Knowing how to effectively intervene when you learn that your teen is using drugs and/or alcohol is vital for getting her back on the right track. The process can be an emotional roller coaster that tests the strength of you, your teen, and your relationship, but ultimately your actions will better ensure the health and safety of your child.
You’ve already acknowledged there is a problem and are seeking measures to address it. For some parents, this is the hardest step. You should be proud of that.
But there is more that needs to be done.
In our first article, we covered the absolute necessity that you don’t ignore the situation, taking time to prepare before you intervene, and what to say and do while you have a serious conversation with your teen. The following three tips will address establishing a plan moving forward after your initial discussion with your teen, embracing outside help for both him and you, and seeking stronger treatment options when needed.
Getting your teen to quit abusing substances will not be easy, but with these strategies and knowledge in mind, your teen’s future is already looking brighter.
#4 The Talk Part 2: Where Do We Go From Here?
After asking about the reasons your child turned to drugs, vocalizing your concerns, and honestly answering questions you are asked, the next essential part of the conversation with your teen is outlining your rules and guidelines for the future and what the penalties will be if those expectations are not met.
While no teenager is ever going to start celebrating a whole set of rules to follow, teens are much more likely to buy into and respect this new system if they have a say in its creation. Work together. Give them some agency. While you define your expectations of your teen, allow him to likewise express what he expects from you.
Of course, his requests must be reasonable. “Mom and Dad will let me get completely plastered just one night a week” isn’t going to fly.
But for every “I promise not to drink or take drugs” and “I promise not to drive while under the influence” that you require from your teen, permit him to make a rule such as “I promise to always listen to what my teen has to say” or “I promise to always be available when my teen wants to talk or needs help.”
When crafting these rules, consider incorporating opportunities where you will reward honesty even when another expectation has been broken. For example, say your teen smokes some weed at a friend’s house but comes clean about it to you afterward. Or maybe he is drunk at a party but calls for your help instead of trying to drive himself home.
In these and similar situations it is a good idea to respect this act of honesty and the courage it required from your teen. Allow for lessened consequences or perhaps a sit-down conversation instead of a punishment at all.
In this way, you keep in mind that nobody is perfect. Your teen is sure to make mistakes along the way to getting clean, but telling the truth shows he is genuinely trying to change. Furthermore, your child’s safety should be your number one priority—it’s why you want her to quit abusing drugs in the first place, after all—and these allowances help create an environment in which your teen is not afraid to reach out when she is a dangerous situation.
But speaking of consequences, how should you handle those? Punishments and the way you enact them can greatly impact your teen’s progression in quitting drugs and alcohol.
Consequences should be firm but reasonable, resonating and powerful yet age-appropriate and generally short-term. For instance, while a moderate offense might justifiably warrant a week’s grounding, grounding your teen for six months is far overboard.
Penalties must be able to teach your teen a lesson and show that you are doing this for his well-being; punishments too intense or long (given the transgression) will only ignite resentment, and what you are trying to teach her will be lost.
Also, you need to make sure that you will and can impose consequences that you previously stated will occur if your teen disobeyed a given rule. Failing to follow through on punishments will tell your teen that you aren’t truly serious about the rules—so he’ll continue to break them. Likewise, attempting a consequence that you have no ability to enforce will tell your teen that you can’t really do anything about his violation of the rules—so he’ll continue to break them. Both will reduce your authority and make future efforts at discipline much more difficult.
One often effective penalty is temporarily revoking a teen’s car or driving privileges, especially if you caught her driving under the influence or as a passenger of an impaired driver (punishments directly connected to the action tend to be more powerful). Suspending your teen’s driving ability will better prevent her from driving while drunk or high or traveling to meet a dealer.
Now that you have co-created a set of rules, expectations, and consequences with your teen, consider compiling them into an actual, physical document, a written contract complete with agreeing signatures from both parties.
For most teenagers, this makes the rules truly official or “real” and thus more likely to be respected, while also proving that you are equally committed upholding your end of the bargain. In addition, a tangible contract permits you to point to your teen literally agreeing to a certain behavior should he later violate it (and vice versa).
[Click the link for an example of a teen-parent contract and suggestions for expectations to establish: http://www.drugfree.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Write-a-Contract-with-Your-Kids-2014.pdf]
However, even with contract in hand and all you have covered in your conversation today, remember that one talk will rarely be it. Very likely, this will be the first of many discussions you’ll share with your child as he quits using alcohol and drugs.
