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.