If you suspect that your child is addicted to drugs or alcohol, chances are you have been through a roller coaster of emotions already. Guilt, shame and outright denial are normal reactions for most parents. How do you know for sure that your child is addicted to drugs? What can you do to help them? Are you helping your child or enabling addictive behavior? The journey through this troubling time is overwhelming and often lonely. Take heart, though. There is hope. There is help. Your child’s journey to recovery only begins when they are truly ready. But, armed with knowledge and a bit of courage, your own healing can begin now. Here are some suggestions for the next steps to take.
Being a parent and finding out your daughter has an addiction, flips your whole world upside down. You no longer know who your child is or what will happen the next time they use again… Or even if that will be their last time. Its something so scary, you might think you have failed as a parent. When I found out, I didn’t think there was hope. I had so many questions, and I didn’t know anyone who will answer them.
Face the problem
Addiction is a cunning disease. Often an addict will minimize the problem, stretch the truth, or tell blatant lies to keep others from knowing about their problem. You may be doubting yourself or fear that you are overreacting. You may think your child is going through a “phase” or experiencing puberty. If you know the signs of drug abuse, you can move past uncertainty and start a plan of action.
Know the Signs of Drug Abuse
Peer group change: The people your child spends time with have strong effects on his or her personality development. Who we hang out with defines who we become. If your child has foregone established friendships for new ones with a different crowd, lifestyle changes are occurring. Are they positive ones?
Change in grooming: As drug use becomes more important, simple habits like personal hygiene fall away.
Dilated pupils or bloodshot eyes: If there is no medical reason for this to happen, drugs are present.
Falling grades: Have your child’s grades fallen rapidly? Emotional upsets and a change in priorities may have occurred.
Skipping school or missing classes: This is a definite sign that emotional upheaval is occurring in your child’s life.
Loss of interest in favorite activities: Drug abuse can cause depression and isolation. The things that used to bring joy are no longer important.
Trouble in school or with the law: Is your child engaging in disorderly conduct, fights, driving erratically, or stealing?
Change in demeanor or personality: Has your child gone from a people person to a loner? Personalities can change drastically with drug use.
Changes in eating or sleeping habits: Drugs can enhance or inhibit appetite. They can also increase or decrease nervous system activity
Deteriorating relationships with family members and friends: Angry outbursts, mood swings, and irritability often point to drug abuse.
Private behavior: Acting withdrawn, staying behind locked doors, avoiding eye contact, sneaking around
Lost valuables, money or pills: Your child may be supplying his or her drug habit with your possessions. If you keep pain killers in the house, be sure they are secure and hidden. Keep track of your money as well.
The symptoms above are general indicators in many cases, but only you know your child. If your son or daughter suddenly seems like a different person, either emotional distress and/or drug abuse are probably reasons. If he or she manipulates you to get resources or money, if their life is in unending upheaval, if they can’t hold down a job or stay out of trouble, if their relationships are in constant chaos, chances are great that drugs are at least a part of the problem. Facing the fact that your child is abusing drugs can be very difficult. You might feel that it is your fault. Drug use may shatter your vision of who your child really is. The period of transition from suspecting drug abuse to accepting the problem is painful. But, once you know for sure, you can start the reparation process.
“Watching your child struggle daily with addiction and fail time after time is more painful than I can tell you! Yet this has been my life for years!
Once you know that drug addiction is at the core of the issue, communication is the next step. Talk to your child about it. Remember to stay calm and allow them time to respond. Avoid blame and shame. You are entitled to know the truth if your child lives in your house or accepts financial support from you, but a negative or resentful attitude will shut down communication before it starts. Try not to jump to conclusions. The key is to be open and truly listen.
“Don’t talk to the disease” This means that conversations with your son or daughter when they are “under the influence” will not be fruitful. Make sure all parties in the conversation have a clear head. Also, he or she will probably lie or minimize the situation. This is not necessarily their fault. When addiction takes hold of a person’s mind, drugs become the most important thing in life. An addict will protect that lifestyle at all costs.