Some will occur when your teen comes to you on his own for guidance, and some will be after you catch him breaking the rules. Don’t be discouraged or feel like you aren’t making a difference; each and every one of these talks are a helpful and necessary part of the recovery process.
#5 Call in the Cavalry
One aspect that can be difficult for parents but will immeasurably help in confronting your teen’s drug or alcohol use is reaching out to others for help. There are two main categories of outside assistance: Help for yourself and help for your teen.
The first of these might seem out of place. Help for me? Isn’t my teen the one that needs help?
This line of thinking, however, ignores the turmoil many parents undergo when their teen uses drugs, feelings that only increase with the severity and consequences of the teen’s substance abuse. The emotional distress can be monumental, leaving a person mentally and physically exhausted.
Some parents keep their feelings bottled up, thinking it’s not appropriate to tell others what their teen is going through or are too ashamed to let anyone know. Their pain and frustration eventually eat away at them.
It is perfectly okay and normal to feel this way. However, you also need to realize that you cannot ignore your own struggles as you deal with your teen, if for no other reason than you can’t adequately help her if you yourself are emotionally unwell.
Don’t let the fear of shame force you to keep this a secret. Always communicate your feelings to your spouse as you help your teen together. Confide in a close friend or relative what you are going through. While you shouldn’t tell absolutely everybody what is happening, sharing with a few people you trust for support and to vent your emotions is encouraged.
Also, remember that you are not alone in this problem. Countless others are dealing with teenagers who abuse substances as well, and some people might find it easier to discuss their feelings to others whom they know are in the same boat.
Just as there are peer support groups for people facing addiction and recovery, so too are there meetings for parents, siblings, and others who are close to someone with drug use issues. Groups such as Al-Anon and Families Anonymous help lessen the stigma of the situation with your child, proving you are not alone while giving you a chance to share your story and listen to the experience of others.
Another resource that can both help you and aid in your teen’s recovery is toll-free helplines. These numbers, most of which are open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, put you in contact with professionals trained to assist individuals and families prevent, cope with, and overcome drug and alcohol abuse. Some of the many helplines include:
- Partnership for Drug-Free Kids at 1-855-378-4373
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism at 1-800-662-4357
- Crisis Call Center at 1-800-273-8255
- National Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Information Center at 1-800-784-6776
Similarly, reach out to other professionals that you or your teen can meet with in person. The easiest way to begin is to contact people already connected to your or your teen’s world, such as school counselors or the family doctor/pediatrician.
These professionals can assess the extent of your teen’s drug abuse, root out and discuss underlying or compounding issues such as family struggles or mental health disorders, and develop a treatment strategy. Also, they will be able to connect you with more advanced specialists if needed. Doctors can administer drug tests as well.
Finally, it can be beneficial to share your teen’s issues with another adult who she admires and respects such as a coach, another relative, teacher, or religious figure. This adult can both monitor your child’s condition and behavior when you are not around and strengthen the argument that your teen should quit using drugs. Hearing that substance abuse is dangerous and should cease will hold greater power if multiple people who care about your teen, not just you, tell her. In addition, your teen might feel more comfortable opening up to this person than you, giving her an alternative person to seek guidance from and talk to in the face of making poor decisions.
#6 Advanced Recovery Treatment
In communicating with drug and healthcare professionals, they may determine that your teen requires a more advanced treatment strategy.
While teenagers with less extensive substance issues can recover with a combination of family support, discussions with parents and trusted adults, and a system of rules and consequences, those with more extreme abuse problems and addictions will require more intense treatment methods.
There are several different options that may help, and it is up to you and the professionals involved to decide which option—or, more likely, which combination of options—will be best for your teen. Some of the treatment strategies include:
- Support Groups: Group meetings can build a community network that helps teenagers realize they are not alone in their struggles. They have other people rooting for their recovery and can see the value of recovery in others. Different types of groups will be more or less beneficial to each teen. Some will do well in a group composed only of similarly-aged peers, whereas for others this would lead to a negative atmosphere of reminiscing over “fun” memories of doing drugs. Some teens might have a better experience in a varied age group or a group made of teenagers and their family members.
- Medication: Most often, medication is reserved for adults but may be prescribed to teens in some circumstances. Various medications are used for treating addiction or co-occurring conditions, withdrawal symptoms, and relapse prevention.
- Talk Therapy: Also known as behavioral counseling or behavioral treatment, talk therapy has your teen meet regularly with a health counselor. This counselor aids your teen in modifying her behavior and attitudes toward substance use; focusing on positive life skills; and recognizing, avoiding, and coping with “triggers” and situations which commonly lead her to use drugs. The intensity and frequency of these meetings typically coincide with your teen’s progress.
