How can parents help a drug addict child? INTERVIEW with Odyssey House Louisiana, Inc.

Are you struggling with your teen’s drug or alcohol abuse? This article is for you. Read our expert Q&A and pick up some tools on how to help a teen being treated for addiction. More here.

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Sometimes, you can’t control the outcome

As parents, we try to do whatever we can and whatever we know, to prevent harm to our kids. But sometimes we make mistakes. And sometimes, the outcome is not just up to us.

So, when the harm is done, and our teen is battling with an alcohol or drug problem, what can we do? We can’t help but wonder, “Where did I go wrong? What did I do? And how can I do better?”

For addiction, professional help is key

At this point, when you know that your teen is struggling with substance abuse, the first thing a parent can do is to ask professionals for help. Appropriate treatment will not only help your child but can work to unite the family. Some questions that may arise as you consider addiction treatment may include:

  • What can I expect from the addiction treatment of my child?
  • Should I also attend counseling?
  • Will they let me see my child, if s/he is in residential treatment?

We asked the experts

To help us answer these questions and more, today with us we have the CEO of Odyssey House Louisiana Inc., Ed Carlson. He will share with us some insights on teen addiction therapy, and help set up some realistic expectations of the process. Plus, Ed Carlson shares with us some very helpful tools and resources for parents of drug addicted teens.

Please read more in the following Q&A session. Then, if you like, you can post your questions or comments in the section below the article. We will try to provide you with a personal and prompt response.

ADDICTION BLOG: In your experience, what are the “Top 5” factors that drive teenagers towards substance abuse?

ODYSSEY HOUSE: 1. Peer pressure
2. Sexual/ physical abuse
3. Mental/emotional abuse
4. Substance abuse in the home by parents or other authority figures
5. Lack of education about drugs and their impact

ADDICTION BLOG: What are some of the common misconceptions parents have about teen addiction and its treatment?

ODYSSEY HOUSE: In our experience, parents either tend to overreact or under react to their child’s substance use. If a parent finds their child is using drugs, they should take their child to get an assessment from a professional to determine what level of care is appropriate for that child.

Here are two examples of what I’m talking about and the common mistakes parents make. A parent might catch a child smoking cigarettes, smoking pot or trying alcohol for the first time and demand the child enter a full-scale inpatient treatment program. On the other hand, many parents tend to write off substance use, even repeated use and abuse, as typical adolescent experimentation/ behavior and do not recognize a problem until it has escalated.

ADDICTION BLOG: What kind of help can parents seek when they find out that their child has a problem with drugs or alcohol?

ODYSSEY HOUSE: Services vary from state to state, so parents should contact the state office that handles drug and alcohol services in their area (this is typically a Department of Health and Hospitals function, but can vary in name from state to state). Most states have federal and state dollars dedicated to resources for drug and alcohol treatment and states are required by law to keep a list of licensed service providers.

ADDICTION BLOG: Should parents enter individual counseling during this time?

ODYSSEY HOUSE: Yes, parents must be just as engaged in the treatment process as their child.

Individual counseling can help the parent sort out their own feelings about their child’s substance abuse and teach coping behaviors and mechanisms to deal with these issues in the future, especially the transition period when the child returns to the household after treatment. Similarly, it helps the parent understand what their child is going through in his/her own individual therapy and familiarizes the parent with the terminology and therapeutic approaches.

Family counseling is also important to ensure that the child and parents approach this matter as a team.

ADDICTION BLOG: Where can they find resources for help to address the family problem and their own feelings about it?

ODYSSEY HOUSE: As discussed above, each state has its own list of resources for individuals and families. Their child’s therapist or program should also have a list of referrals for families and parents to help engage in the treatment process along with their child.

ADDICTION BLOG: What can a parent expect when a teen checks into a residential rehab?

ODYSSEY HOUSE: An inpatient residential program will probably be very structured and regimented for the teen to help teach therapeutic lessons like:

  • boundaries
  • delayed gratification
  • interacting respectfully with authority

Parents should be prepared that they may not be able to communicate with their child every day. Additionally, parents can expect that the child may complain about the facility or the quality of care he/she is receiving in an effort to manipulate the parent remove them from treatment. It can often be a difficult transition, but one of the most important parts of treatment is to remove the child from their past behavior so that they can learn new behaviors, coping mechanisms, and life-skills.

ADDICTION BLOG: How often will parents typically be able to talk to teens?

ODYSSEY HOUSE: This varies from program to program. There are typically opportunities for phone calls and visitation, most commonly on the weekends. One of the most important ways a parent can engage with their child at this time is to attend family counseling when offered and stay connected in the child’s individual therapy through his/ her counselor.

ADDICTION BLOG: When will parents be able to visit? What’s the schedule like?

ODYSSEY HOUSE: Again, this varies from program to program, but visitation is typically during the daytime hours on a weekend.

ADDICTION BLOG: What happens during family therapy sessions?

ODYSSEY HOUSE: Family sessions give the parents, child and other family members (depending on who is invited into the group), the chance to openly discuss their thoughts, emotions and feelings, all while be guided by a professional to ensure that the session is therapeutic and productive.

Family sessions often focus on cognitive behavioral therapy, working to solve current problems and change unhelpful thinking and behaviors. Within the parent/child dynamic, there will probably be negative feelings both ways, and these family sessions give both the parents and the child the opportunity to address these situations and try to understand each other’s perspective.

There is often shame, embarrassment, or a negative stigma associated with addiction, so these family sessions are an outlet to discuss these feelings and address them appropriately.  It is important for the parents and the child to get on the same page. Behavioral issues will take a while to work through, so it is critical that the parents stay engaged in the child’s treatment.

ADDICTION BLOG: How can parents best support their teens AFTER addiction treatment?

ODYSSEY HOUSE: Parents need to learn how to trust their child again.

This can be a very difficult process, but mutual trust and understanding must be developed on both sides. Parents also must make sure their child (and themselves) have access to support groups and follow-up therapy.

You cannot assume that the problem is fixed after a teen attends addiction treatment or that your child won’t be tempted again. Relapse is often a part of recovery; however, it is critical to maintain a culture of open communication in your household so that your child feels that they can talk to you about this feelings and emotions they are having.

ADDICTION BLOG: Let’s end with some suggestions for parents with pre-teen children. What are the most common mistakes parents can/should avoid during child development to prevent teen drug abuse in future?

ODYSSEY HOUSE: Parents should educate themselves on teen substance abuse and foster drug education and awareness with their children. Don’t be afraid to have hard conversations and DON’T ignore a problem if you think your child is curious about drugs or alcohol. Creating a culture of mutual trust and open communication is key. Parents and children will not always see eye-to-eye, but your child should know that he/she can talk to you openly and honestly about the issues that arise in their life.

Drugs and alcohol play a large part in the common culture and you child will more than likely be confronted with underage use at some point in his/her life. Parents need to be prepared to deal with situations as they arise.

ADDICTION BLOG: Is there anything else you would like to add?

ODYSSEY HOUSE: If you believe your child has a problem with drugs or alcohol, seek treatment earlier rather than later. That being said, it’s important to keep the right balance and address your child at their level of need, rather than making knee-jerk reactions. Your child may often make decisions against your will, but you need to set a tone of openness and honest discussion with your child that will make them more likely to confide in you.

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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