Being the parent of a teenager can be a challenging time for everyone involved, but when addiction enters the picture, the challenges increase exponentially. For many parents, coming face to face with your teen’s drug or alcohol abuse isn’t just an exercise in fear and stress; it’s also an exercise in feeling powerless, guilty, and even ashamed.
If your teenager has an addiction, don’t head for the hills or hope the problem gets better on its own. There are actions you can take that will help. From talking to someone to practicing empathy, sere are six practical things a parent can do.
1. Get Help
When anyone is facing addiction, whether in themselves or in someone they love, asking for help is an essential part of maneuvering it. From 12 Step programs and group therapy to holistic treatment centers that double as schools like Diamond Ranch Academy — their site can give you a great overview of what they have to offer — there are a lot of resources you can lean upon.
Because many teens who have become addicted have underlying mental health issues, be sure to find treatment that can address the full range of needs and problems your teen has.
2. Talk to Someone
When you’re concerned about your child it can be difficult to remember that you have needs, too. One of the most important ways you can help is to talk to someone who isn’t her about the struggles you’re facing. Whether you confide in a friend, a pastor, a counselor, or some other trusted person, finding language around your feelings is an important part of negotiating your teenager’s addiction.
Your child needs you to be at your best during this difficult time, and unburdening yourself of difficult emotions and thoughts will help you mightily.
3. Take Care of Yourself
Yes, you’re worried. Your teenager is all you can think about. You’ve read every book in your local library, and you stay up until all hours of the night poring over article after article on the Internet. While it’s important to educate yourself about your child’s illness, taking care of yourself mustn’t fall to the wayside.
Make healthy choices with your food and drink. Get eight hours of sleep a night — or get as close to it as you can. If exercise hadn’t been a part of your routine leading up your family’s current crisis, make it one. It will keep stress at bay and improve your mood. The only way you can keep your child’s addiction from dragging you down is to go on the offensive against it, and taking care of yourself does just that.
4. Keep Reaching Out
When a teen becomes an addict, it can wreak all kinds of havoc within a family. Trust is broken. Hurtful things are said. It can be difficult to keep approaching your child, because you are so unfamiliar with the person he seems to have become. Keep reaching out, anyway.
While it may feel frustrating to continually put yourself in the path of an unpredictable person, your child needs to know that your love for and commitment to him has not and will not waver. Don’t go silent, and don’t give up. More than just knowing he can count on you, he needs to routinely experience it.
5. Practice Empathy
Empathy is an almost universal human skill, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t one that shouldn’t be more fully honed. Practicing empathy in relation to your addicted teen will keep you in her better graces, and it will also help you make better decisions regarding her care, but how do you go about it?
You can start to practice empathy by listening to everything she says without retorting, offering advice, or otherwise pitting yourself against her words and experience. Instead, imagine she’s telling you the whole truth. You can also increase empathy by reading fiction, especially stories about addicts. However, just trying to imagine what life must be like for her right now will do it, too, and it will also help her feel cared for and understood.
6. Clean Up Your Own Act
Even if you aren’t an addict, if you use drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes on a regular basis you aren’t setting a good example for your addicted teen. Don’t just cut back. Cut it out. There may be a time in the future when these substances can be a part of your life again, but while you’re trying help your teen overcome addiction isn’t one of them.
Addiction is a very painful thing to watch your teen go through. Don’t just wring your hands. The outcome isn’t up to you, but by acting on these six practical tips, you can at least give your teen a helping hand.