For a parent, there’s nothing scarier than seeing your child struggle with an illness. This is also true of addiction, as it is a disease just like diabetes. In fact, one of the most common questions we hear from parents at Alpine Recovery Lodge is:
What can I do to help my teenager overcome their addiction?
That’s an important question to ask because the truth is that it’s easy for parents to make mistakes if they don’t have the resources and information they need to help a teen who has an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
Addiction is a growing problem among adolescents and teenagers. Here are some tips and resources that may help you navigate the road ahead.
Addiction and the Teenage Brain
It’s helpful for parents to learn how addiction affects the human brain – and in particular, the teenage brain.
The reason that some people develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol is that the addictive substance affects their brains. Specifically, they impact something called the rewards circuit, which releases a hormone called dopamine. Dopamine is what creates the high that people feel when they use drugs.
Teenagers may be more susceptible to addiction because their brains are still developing. Research shows that teenagers, in general, are:
- Susceptible to impulsive behavior
- More likely to engage in dangerous or risky behavior than adults
- Liable to misinterpret social cues and situations
- Less likely to consider the consequences of their actions than adults
When the teenage brain is exposed to addictive substances, the fact that it is still developing can amplify the affect the drug has on the brain and make it extremely difficult to stop using the drug in question. That’s one of the reasons that teenagers need their parents to understand addiction. Parental involvement is essential in the recovery process.
The Signs of Teenage Drug Abuse
Teenagers who abuse drugs and alcohol often demonstrate signs that their parents miss. Here’s what to look for:
- Changes in your teen’s appetite or sleep patterns
- An unexplained decline in grades and school performance
- Withdrawal from extracurricular activities and hobbies
- Withdrawal from old friends and acquaintances
- Irritability, anger, and other changes in personality and demeanor
- Bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, or deterioration of your teen’s physical appearance
- Unexplained weight loss
If you suspect that your teenager is struggling with addiction, keep an eye out for these signs. Anything that appears unusual, surprising, or unexplained might be a signal that there’s a problem you don’t know about.
Tips for Talking to Your Teen About Addiction
What should you do if you notice any of the above signs of drug abuse in your teenager? It can be frightening for parents to broach the topic. A teenager who is using drugs may react defensively or angrily. Here are some tips that can help you navigate the conversation.
- Choose a time when you’re reasonably sure that your teen is not under the influence of drugs. It can be difficult to tell, but if you notice any physical or behavioral signs of intoxication, you’ll be better off waiting for another time.
- Don’t attempt to have the conversation in public or with other people present. It may be difficult to have a one-on-one talk but speaking in public may make your teen feel ashamed or embarrassed and that won’t help either one of you.
- Explain the changes you’ve seen in them and express your concern. Make sure to let your teen know that you love them and will do anything you can to help them.
- Ask them if they’d be willing to tell you what’s been going on and then give them a chance to speak. Listen carefully. If you interrupt, raise your voice, or end the conversation early, you’re likely to miss out on important information.
- Explain the risks associated with drug and alcohol abuse. They may already know, but it’s important to let your teen know that you’ve done your research.
- Have someone on stand-by to call if something goes wrong. It might be a therapist or a substance abuse specialist, but it should be someone with experience.
- Ask what you can do to be a better parent and listen without getting defensive or angry.
- Talk about potential treatment options. You may want to include both inpatient and outpatient treatment and give your teen an opportunity to weigh the options before deciding.
- If your child gets up to leave, don’t run after them. Let them go, take some time to regroup, and try again later.
The most important thing you can do is to remain calm. If you get angry, raise your voice, or threaten your teen with punishment, they’re likely to dig their heels in and ignore what you say.
If you feel that you can’t stay calm, you may want to consider hiring an intervention specialist to help you.
Resources for Parents
It’s natural to have questions and concerns about helping your teen overcome an addiction. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available to help you. Here are some of the ones we think are most useful.
The National Institute of Drug Abuse has a section on their website especially for teens struggling with addiction. It has information about how drugs affect the teenage brain, as well as videos, games, and other tools and resources. They also have a page for parents that provides facts about drug abuse, advice for talking to teens about drugs, and instructions for disposing of prescription medications safely.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of talking to your teen about alcohol abuse, check out the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s website. They have tools to help you find treatment for alcohol abuse in your area.
Partnership for Drug-Free Kids
The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids is a non-profit organization dedicated to ending teenage addiction. Their website has a wealth of information about kids and drug abuse. They have a hotline parents can call to get advice about helping their child overcome addiction. You may also want to check out their parent blog, where you can read stories of other parents who have dealt with addiction.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is a government agency. They have a national hotline that you can call to get advice and information. The number is 1-800-662-4357 and it operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Their website has articles about substance abuse, resources for treatment, and information about a wide array of topics related to addiction and mental illness.
Before you talk to your teen about addiction, you should gather as much information as you can. If you go into the conversation understanding addiction and some of the challenges your teen will face going into recovery, you’ll be better able to help them.
The thought of talking to your teen about addiction may be a daunting one, but it’s the first step to helping them recover.
Alpine Recovery Lodge has a variety of treatment options that are suitable for teenagers. To request more information or speak to an admissions specialist, please call 877-415-4060 or send us a message.