Playing the Self-Blame Game: Am I responsible for my teen’s addiction?

When dealing with addiction, it doesn’t help to think about what you did wrong as a parent. Instead, read here about proactive ways you can help your teen in addiction recovery.

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Ruminating about addiction is NOT productive

Discovering that your teenager has an addiction is heart wrenching, and it is normal to wonder what role you played in their decision to abuse drugs or alcohol. But dwelling in self-blame does not help anyone!

It doesn’t help you.

It doesn’t help your teen.

It doesn’t make the situation better.

Have you been blaming yourself for your teenage son’s or daughter’s addiction problem? If these questions sound familiar…

  • Is it my fault?
  • Did I do something(s) that caused my teen’s addiction?
  • Did I NOT do something(s) to cause addiction?

…this article is for you! Ruminating on the past does little to help your teen rebuild their future. Here’s how to stop playing The Blame Game and start doing what it takes to help them heal. We invite your questions in the comments section at the end of the page. If you send us your questions, we’ll try to respond to you personally and promptly.

Understand the underlying causes of addiction

It is important to first understand that addiction is not usually caused by a single factor. While primarily caused by genetics, the interplay of environment often triggers addiction. Furthermore, underlying mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, or even more serious issues can compel teens to self-medicate.

The main environmental risk factors for addiction are:

  • Laws: taxing, licensing, age laws
  • Societal norms
  • Social status
  • Neighborhood environment
  • School
  • Friends who also use, or access to drugs
  • Family, parent drug use, or parenting practices

In treatment, your child will work with trained professionals who will help to identify underlying issues that contribute to addiction. For example, depression is a mental health issue that sometimes has a physical cause, and your child may have started using drugs to alleviate their symptoms. Alternatively, your child may have social anxiety and use alcohol to make public interactions more tolerable.

Recognizing that other factors play a role in your child’s addiction helps take the blame off of you as the parent while giving everyone a defined place to start for encouraging a strong recovery. Even if past errors have been associated with drug or alcohol use, you have a choice today! You can choose to sit there and wallow in your misery, or you can make the decision today to stand beside your child as they battle their addiction.

Remember that addiction is a physical issue that involves a chemical response in the brain that is not your fault. However, your child’s future is still your responsibility, and s/he depends upon you to provide the needed tools to get their life back on the right track for greater health.

Guilt about the past doesn’t help your addicted teen

When you drink, smoke or do drugs yourself, it is hard to stand up and tell your child to kick their addiction. In fact, it is common for parents to find themselves wracked with guilt as they reexamine their parenting style and life choices. Perhaps you feel guilty for drinking in front of your teen, or you may be wondering if you should have taken that promotion that required long hours away from home.

While it is natural to blame yourself, deciding to focus on supporting your child is a much more effective way to get them back on the right track. NOTE HERE: It doesn’t matter what you have done in the past because you can choose to begin helping your child by becoming a better role model today.

If necessary, enroll in a treatment program or join a support group to help you conquer your personal addictions. If you are not addicted to a substance, but just enjoy an occasional social drink, then make it a point to avoid keeping alcohol in your house so that your teen does not feel tempted when cravings strike.

How to support your recovering teen addict

Teenagers who have a rounded network of support and options are more likely to be successful in their addiction recovery. This is why we recommend that you choose a quality treatment program that offers multiple types of therapies so that your child can find the one that works best for them. There, your child will meet other adults and teenagers who understand the value of a sober lifestyle.

It is also important to let your child know that they have your full support at home. Recruit other trusted family members and friends to serve as resources to which your teen can turn when they need someone to listen or provide encouragement on a challenging day. Recovering from an addiction takes time, and it is important to be there for your child no matter how disappointed you may feel.

Change parenting style to set new expectations

As your teen works through their treatment program, it is normal to find that some of your parenting strategies may need to change. Once again, this is not a reflection on you as a parent. Here is what you can do:

  1. You may need to restrict your teen from seeing certain friends that you once trusted now that you know they are also using drugs or alcohol.
  2. Your child may need an earlier curfew.
  3. You may have to set rules regarding how much time they spend alone in their room.
  4. Work with your child’s counselor to help you find the right balance between giving them enough freedom to grow without setting up an environment that contributes to relapse.

Your teen’s addiction recovery is a learning opportunity

In the upcoming months, your entire family has an opportunity to grow together as you all learn about how the addiction affects each member of your group. Working through issues in family counseling helps your teen deal with their addiction while also helping others heal from issues such as codependency, resentment and, yes, guilt.

Your teen’s treatment will also involve providing them with an array of activities to help them find healthier ways to relieve their stress. For example, going for a bike ride as a family or watching a favorite play promotes bonding while also giving everyone a way to create happier memories that are only possible through sobriety.

Self-blame and teen addiction questions

Making the decision to help your child regain control over their life is more important than any lingering feelings of guilt or remorse about the past. Now that you are inspired, go on and get involved. Your child’s recovery truly does depend upon your support.

If you have any questions about how you can get the needed professional guidance for your teen’s addiction and for yourself, please post them in the section at the end of the page. We value your feedback and try to respond personally and promptly to all legitimate inquiries. If needed, we can also refer you to professionals who can help.

About the author
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY17766), a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist and a Certified Youth Residential Treatment Administrator. Dr. Nalin is the Founder and Clinical Director of Paradigm Malibu and Paradigm San Francisco Adolescent Treatment Centers. He has been responsible for the direct care of young people at multiple institutions of learning including; The Los Angeles Unified School District, the University of California at San Diego, Santa Monica College, and Pacific University. He was instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
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