Ask about the drug use. Which drugs and how often. Ask if they want to quit. Have they tried to quit taking drugs before? Why do they take them?
These questions may not have crossed your child’s mind yet. Drinking or taking drugs may be an automatic reaction to peer pressure. He or she may feel they “need” drugs to cope with life, or to have the stamina to study. Allow them to process the questions and really think about it.
Knowledge is power.
If you have the facts, you can make informed decisions about your plan of action. Learn everything you can about addiction and its effects. Read blogs written by others in your situation. How did they deal with their son or daughter? How did they protect themselves and their family? With the internet at your disposal there is one fact you will learn right away: You are not alone.
Talk with an expert on addiction.
There are many experts in this field ready to help you. Many will talk with you over the phone at no cost. Not all physicians know about addiction, so make sure you talk with someone who has dealt with the addictions of others or themselves.
What is addiction? How does it effect the body and behavior?
Drugs effect the pleasure centers in the brain. At first, the user feels good when they take drugs. After many uses the brain becomes accustomed to having the drugs in the system. “Feeling good” is no longer the primary aim. The user needs the drugs just to feel normal. If someone tries to quit taking drugs but cannot they are “addicted”. The way the brain works now has been altered. This can cause emotional instability, inability to perceive and react the stimulus properly, and even memory loss. Many feel that once the line has been crossed into addiction, the brain will always function differently.
Permanent brain effects? That sounds pretty final. Remember, though, there is hope. Millions of addicts in grateful recovery can attest to this. Addiction is a chronic brain disease, much like arthritis and diabetes. While there is no “cure” for a chronic disease, there are ways to deal with it and minimize the effects. Steady monitoring and significant lifestyle changes can help the ease the symptoms of chronic illness. Addiction is so deeply seated in the emotional and physical fabric of the user, it often requires long term treatment and a lifetime of consistent supervision to overcome. A tall order, but it can definitely be done.
Drug Treatment Centers
While many people have quit drugs or alcohol without treatment in a facility, success with young adults can be elusive. Today, many young people are addicted to opioids (heroin, pain medication) or alcohol and require medically supervised drug detox. As the drugs or alcohol leave the system, the mind and body revolt. The physical symptoms of withdrawal can be dangerous. Drug rehabilitation centers provide medical detoxification and can ensure the health of the addict those first few weeks as the drugs leave the body.
Also, long term treatment at a reputable drug rehabilitation facility has been proven to be the most successful option, as these facilities target the physical detoxification as well as providing techniques to cope with emotional trauma and triggers of life. Many “rehabs” use the long-proven 12 step program as well as group and individual therapy to uncover the causes of addiction and replace negative patterns with positive ones. The 12 Step Program defines addiction as a malady of the mind, body and spirit and provides tools to bolster the health of all three elements. Other facilities forego a 12 step program with a non-traditional approach. With this approach there are no underlying issues addressed. Addiction is considered a medical condition that is overcome with personal motivation: willpower. Often alternative therapies are used in a non-12 step program teach centering and coping techniques.
How will you pay for it?
There’s no easy way around it. Like any medical care, rehab is expensive. A 90 day program can easily cost $40,000. The good news is that many insurance plans pay for the majority of the expenses for drug rehab. Your monthly premium and deductible may be all you have to pay. You need to cautious, though. As the political climate changes, less and less insurance plans cover the cost of drug rehab. Many facilities are no longer able to accept the plans they took just a few months ago. The insurance companies just don’t pay enough to cover the cost of care. Your best bet is to have a PPO plan from a reputable provider. The Drug Treatment Center you choose will call your insurance company for you and find out how much of the costs your plan will cover.
If you have HMO insurance, a state plan, or a plan provided by the Affordable Care Act, you may have a harder time finding a treatment center that can accept your child. There are options, though. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website has a behavioral health locator service with lists of treatment centers that can accept government and state-offered insurance plans. Click here to visit their site .
