It is upsetting to imagine, suspect, or discover that your child is abusing drugs or alcohol.  As a parent, you may think you did everything right (and, perhaps, you did!) but it has suddenly become apparent that your son or daughter is using drugs or is drinking, and needs help.  How can you know for sure that your child is using drugs or alcohol?  What steps should you take to find help for him or her?

Teens & Drugs

Although not every child has an equal chance of becoming a drug addict, drug use at an early age is an important predictor of substance abuse issues later on in life.  Addiction can happen to anyone at any age, but it usually starts when a person is young; people in general are most likely to begin a life of abusing drugs in their adolescence or young adulthood. Thankfully, drug use statistics at the high school level have shown a continuous decline in recent years, but drug use in this age group does continue.  By senior year, almost 70% of high school students have tried alcohol, half have tried an illegal drug, nearly 40% will have smoked a cigarette, and more than 20% will have used a prescription drug for a non-medical purpose.

Although most teens do not escalate from trying drugs to developing an addiction, even experimenting with drugs can quickly become a problem.  When substance abuse occurs in adolescence, it can affect important social and developmental benchmarks, and can prevent the brain from developing normally.  Furthermore, drug use can be part of a pattern of risky behavior including unprotected sex, reckless driving, or other dangerous activities.  Using drugs and drinking alcohol during adolescence can quickly lead to failing grades, strained relationships with families and friends, loss of interest in healthy activities, or impaired memory.  Drug and alcohol abuse can also inspire the development of mental health problems or even cause various lifelong physical health problems to arise.  A teenager using drugs or alcohol may also find him or herself in unwelcome legal trouble, and the possibility of overdose death is certainly something to be feared as well.   Unfortunately, the majority of people who have a substance abuse disorder started using before age 18 and developed their disorder by age 20; the likelihood of developing an addiction is greatest for those who begin use in their early teens.

Does my child have a drug problem?

Obviously, if your son or daughter is using drugs, he or she is probably trying to hide it from you.  Even though you may feel that you know your child well, it can often be difficult to determine whether drug or alcohol use is happening or if he or she is just acting like a normal teenager.  However, if your child suddenly starts behaving differently for no apparent reason – such as acting angry, hostile, avoidant, or depressed – then it’s time to start looking for other signs to help you figure out what exactly is happening.  Other signs of drug or alcohol use may include a change in friends or peer group and a loss of interest in activities that your child used to enjoy.  Relationships with family members may begin to deteriorate, or changes in eating or sleeping habits may become evident as well.  Grades might begin to suffer, and your child may begin skipping classes or may skip school altogether.  He or she may show carelessness when it comes to responsibilities such as chores around the house or extracurricular activities like skipping sports practices or not practicing a musical instrument they have been playing for years.  And, if the police have visited or called your home about your child – even about an issue unrelated to drugs or alcohol – then that could be a sign, too.

If you believe your child may be exhibiting signs of drug or alcohol abuse, the next step is to visit a doctor.  Visiting a family doctor and explaining your concerns can certainly lead to him or her testing your child for irrefutable evidence.  Or, you could visit an addiction specialist in particular.  Although it may be difficult to convince your teen to visit a doctor, it may be an important step in getting them into treatment.  Many people are more likely to listen to a medical professional than even a loved one who is worried about them.

It’s important that parents move rapidly when they suspect their child is abusing drugs or alcohol.  Treatment is effective, but it needs to commence as soon as possible, especially in the case of adolescents.  Many parents see some of these signs but just assume their child is going through the normal stages of being a teen.  Using drugs can escalate to addiction in many young people.  Early intervention is critical.

Why did my child start using drugs or alcohol?

There are many reasons teenagers begin using drugs and alcohol, and those reasons may have nothing to do with your parenting abilities.  Adolescence is a difficult and confusing time.  Children in this age group are actually “biologically wired” to seek new experiences and take risks as part of the journey towards finding out who they are.  Trying drugs and alcohol may be driven by their desire to have new experiences, may be an attempt to work out problems in their lives, or may be due to simple peer pressure.  Despite many warnings, teenagers may not realize the gravity of their decisions in this realm, and may not fully grasp the potential long-term consequences of their actions.

Why can’t they just quit?

Some people can just decide to quit using drugs, and do so.  But for many, it’s not that simple.  Addiction is a cycle, and it’s hard to exit.  Heavy drug use can change a person’s priorities and also effects parts of the brain that are necessary for judgment and self-control, which makes it even harder for the user to stop using.  Because of this, willpower alone is not enough to beat addiction.  The brain actually changes, making it harder for the individual to say no or stop using.

How to Talk to Your Child About Addiction

If you believe your child has a substance abuse problem, it’s vital that you address it and approach them about it.  Although this will not be a comfortable conversation by any means, it is important that you let it be known that you are aware of the issue, and that you see it as a problem.  Be concerned and caring, and not judgmental; do not blame your child for their addiction.  Simply tell him or her how you feel and the ways that it is affecting you.  Don’t go in with high expectations, but hope for the best; there will almost definitely be a great deal of resistance.  However, all you can really do is tell your child that he or she is loved, that you are there for him or her, whenever they are ready to get help.