- Inpatient Rehab: One important aspect of your teen’s treatment that you must decide is whether to pursue outpatient or inpatient rehabilitation. Deciding which system is best for your child depends significantly on the severity of her substance abuse.The primary difference between these two programs is in where your teen will live as they undergo recovery. Whereas in an outpatient plan your teen still resides at home and may attend a rehab facility for specific sessions or meetings, he lives at the facility during inpatient treatment. Both involve support groups, counseling, medication, or any other treatments your child needs.
Outpatient rehab, which is typically recommended for people at a lower risk or are already recovering well, allows patients to continue to go to school, work, and any other activities or responsibilities; maintain a semblance of their normal lives; and have frequent contact with friends and family for support. On the other hand, by remaining in the “outside world,” your teen might still be exposed to people and scenarios that trigger substance use, as well as have access to alcohol and drugs.
Meanwhile, inpatient treatment is a full-time commitment that requires your teen to live on-site, where he will receive support 24 hours a day, seven days a week from a multidisciplinary team of professionals fully devoted to patients’ health and recovery. Inpatient programs are advised for users who would be exposed to substances at home, cannot commute to outpatient centers, were not previously successful in outpatient treatment, or also have a mental health condition, such as depression or bi-polar disorder, alongside their drug abuse.
Most initial inpatient programs last 28 to 90 days. The first part of treatment will be a detox to clear your teen’s body of drugs and start returning her bodily systems to normal. Although every inpatient treatment center is different, most days will typically begin by checking vitals, screening for illicit substances, taking any prescribed medication, and completing simple chores like making the bed, followed by several
therapy sessions (both individual and group meetings), and ending with quiet free time. Teens can receive tutoring to keep up with their schoolwork.
To discover treatment centers near you visit https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/locator.
Not every person should be treated for alcohol or drug use in the same way. These methods of combating substance abuse should be discussed with a counselor and/or health professional, in order to decide what is the best option for your teen’s specific circumstances.
Even once the best course of action has been determined for your teen, it is only the beginning. Now the recovery process must start. A long and difficult road may lie ahead for your family, but you must stay committed despite this adversity.
Just as one talk about drugs and alcohol may not be your last, so too can the path to recovery include missteps, re-dos, and times where it seems like your teen is backtracking on his progress. This is not uncommon; don’t feel like the whole process is a failure.
Keep working at it.
Continue loving and supporting your teen.
Researching the topic and reading this article already proves you are a dedicated, concerned, and caring parent doing the right thing. Keep it up, and you and your teen will get through this.
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By Tyler Wroblewski
Click here the first three tips on how to intervene when your teen is using drugs or alcohol.
Click here for warning signs that your teen may be using drugs or alcohol.
Consulting with a Counselor: From at U.S. Department of Agriculture at https://www.flickr.com/photos/usdagov/19664890044
Adult & Teen Sitting at a Table: From Susan Krawczyk (https://www.dvidshub.net/image/1338461) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Honesty: From thinkpublic at https://www.flickr.com/photos/thinkpublic/3042786561
Angry with Fire Background: From https://pixabay.com/p-18658/?no_redirect
Sign Document: From https://pixabay.com/en/document-agreement-documents-sign-428331/
U.S. Civil War Cavalry: From The U.S. Army (‘cavalry charge’) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Two Men Having a Conversation: From Andrew at https://www.flickr.com/photos/polandeze/1206596658
Support Group 1: From U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District at https://www.flickr.com/photos/europedistrict/6683158541
On the Phone: From cellanr (originally posted to Flickr as IMG_5598) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Doctor: From Ilmicrofono Oggiono at https://www.flickr.com/photos/115089924@N02/16068674648 via www.audio-luci-store.it
Coach: From Lance Cpl. Christopher Johns (https://www.dvidshub.net/image/776788) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Consultation: From CMRF Crumlin at https://www.flickr.com/photos/cmrf_crumlin/4838022938
Support Group 2: From Lwp Kommunikáció at https://www.flickr.com/photos/lwpkommunikacio/16904900381
Rx: From © Nevit Dilmen [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Talk Therapy: From Jty33 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Heroin Injection: From Psychonaught (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Doctor Examines Patient: By Unknown photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Drug Rehab Center: From Addictionresources (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Rehabilitation Center: From tokorokoko (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Just Breathe: From chintermeyer at https://www.flickr.com/photos/twentysevenphotos/5349693235