If your teen is suffering from an addiction, watching your child go through addiction recovery is one of the hardest things you will ever do. The process is painful, both emotionally and mentally. Many parents must first get past the denial that their teen even needs addiction recovery. They must go through the painful process of collecting evidence and coming to terms with their teen’s addiction.
But getting the teen to admit there is a problem is sometimes the hardest part. In their attempts to get their teen help, parents will usually have to overcome obstacle after obstacle. The teen addict will be resistant to any type of intervention, the parents will suffer from resentment and anger, therapy and education are required, and healthy boundaries must be set before the teen addict is reintegrated into the family structure.
Addiction recovery starts with an intervention. Noticing the signs and symptoms of addiction is the first step in helping your teen. If you suspect addiction, you need to not only talk to your child, but also do a search of your teen’s room and belongings to confirm which substances are being abused.
The next step is to talk to your teen. A direct, provocative confrontation is not advisable. Be gentle, yet firm, as you discuss the evidence you have collected that suggests your teen is in trouble. Ask your teen why he or she has chosen to use drugs. Be prepared for the possibility that your teen could become violent when confronted with the information you have and the questions you are asking.
If you are unable to talk your teen into voluntarily seeking help, it could be time for a full-scale, formal intervention.
Parents who talk with their teen about addiction but see no change in behavior may need to employ a more dramatic approach: scheduling a formal intervention with the help of a professional interventionist. Interventions are highly structured conversations that require a significant amount of practice. Interventions are designed to help break through a teen’s denial and lead him or her to addiction recovery.
The interventionist often starts by asking the parents to bring together members for an intervention team. Family members are obvious choices, but it might be good to include members of the teen’s social circle. Using the teen’s close friends who do not use drugs may create a more effective intervention. The intervention team meets with the interventionist and together they develop a script for the intervention and practice the intervention.
Sometimes, family members write letters about how the teen’s addiction has impacted the family and read these letters to the teen during the intervention. Other interventionists are less formal, but they still need the family to put together notes on cue cards, so they will not go off script during the intervention when people get really emotional.
The intervention should be done when the teen is more likely to be sober. If you approach a teen who is under the influence, the likelihood of success is almost nil. It is also a good idea to have the intervention where a teen feels slightly off balance. Most interventions are best held in a place that is unfamiliar to the teen to prevent him or her from hiding in a bedroom or other part of the house. Doing the intervention in a therapist’s office, a church room, or a friend’s house are good options.
Throughout the intervention, the teen will be asked to enter rehab. When the teen agrees to go, the intervention is done. If the teen leaves the intervention and does not return, the intervention is over but could be rescheduled. It could take multiple interventions before the teen agrees to enter rehab or otherwise seek treatment.
Resentment and Anger
Once your teen is in treatment, it is time for your family to start dealing with feelings about the addicted teen’s condition. It is perfectly natural for a parent, sibling, or other family members to be angry about the situation and resent the addict for drawing so much attention from the family.
Parents may feel betrayed or abandoned if a teen they love turns to alcohol or drugs. They need to understand the nature of addiction and how treatment can help family members avoid relapses. Shame and embarrassment over a family member’s addictive behavior can cause social isolation and avoidance of friends and relatives who don’t live in the situation. These emotions can create emotional pain and feelings of helplessness.
Worst of all, addiction undermines the loving, trusting relationships that sustain a healthy family. Parents of addicted children may become enablers and work hard to rescue a teen from self-destructive behavior, only to watch their teen go back to that behavior over and over. Restoring these relationships requires time, patience, and the support of addiction recovery professionals.
One area that parents often skip is self-care. Self-care is the act of making your needs a priority and is a valuable tool for parents of teens in addiction recovery. While attempting to care for your teen’s needs during extended periods of instability, your stress can lead to burnout. Burnout can be seen as any number of physical and mental health conditions:
- Reduced immune system (making you more likely to get sick)
- Heart Disease
- Memory and attention problems
Caring for yourself makes taking care of your teen in addiction recovery much easier to deal with. When you experience unwelcome effects from stress, you won’t be able to make appropriate decisions, maintain consistency in dealing with your teen, or be able to provide encouragement.
Appropriate self-care also shows your teen what desirable behaviors look like. You should always lead by example, including going to therapy and educating yourself about your teen’s addiction.
Therapy and Education
For many parents of teens in addiction recovery, there is an inherent feeling of helplessness. Parents will ask themselves where they went wrong, why their child got mixed up in drugs, who the child got the drugs from, and dozens of other questions. That is why it is essential for parents of teens in addiction recovery to attend family therapy and become educated about addiction.
