happens to be on the cusp of adulthood, your role as a parent never ends – and it will always be your responsibility to support your child. Keeping that relationship alive and strong throughout recovery is a cornerstone of successful treatment.

Reconnecting with Your Child

  1. Devote your attention to them

The first step to reconnecting is preparing for it. If you spent some time apart, or if you haven’t had a proper conversation in years, it’s important to look back on your relationship and see where the issue might be. Oftentimes, it’s a matter of availability and trust – and you have to provide both to kick things off.

  1. Spend quality time together

Ask your child when they might have some time off, and find things to do together. From playing a game to taking a class together or just spending some time out in town, there are plenty things you can still do with your teen to have fun together. Just make sure to plan ahead – cutting into your teen’s weekend without first asking could create an awkward situation.

  1. Take a moment to talk, in earnest

Certain things can’t just be brought up off-the-cuff. Take the time to schedule a talk with your teen about things that must be said, and discussions that must be had. Part of reconnecting with your child is clearing the air on ambiguous or controversial topics and events.

  1. Learn about their interests

Teens will always be into things their parents neither understand nor approve of, but as long as it isn’t as dangerous or damaging as addiction, it’s a good idea to learn more about your teen’s interests and – most importantly – understand why they enjoy them.

  1. Incorporate them into everyday life

It’s not enough to open a weekly timeslot for your teen. Make them a part of your life. If your teenager no longer lives with you, then try to chat a little every day, and talk to them about their day. If you do live together, then don’t make it a habit to ignore one another. Greetings and simple questions like “how was your day?” can go a long way, as long as the lesson is mutually respected and applied.

  1. Work together around the house

Most people don’t like doing chores, but they have to be done – and responsibilities like chores are a good way to help a teen develop the discipline they need in life to master their addiction. However, doing chores together instead of alone gives you a great opportunity to connect, and lessens the boredom.

  1. Prep a meal together

Cooking together is a quick and easy way to both bond and create a lovely meal – and having a heart-to-heart while chopping onions helps mask the tears on both sides. It’s also a useful life skill, and many recipes are easy to pick up and master.

  1. Give them space

A big part of recovery is becoming self-sufficient – and that’s a big part of adulthood, too. Give them the room needed to expand and grow, take on interests on their own, and make time for both responsibilities and the things they enjoy doing.

  1. Be available

Nothing hurts your efforts at reconnecting with your teen like making it clear that you’re not available for reconnecting. But just being available is not enough – you have to make it clear to your child that you’re always there for them.

  1. Hug

This is harder to do with some teens than it is with others, but a genuine hug can go a long way to help make someone feel better no matter what has happened. When we hug each other, we feel a barrage of good things, caused by a cascade of positive neurotransmitters related to feelings of joy and love.

Things to Consider

Reconnecting with your child isn’t as easy as 1-2-3. It takes time, effort, patience, and will often involve a few missteps here and there. Your goal is not to reshape the teen or change who they are, but instead, your job is to be there for them, give them the room they need to extend and explore themselves and the concepts of adulthood, independence, and responsibility, but always be there to curb things when they go too far, and to connect on different levels.

For example, give your teen the freedom to choose what to do with their time – but be there to tell them when they’re wasting too much of it doing things that are not constructive.

Respect their schedules and plans, and understand that even if you keep your calendar open at specific times, they might have other things planned with friends or partner.

Raising a teen in recovery is difficult, but it’s never impossible. It’s a journey you and your child will walk together, and recovery is just another chapter in the book.

How to Support Your Children During Addiction Recovery

You’ll do anything for your children.

As a parent, your job is to be there for your children when they need you the most and help them navigate the confusing and fascinating phenomenon of childhood.

Often, this can be just as exciting and frightening for the parents as it is for the children. And when crossing through certain territories – such as addiction – it is rarely anything other than frightening.

Witnessing your own child struggling with addiction is something very emotional and difficult to deal with for most parents. However, the only way you can really help your child get through this is by keeping it together, communicating, and learning. Without the right knowledge, a parent can very quickly exacerbate and damage the bond between them and their child by saying the wrong thing.

