A Guide for Parents of Teens Suffering from Addiction

stress and addiction

Parents of teens who have an addiction can feel very alone. However, they are very much, not alone. Teenage addiction is more common than most parents are aware of. The transition from childhood to teen years can be very distressing. Increasingly, teens are turning to addictive substances to cope with their difficulties. Or they’re simply trying to fit in and became addicted to the process.

When it comes to addiction and substance use disorders, there are no guarantees for the perfect treatment. Addiction is a manageable but chronic disease, just like diabetes and asthma. Since it is a chronic, relapsing disease, treatment should not be thought of as a cure for your loved one. It is a first step in helping your child learn to manage his addiction.

Confronting the fact that your teen or young adult has a substance abuse problem and needs help can be frightening and overwhelming. You may have no idea where to begin.  

9 Key Steps to Help Your Addicted Child

The road to recovery is different for everyone, and there are many considerations while you choose your son or daughter. Nine key steps will help you make the right choice for your child and your family too.

1.  Have you talked with your child about their substance abuse? 

If your answer is “no” or “not yet,” you need to have a constructive conversation with your child. Don’t try to have a conversation while he is drunk or high. Be direct, and stay calm. The drama has no place here. If you approach with panic, anger, aggression, and accusation, your child will tell you nothing. He will withdraw, sneak around and lie.

2. Is your child open to getting help?  

The most common answer to this is “not yet.” It is important to let him know that you are here to help him and that you love him. Then you have to be brief and firm and clear. Explain that you are concerned about his safety, and that is your responsibility. Pull rank and schedule an appointment with a qualified therapist or counselor. Depending on the situation, you may give your child options on therapists and treatment centers.

Teenagers need to want to get better and be willing to work with someone to make that happen. It’s important to find out why they’re resistant in order to change their minds. Here are some of the reasons a teen might say “no”:

  • She doesn’t think she needs help. “This is how I am.”
  • She doesn’t think therapy or medicine would work.
  • She’s already tried it and didn’t like it.
  • She thinks getting help is embarrassing.
  • She feels defensive. This is a common position and understandable from someone tired of struggling and only receiving negative attention.
  • She’s feeling hopeless. She can’t imagine ever feeling better.

Even if your child is over 18 years old, you can still have a similar conversation. You can’t force an adult to attend therapy, but you can still leverage other things like housing and financial assistance.

The way you approach treatment is important. There is still an unfair bias towards getting help for mental health issues. People go to psychiatrists and psychologists for the same reasons they go to other doctors—to get better. A more scientific approach is better than digging into deepest, darkest feelings.

3. Educate yourself on addiction.

It’s important to educate yourself about substance use disorders, what treatment consists of, and the types of programs available. Bear in mind that a full professional assessment will be necessary to determine the appropriate level of care. Some options are:

  • Counseling—Individual therapy sessions are typically in an outpatient or private practice setting.
  • Intensive Outpatient Program—IOP involves living at home in combination with 6-9 hours of programs per week.  
  • Partial Hospitalization Program—If it is determined that PHP is right for your child, they’ll live at home or in treatment housing while receiving 20 or more hours of programming per week. Counseling options vary with psychiatric services.
  • Residential (Rehab)—Treatment takes place in a residential setting and provides 24-hour structure and at least 5 hours of clinical service each week. The length of the stay will depend on the severity of the substance use disorder.
  • Inpatient—Inpatient, is offered to provide 24-hour care, including medical services. This can last a few days to a few weeks. Once stabilized, a lower level of care can be implemented.
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment—If your child has an alcohol or opioid use disorder, medication may be prescribed to address the cravings.
  • Detox—If your child is addicted to alcohol or benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Ativan, and Klonopin, medically supervised detox may be required.

4. Get a drug or alcohol assessment.  

Schedule a professional assessment for your child to determine the severity of the issue and the best possible care. This usually takes place in private practice or an intensive outpatient setting. Some are done while the patient is detoxing in a medical facility. Assessments usually include a comprehensive clinical evaluation and substance use screening. This helps to determine the level of care that will be needed.

5. Explore Insurance coverage options for addiction treatment.

Find out how much coverage you have and ask about specific substance use treatment benefits. It’s important to understand what your insurance plan will and won’t cover. If your child is not covered, you still have options such as Medicaid, student health services, clinical trials, Employee Assistance Programs, and payment plans. Treatment clinics have specialists trained to handle insurance and coverage issues.  