Parents try desperately to hold their families and themselves together, even when it feels like everything is crumbling. When our child is in pain, we are in pain, no matter what. Parents carry on with brave faces even when hearts are breaking. But, no matter how tired and worn parents may be, they are resilient and determined to persevere.
Therapy and drug education give parents information and possible answers to the questions swirling in their heads. Parents may be under misguided notions of being at fault for their teen’s addiction or misunderstand the nature of addiction. Over time, medical research has shown that the social stigma of addiction is based not on facts but on misconceptions of the nature of substance abuse.
Modern science confirms that addiction is a disease that occurs when the brain responds to drugs. Addiction is a chronic condition comparable to cancer, heart disease, or diabetes because it runs in cycles of relapse and recovery, along with requiring permanent symptom management for good health maintenance. Knowing this, parents need to be educated. Parents need to learn about the difference between myths and facts about addiction.
The myths include that addicts are addicts because they lack willpower or self-discipline, or that only children who have no talents or academic potential become addicted. Many parents believe that only children from economically disadvantaged areas are prone to drug abuse and that if a child becomes addicted, he or she will never succeed in life. Drug abuse can be devastating to parents and make them think that the family will be destroyed forever or that a failed stint in rehab means the addiction cannot be beaten.
The truth is that addiction happens due to chemical changes in the brain caused by drugs. Kids of all stripes and abilities, from high achievers to kids who need help academically, fall prey to drug abuse. And many teens in addiction recovery are able to build happy and successful lives after multiple stints in rehab. Families torn apart by drug addiction can also be repaired and become stronger than before the teen’s addiction recovery.
When the family is ready to come back together, there needs to be a serious conversation about healthy boundaries.
Once a teen has completed treatment, and the family has been in therapy together for an appropriate amount of time, it is time to set boundaries before the teen comes home. The family needs to set the boundaries together, in a cooperative effort. Oftentimes, this takes place with the help of a therapist or family counselor. Without boundaries that everyone can agree on, the chance of relapse for the teen in addiction recovery is significant.
In understanding boundaries, it’s important to see there is a range of options. First, it is critical to avoid boundarylessness, also described as enmeshment. This occurs when the teens find it hard to define their own reality from the reality of others. This makes setting boundaries very difficult.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are relationships bound by walls. These teens are emotionally shut down, disinterested, and avoidant. In these kinds of relationships, there is a lack of relationship. When parents set healthy boundaries, they are targeting the middle ground, a set of boundaries ruled by moderation and safe containment. These boundaries define what the family is willing to accept and what the family is not comfortable with.
Parents must be responsible for maintaining boundaries within the family dynamic. They need to teach everyone in the home to respect the boundaries and determine what consequences will take place if boundaries are broken. Boundaries establish how to respect one another and how to respond if that respect is broken. Boundaries can be maintained only if three things are true:
- Identify limits: Begin by spending some time thinking about what acceptable and unacceptable behaviors are. Be specific! Examine relationships that can create anger or resentment, the early warning signs for boundary work. Getting help from outside perspectives – other parents of teens in addiction recovery or professional therapists – can also be incredibly useful.
- Listen to your instincts: If your relationship with your teen makes you uncomfortable, listen to your gut. Don’t avoid the feeling – have a sit down with your teen and discuss what you are feeling. Also, encourage your teen in addiction recovery to feel safe enough to come talk to you if he or she feels uncomfortable about anything. Keeping open the lines of communication will help reduce the chances of relapse in your teen.
- Be insistent: When you need to set a boundary, make it plain and simple. Be polite but be firm. It is most effective when given with a clear, respectful tone. It can be helpful to let your addicted teen know that you’re doing your own work in getting healthy and aspects of your relationship are going to change. This change will benefit everyone in the family.
Everyone in the family needs to understand that any significant change takes time and consistency. It will not be perfect. Give yourself a break and if you make a mistake in the relationship, analyze the situation and determine what you would do differently if you could. You could even seek advice from another parent of a teen in addiction recovery, since they are less emotionally invested in the situation.
Parents who experience a teen’s addiction will go through a roller coaster of emotions. They will be fearful for their teen’s addiction recovery, feel helpless to do anything about it, and worry constantly about the state of their teen’s treatment.
Once the teen is out of treatment, new relationships must be built, and boundaries must be set. A teen’s addiction recovery isn’t just about the teen – it’s about how the entire family deals with the ever-changing dynamic and supporting the teen in addiction recovery.
The dedicated staff at Beachside Teen Treatment Center are also an excellent resource to assist teens forward on an appropriate path to help them to manage and overcome their addiction and substance dependance issues. The experienced team members at Beachside will help to support both you and your teenager in the journey to recovery.