Drug abuse has reached epidemic proportions in the United States in just the last few years. The people most affected are young adults. As insurance companies are less and less willing to cover the cost of necessary treatment, our young people and their families continue to suffer from drug abuse. Until the powers that be are ready to acknowledge the problem and remove the obstacles to getting treatment, parents of young addicts will need to be proactive and savvy with their insurance choices.
More often than not, people with drug or alcohol addiction disorder also have some form of mental disturbance too. This can be depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, anxiety or any of a host of related ailments. More than half of people who have a mental imbalance also have a substance abuse disorder. This is also called “co-occurring disorders.” If you suspect that your child may suffer from a mental disorder, finding a facility that offers dual diagnosis treatment with a certified psychiatrist will give him or her a better chance at true recovery. It has been proven that, if not treated properly, those with co-occurring disorders have a much higher chance of relapse. Untreated anxiety, mood swings or depression can counteract all attempts at sobriety. Make sure that the time and money going towards addiction rehabilitation is well spent by choosing the right facility for your child.
How will you know you have chosen the right treatment center?
If it is local, ask to visit the treatment center or talk in person with a counsellor or coordinator. Read the testimonials for the facility. You can find them on the company website, on Google Plus, and even Yelp. Do the reviews sound real and heart-felt? Are there other reviews from parents of addicts? If so, that facility probably treats others in your child’s age group. Your son or daughter will feel more comfortable around peers. Bear in mind that every treatment center is going to have a bad review or two. Its par for the course. But if there are many bad reviews, or the reviews only talk about cleanliness or the good food, you might want to look elsewhere. Your child is going to spend a lot of important time there and you want it to be meaningful and truly helpful.
Also, choose a center that offers long term treatment. It has been proven that long-term treatment (90 days or over) has a significantly higher success rate.You don’t want your child to be pushed out of a center just as he or she is getting used to the process and starting to truly heal.
What can you do?
Understand that it is not your fault
You will hear that addiction is often the result of childhood emotional or physical trauma. If you know that is the case, seek counseling for your child as soon as possible. However, the reasons for addiction are often far more subtle. If you believe that your child’s behavior is caused by something you did wrong while raising him or her, know this: no parent is perfect. We all make mistakes. Your child’s current choices lead them to where they are now. If your child is over 18, they are adult and must take responsibility for themselves. If you offer them love and emotional support you are doing the best you can do. If you are enabling the addictive behavior because you feel guilty, you are only making the problem worse. This is called co-dependence.
Al-Anon is a wonderful resource for parents going through similar situations. The meetings are free and open, which means that anyone can attend. Working with people in Al-Anon will help you deal with worry, guilt, and feelings of helplessness. You will learn to observe your own thought patterns and your need to be in control of the problem. You can find a meeting near you by clicking here.
Therapy with a professional that is familiar with addiction disorder can help you in these areas as well. Regardless of which path you take, spending time to understand your own reactions and motivations will help everyone concerned. Informed, rational choices come from an informed, rational mind.
Positive behavior now will help
If your child is in active addiction you are not going to change their minds about their drug use. There are some things you can do now to lay the groundwork for a healthy relationship when they become ready. How you communicate with your child now can be very important.
Stay calm. Nervousness, anger and worry will not help either of you.
No nagging or blaming. What is done is done. Rehashing the past is not going to help anyone. It will push them away.
Offer help but don’t push. Again, pressuring an addict never helps. The mind of an addict is severely compromised and reason rarely works. They will seek help only when they are ready.
Don’t try to control The choices your child makes are entirely their own. It may be gut-wrenching to watch them making harmful choices, but they have to forge their own path and learn their own lessons.
Know if you are enabling
Set boundaries for them and yourself. Addiction is often called a “family disease.” The addict’s behavior is fed and perpetuated by the reinforcements given by the parents. Understandably, the parent wants to allay shame and guilt they feel. You will want to help your child with money or a place to stay. You will “feel sorry” for the child and “want to help.” This can harm your addicted child, your other children, your family and yourself. You need to protect yourself and those you love from the damaging effects of addiction. It will be very very hard, but it can be the best strategy for all concerned.
“The final straw was when my parents kicked me out. I had nowhere to live and I knew I had to do something.”