These tips are meant to help you know what to do and what not to do, and they’re meant to be tips to help you understand how you can support your child during recovery.

Their Sobriety Means Your Sobriety

There’s more to this than solidarity. Supporting your child means making things easier for them – helping them stay away from old memories and potential triggers during early recovery is part of the process.

If your child has an addiction problem, then it’s not a good idea to drink or take any other drugs in front of or near them, and getting the support of others in the family to avoid drinking during social occasions can help make it a little easier and make staying sober feel a little more normal, rather than drawing attention to their sobriety and addiction.

This means more than not drinking. Your sobriety is vital as support to them – and that includes cutting out any potentially enabling behavior. Enabling behavior might include tolerating relapses or low usage, or making excuses for their behavior rather than helping them address it at the root cause and improve their emotional state.

Enabling behavior generally involves you running around or away from the problem, when you should be addressing it as a parent, and helping your child come to terms with their condition and overcome it.

Learn More About Addiction

The most important thing you can do is learn absolutely everything there is to learn about your child’s addiction. Read up on the drugs they use or may use, contact their therapist, and learn more about their emotional problems, and find out what might have contributed to their usage, from peer pressure to personal feelings, potential self-esteem issues, and more.

Addiction is multi-faceted and incredibly complicated, but a good place to start is finding out what your child is dealing with.

Support Their Passions, Not Their Wants

Beating addiction is a long and hard road with many different forks leading to different places – and one of them is the path your child will have to take to relearn what it means to enjoy life, and live a sober life without regrets or cravings. To do so, they need to tap into their passions and hobbies and find something they can truly care about, something they can do that helps them cope with life’s biggest challenges without turning to drugs.

Most parents just want their kids to be happy. But you can’t buy their happiness with toys and trinkets, and it’s a bad idea to try and turn a rough emotional situation into a better one with surprise gifts. Understand that these are going to be extremely tough times, and the only thing you can truly do is support their emotional growth, and direct them as they find their way through this challenging time.

An effective way to help them grow is by supporting them in their passions and hobbies, and helping them find happiness that way. Be sure to monitor both their behavior and their movement to ensure that they aren’t running into old friends and old memories, in order to avoid risking a relapse.

Confront Negative Behavior and Be a Parent

Many parents struggle to effectively raise their child while sober, because they’re scared of causing any emotional harm that might lead to a relapse – so they tolerate, ignore, or write off negative or emotionally abusive behavior as part of the process. However, you’re doing no one a favor by walking on eggshells – least of all your own child.

Be a parent, and address them effectively and compassionately for rude or disrespectful behavior. Being sick does not give them the excuse to treat others like dirt, or insult them. While their struggle is understandable, it’s a sign of emotional immaturity to take out your own anger and frustrations on someone else, and that’s not a habit that should be encouraged passively through tolerance. Instead, it needs to be pointed out and addressed, regardless of your child’s addiction.

Find Support for Yourself

A tool is only so useful if it is properly maintained. While it’s demeaning to see yourself as nothing more than a purpose, many parents are so determined to help their children through addiction that they will neglect their own needs to see after their child.

But the point here is that even with that unhealthy mentality, ignoring your needs becomes pointless and unwise after a very short amount of time. You need physical and emotional support if you’re going to get through this in any shape or form, and you need help just as much as your child does if the family is going to survive this addiction.

Parents are people, not tools, and there’s more to you than being the watchful guardian and eye of your child. Make sure to take the time to tend to your own needs, and find a support group for parents with addicted teens. Talking about your personal struggles and hearing others talk about theirs and how they overcame them can be relieving and uplifting.

Be prepared for a long journey. Addiction can take a while to overcome, and there may be setbacks and disappointments. But don’t let it get to you – you need to be your child’s emotional rock, a stable person in their life they can rely on no matter what.


Daniel Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA, has been studying the brain for over 20 years. His unique focus has been exploring the effects of meditation and mindfulness on the brain, and he has come to recognize that meditation and mindful awareness can alter brain function, mental activity, and interpersonal relationships. His research and extensive books and articles on the brain, has led to providing easy to understand descriptions of difficult scientific concepts about the brain. Read more!

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