6. Find a provider.  

You will have to do your research to find the right provider for your child’s treatment. You will want to find one that you and your child are comfortable with and have confidence in. If he doesn’t like the person he’s working with or thinks he can outsmart him, it’s not going to be a good fit.

If your teen has already tried treatment, and it didn’t work, or he didn’t like the person, you need to ask why he thinks that is. Many kids like working with counselors who actively participate in conversations rather than just sitting back and listening.

7. Starting the addiction treatment.  

When your child starts treatment, you need to stay connected and aware of the rules at the particular treatment center. Sometimes rehabs feel it’s better to limit contact with home during the early days or weeks for fear of triggering an addictive reaction.

Your child may need to go through detox depending on the severity of the addiction. Detox is a 24-hour a day medically supervised withdrawal to rid the body of the substance or substances of abuse. It typically lasts a few days to a week.

Depending on what your teen needs help with, it might be a good idea for the entire family to go for treatment. The treatment provider will help you decide this course of action.

8. Take care of yourself.

One of the smartest things you can do for your child and yourself is to take care of yourself so you remain strong, healthy, and sane. While your child is being cared for, now is the time to get yourself and your family healthy emotionally and physically.  

You might want to find professional counseling. Just as your child is struggling with an addiction problem, some parents struggle with feelings of anger, resentment, and shame. This is the time to address these feelings.

9. Continuing care in recovery. 

Continuing care begins immediately after completing treatment. It will always be an important part of the recovery journey. Continuing care includes:

  • Support groups and recovery coach. They can help your child learn to handle recovery and build social supports.
  • Ongoing counseling. Ongoing counseling strengthens coping and life skills and addresses triggers.
  • Medications. Your child may need the support of an addiction psychiatrist to address substance abuse and other mental health issues. If your child is in treatment for heroin and other opioids, be sure to get naloxone (Narcan) and know how to use it.
  • Living situation. Providing safe and stable housing whether in the family home, with a relative or friend or in sober housing is critical.
  • Structure. Help with building a life that includes school, work, hobbies/interests, and socializing. Activities such as these lead to better outcomes.
  • Family support. Setting limits, reinforcing healthy behavior, using listening skills, and attending your own support groups can help your child succeed.

Understanding Addiction Relapse

Relapse is a feature of addiction. It is common and even expected. Even though relapse is a well-recognized aspect of recovery, many people will feel they have failed and quit trying. Those people who accept it as a normal part of recovery are more likely to try again and eventually overcome their addiction.

We can’t discuss recovery and continuing care without addressing relapse. It does not mean the treatment was a failure. As with any chronic disease, it shows a need for readjustment of treatments, psychological and medical.

Good treatment programs plan for the possibility and include relapse prevention as part of the recovery process. Relapse prevention programs help people in recovery anticipate the triggers that might cause them to use and plan ahead for these situations. There are three stages of relapse to watch for:

  • Emotional relapse— During an emotional relapse, individuals are not thinking about using. Because they are not consciously thinking about using their emotions and behaviors are setting them up for relapse. Denial is a big part of this. A common symptom of emotional relapse is poor self-care: emotional, psychological, and physical.
  • Mental relapse—In mental relapse, part of the person wants to use, but part doesn’t. Some of the signs are cravings, thinking about things associated with past use, glamorizing past use, lying, looking for relapse opportunities and planning a relapse.
  • Physical relapse—When the person starts using again. Most physical relapses are relapses of opportunity. They occur when the person has a window of use when he feels he won’t get caught. Part of relapse prevention involves rehearsing these situations and developing exit strategies.

It is important to focus on recovery immediately after a relapse. Help your teen think through what might have led to the relapse and devise steps to avoid it happening again.  

Where Are You?

There you have it. Let this list provide a basic roadmap for what you need to do to help your child. It is a journey you know you need to take. It is a journey you never wanted to take. But you don’t have to go alone.

Wherever you are in the steps in this guide, you need to seek professional help. Coastal Detox is a comprehensive treatment center in Martin County, Florida. We can help your loved one from medical detox if necessary, through treatment and recovery management– one full year of support and coaching. Call us now to start getting help through this process today.