For a parent, finding out that your teen has used drugs can come as either a huge shock, a huge disappointment, or both. However, too often, parents fly off the handle when they realize that their teenager has dabbled in something other than alcohol or cigarettes. It’s understandable why – we’ve all been teens, and we all know what we’ve done. Most of us either cringe, shudder, or entirely black out the worst stuff.
The truth is that about one in two adults have tried marijuana at some point in their life, typically in their teens because that’s the period when they’re most open to suggestion and experimentation as part of the inner self-discovery drive every teenager has. And over 15 percent of Americans are currently smokers, while over half the population over the age of 12 has had alcohol rather recently. The US alone is also in charge of most of the world’s prescription medication misuse, so really, we’re no strangers to drug use outside of the more illicit variants (cocaine, meth, heroin and so on). Chances are pretty good that if you’re reading this, you’ve tried weed or any other illicit drugs that aren’t legally sold at the corner store.
It’s important to not panic, and realize the simple truth that experimentation isn’t addiction. Aside from highly addictive substances such as certain benzodiazepines, methamphetamine and heroin, most drugs don’t guarantee addiction at first usage. Some drugs like marijuana aren’t even addictive in the traditional sense, and their addiction potential is tied to the potency; the plant’s THC content.
Of course, that doesn’t mean your teenager shouldn’t get a good talking-to – but the conversation needs to be one about frank, realistic adult consequences, and not vilification or drama. Good, bad, or morally grey, illicit drugs are illegal and any illegal behavior isn’t a good idea, regardless of whether or not it should be illegal, simply because no parent wants to see their child land in prison. Secondly, addictive drugs may not be instantaneously addictive, but the danger is still there – and it’s too much of a risk for anyone at any age to carelessly dabble in.
But what if it isn’t experimentation? What if the scenario in question involves a more serious issue, regarding illicit drugs or alcohol? What if it comes to an intervention, and the need to get professional help? Talking to a teen then can be quite difficult – they’re snarky, defensive, and evolutionarily driven to defy their parents as a way to define themselves. Add in a mix of additional rebelliousness, hormones and addiction, and you have the perfect storm of potential problematic personality issues. So first things first – keep a cool head.
Be a Parent
Your first priority is obvious – you’re the parent. You love your child. You want what is best for them. Conveying that to them in a way that doesn’t come off as condescending or lacking in perspective can be a bit difficult, as teens like to come off as cynical and superior. So you have to first and foremost establish your role as a parent by being firm.
In being firm, you have to insist beyond anything else that your child gets better and fixes their addiction.
Treat Them Like an Adult
Yes, teens make bad choices. And yes, your child will always be your child. But as we’re talking about late teens here, you’re not just dealing with a child but also a young adult. Volatile as they may be, young adults deserve to be spoken to as adults – with the premium perk that they deserve a big taste of the consequences of adulthood.
That means being frank and honest with your teen about their addiction, their future, and their prospects. An addiction is an affliction, both physical and mental, and one that will severely stunt someone’s ability to function in life. The fact that you’re showing enough concern to help your child set things right is already a huge benefit to their chances of getting better – they have to realize that as well.
Start by listing the realistic consequences of their addiction, without embellishing or fear mongering. Tell them what they already know – if they’re denying that they have a problem, being frank with them will kill off any excuses they have without giving them ammunition from which to attack your credibility.
Then, make it clear that you want them to get better – because you love them. Tell them what you already know. That this doesn’t change anything, because a parent is there for their child.
Figure Out What Caused the Addiction
Addiction has many possible causes. On one hand, it could be coincidence – some people are predisposed towards physical dependence of a specific substance like alcohol, and it doesn’t take much to get hooked. In other cases, the physical might not have as much to do with it as a mental – perhaps your teen has been using drugs as a way to hide the symptoms of another, deeper problem, such as a severe depression or a powerful social anxiety they can only shut off with drugs.
Whatever it is, you need to get to the bottom of it and work with your teenager – not behind their back – to get them the help and treatment they need. They are your child, but it’s their mind and their life – suggest every treatment and rehab option possible, but give them the final choice.
Make Them Choose
Teenagers like choice. They like the ability to choose how to go about their life. If you remain firm about getting treatment but give them the freedom on how to go about it, then you’re much more likely to get a cooperative teen.
Remember, if they choose their treatment and rehab, they’ll have much better chances of making it through without a relapse.
No matter what happens, you must be understanding and compassionate above all else. Your child is your child, and addiction is a part of their life – and yours. It isn’t to be embraced, but it cannot be vilified either. Treat it as a symptom of something else, a sign something has gone wrong in their life and your relationship, and treat it as an opportunity to set things right.
There will come a time, and a case, when compassion and understanding doesn’t cut it. There are always cases where teens refuse to get treatment, and refuse to curb their behavior or their addiction. That’s when you have to be much more firm.
Threaten or take legal action in order to coerce your teen into treatment. Incarceration or juvenile detention is a bad idea simply because it does absolutely nothing to help your teen get onto the right track, but rehab and a harsh summer may help instill within them the sense of discipline they seem to have lost as of late.
If you’ve been too soft on your child, then instill in them the power of accountability, and remind them that respect between a child and their parents is a given. If they cannot be responsible for their own actions at their age, then treat them as they act – take away their privileges and control their life until they understand why it’s important to take charge. Be firm – if you will not give them a kick up their backside, then life will stomp them to the curb.