Are You an Enabler?

The first thing you must ask yourself is if you are an enabler.  This is a hard question to answer from within, but if you take a step back from the situation, the answer may become clearer. Enablers fix problems for people they love in a way that can interfere with that individual’s growth and responsibility.  Are you constantly lending money to your adult child?  Do you make excuses for him or her for missed appointments, lateness, laziness, or lack of follow through?  If your child were arrested for a drug or alcohol offense, would you immediately bail him or her out?   When something goes wrong, an enabler removes the consequences for the individual, therefore removing the opportunity to learn a valuable lesson.  This is not healthy, even for adult children who do not have a substance abuse problem.

How to Help Without Enabling

It’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between helping and enabling, especially when it is your adult child that you love so much and who you have been caring for since birth.   However, it is important to make this distinction.  Here are a few practical tips for ways to help your addicted, adult child, and nudge him or her towards treatment and recovery, without enabling.

  • Acknowledge that your child is an adult. Don’t go in pushy, or you may turn your son or daughter off to your message and offers of support.  Remind them that they make their own choices, and that it is up to them to decide to get help, but that you are there for them when they do.
  • Set limits. Don’t support your son or daughter’s addiction.  When lending money, don’t do it indiscriminately; offer money only for treatment purposes or when you know they are actively participating in treatment.
  • Do your research. Learn as much as you can about your son or daughter’s addiction. It will help you understand what they are going through, and will also remind you again that you are not alone.
  • Present treatment options. Help your child find support services, support groups, counseling, and treatment centers.  Research various styles of treatment and determine some that may appeal to your son or daughter, and share them with him or her.
  • Make them be accountable. Don’t make excuses for your son or daughter.  If their job calls looking for them, don’t make up a lie to cover for him or her.  If he or she is arrested, perhaps don’t bail them out immediately.
  • Don’t blame yourself. Understand that this is not your fault.  There are a wide variety of factors that cause addiction.  Many are genetic and are out of your control.  Also, all parents make some mistakes but were doing the best they could at that time.  You cannot undo what is already done or redo things differently.  Worry about now, now.  The past is the past.
  • Know that you can’t fix this. You can help your adult child find and enter treatment, and support give support in his or her endeavors, but ultimately, staying clean and sober is in their hands, and their hands alone.  Your son or daughter needs to decide whether or not to go to treatment.  They need to make the decision to recover, and recommit to it every day.
  • Tell them that you love them. It is of utmost importance that you regularly tell your adult child that you love him or her, even despite the addiction.   Your child is not his or her addiction.  The addiction is not your child.  You will always love and support them no matter what.
  • Protect yourself and the rest of your family. Addicts sometimes do horrible things they will later regret.  They will lie, cheat, and steal from you and your family.  Do what you need to do to protect yourself and the other people that love your child.
  • Love yourself. Be sure to practice self-care and be careful not to expend all of your energy on your addicted, adult child.  You can’t help your son or daughter if you are not taking care of yourself.  Seek therapy or support groups if you need them.  Be sure to take some time for yourself.

It is devastating to learn that your adult son or daughter is struggling with substance abuse and addiction, and it is even harder feeling as if there is nothing you can do.  But, there are things you can do; you can offer support and understanding, and offer your child treatment options for when he or she is ready to begin a journey into recovery.

Where to Find Help?

Only 10% of 12 to 17 year olds that need substance abuse treatment actually get services, and even the majority of that percent receives it because it was recommended or mandated by the juvenile justice system.  Again, many parents overlook the signs of drug or alcohol use or abuse in their teenager because they simply believe their behavior is normal or not a problem.  However, due to the high risk of drug and alcohol use during adolescence and the likelihood of addiction later in life, it’s important that parents that suspect or know their children are using drugs find help as soon as possible, with no delay.

Thankfully, there are a wide variety of treatment centers and plans for drug and alcohol abuse.  Our oceanfront ibogaine treatment facility, Clear Sky Recovery, is located in Cancun, Mexico, on the beach.  We provide treatment in the form of ibogaine detox, which has proven to be very successful in treating addiction to a wide variety of drugs as well as alcoholism.  Our clients visit us for a week-long stay, but we also provide precare and aftercare support as well, to help the individual prepare for their time with us, and to give him or her strategies to remain clean and sober after returning home.  Although drug and alcohol treatment can be expensive, we offer financing for ibogaine detox, and can work with you to make this effective treatment for your child affordable for you and your family.

It is courageous and important to seek help for your child if you think he or she is using drugs.  Although you both will have a difficult road ahead, it will be worth it in the end.  Treatment and early recovery may interrupt your child’s high school or early college career, and it may put a great strain on your relationship for a time.  This is a huge step and your entire family’s lives will change.  However, you must realize that it is vital that you take the necessary steps to get help for your son or daughter before it is too late.  Please call us today at Clear Sky Recovery to discuss the ways we can help you, your child, your family, and your child’s future.  There is hope.  Please note: we will not treat minors.