Drug use among the youth is an epidemic and one that has ruined not just their lives but their families as well. Studies show that 1 out of 8 teenagers have abused drugs in the past year. In 2018, the film Beautiful Boy shared the real-life story of recovering meth addict Nic Sheff and his father David Sheff’s efforts to bring him to the path of recovery and the hurdles they had to endure to find relief from the disease.
In an interview, Nick said that if someone we love is addicted and the way they use their chosen substances is life-threatening, then we need to do all that we can to get them in treatment because they can die. And an overwhelming amount of studies show that waiting until an addict hits rock bottom is too dangerous.
Substance abuse among the youth is so common, but parents are not always given the resources to help their struggling kids. This is a tragic irony because parents play a big part not just in their kids’ entire well-being but also in their recovery if they get sick. Here are some steps parents can take to love and parent their kids with addiction.
Lead with love and gentleness
While it may be frustrating to care for someone going through addiction (because they would often use deceitful tactics to gain more access to the substance they’re addicted to), we need to lead with love and gentleness to preserve and strengthen the relationship, matter what. Whether you’re trying to get them into therapy or enter a drug or alcohol rehab facility, it needs to come from love and concern, not judgment, frustration, or coercion.
The best way to extend love and gentle support is through good and open communication.
- Ask them how you can support and help them practically.
- If they seem to be in a good mood, ask open-ended questions like why they decided to use drugs or start drinking. Here are some ways you can have healthy contact with your child who is struggling with substance abuse addiction:
- If they are apprehensive about seeking treatment, ask them why as well. Ask them what gives them pause about the idea of seeking professional help or entering a facility.
- Another open-ended question is whether they still enjoy using what they like or don’t like about being high or drunk on their substance.
When you ask these questions, make sure that you request from a place of compassion and empathy, not like an investigator trying to get to the bottom of a crime.
Opt for positive re-enforcement
Parenting addicted children is not that different from parenting children who don’t struggle with the same disease—the stakes are higher. Just like in regular parenting, when we focus too much on the mistakes or the relapses, and when we use those mistakes against them and constantly nag them about it, we risk pushing them towards continued substance abuse.
Instead of zeroing in on their bad behavior, focus on encouraging desirable and positive outcomes and behaviors. This might look like the following:
- Give them encouragement and affirmation when they reach a milestone in their sobriety.
- Spend more time with them by looking for healthier coping ways, like trying out new sports or hobbies.
- Help connect them with people who might have gone through the same struggles but have made great strides toward recovery.
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the negatives of trying to scold our way to good behavior, but it’s exactly what it is: A trap. Remember that your kid’s substance abuse is likely a coping mechanism for a traumatic experience. The last thing you want is to add to their trauma by being verbally, emotionally, and mentally forceful at best and abusive at worst.
And last but certainly not least, you must encourage professional help and treatment. As parents, it’s okay to admit something is above our pay grade, and addiction is one of those issues we need to entrust to people who have spent years studying it and helping others recover from it. If you reside in the Northeast, there are plenty of drug treatment centers in Boston that focus on specific addictions and offer the highest quality of care.
Addiction is a treatable condition, and there’s no reason for us to give up on our struggling children. Let your love and medical science steer them back in the right direction. It’s not impossible, and it’s never too late.