This is a story we hear countless times. “tough love” could be one of the biggest gifts you can give. In many cases, the hardest thing to do is to allow your child to experience the depths of drug addiction. You may spend many sleepless nights. Your emotional connection with your child is the strongest you can have. Remember that your perception of the problem as a horrific experience may not be correct. It may be a blessing in disguise for your child. Many say that the lowest times experienced in drug addiction were gifts. They lead them to treatment and sobriety and a new way of life far better than they imagined. Of course it is hard to let your child suffer. In this case, though, it could save their life.
Of course, no rules are set in stone….especially when it comes to parenting. Only you know your child. If you are wondering if you are doing the right thing, look at your motives. Are you acting out of guilt or shame? Do you feel that you are in charge of your child’s welfare? If so, you are engaging in negative enabling. If you can’t break out of the habit, contact a counsellor or try a support group like Al Anon. Just try not to give money or a place to live to someone who is active in their addiction. If food is a problem, give them groceries instead of money for groceries. Maybe you can give them an opportunity to work for food or necessities.Think of new ways to provide support without enabling the drug addiction.
Know that the addict’s choice to change is their own
Getting sober is painful. After the physical effects of withdrawal have subsided, the reasons for the drug use should be dealt with. There can be a lot of guilt and shame as one looks at the wreckage that drug use caused in their life. There will be damaged personal and family relationships. There may be legal problems, financial difficulties, lost jobs, homelessness. Facing the consequences of long term drug use will be painful. At some point, though, the pain of active drug use will be so great that the addict will do anything for relief. It is at this point that healing can begin.
In most cases, no one in an addicts life can make that decision for them. No amount of pleading, begging or argument can make them stop. Appealing to one’s sense of duty or reason won’t work. “Pushing” will often drive the addict farther away. Often, only hitting what is called “bottom” works. This is when the addict has reached such lows with addiction that they cannot take it anymore. Then they will make the sacrifices necessary and do the work to get clean and sober.
If your child has tried rehab, gotten sober for a while, only to start taking drugs or drinking again, don’t lose heart. Relapse is a part of many people’s story. Often an addict will need a few attempts at recovery before they find success. Each foray into recovery fortifies self-knowledge. Every slip or relapse strengthens resolve. The diabolical nature of addiction is revealed with each slip. At some point, hopefully, your son or daughter with get “fed up” or desperate enough to push past temptations and triggers.
Provide encouragement when they are ready to change
Stand by and offer loving support when your child has made the decision to stop taking drugs. It is going to be a hard road. Often, addiction leads us into isolation. This lack of contact with others feeds the addictive behavior. It can take time for your child to readjust to social situations. They may be distrustful at first. The pattern of lying may still be a problem. Try to be patient and allow your child to heal in his or her time.
Forge a bond of love with your child. Knowing that you are there for them will fortify their resolve in times of need. Treatment may require that you attend family therapy sessions. Try to be available for those. Open communication with them in a healthy way. Calling them incessantly may push them away. Try to remain a calm and stable, loving influence for your child. Be someone they can reach out to when they need it.
As your child’s mind becomes clear, he or she will become ready to attend family occasions. Try to keep an open mind when the family gathers together. Set aside assumptions about how they may behave or what you need to do to make them comfortable. You may be pleasantly surprised to see the changes in your child’s personality as they become free of drug addiction. The light will return to their eyes and they may become grateful for the new family interaction. Stay open minded.
“There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.”
Take care of yourself
Stress and worry can make you sick as well. If you are emotionally overwhelmed, you cannot help anyone, and, chances are, you have other people in your life that are important to you too. Remember that the choice to kick drug addiction is the addict’s, not the parent’s. While you can provide emotional support, the real decisions lie with them. Know that you did the best you could as a parent and you are doing the best you can now.
If the worry and guilt are too much, seek professional help or attend Al Anon. Learn to stay grounded in reality, without belittling or over-blowing the situation. Know that there is hope, but the outcome is not in your hands. Acceptance and self care are gifts you give yourself and those you love.