Discovering that your son or daughter is experimenting with drugs and alcohol is one of the scariest parts of parenting. For many kids, this phase passes by with no harm done. For others, unfortunately, it is the beginning of a steep descent into addiction that can cause years of personal harm. Here is a brief primer on what you need to know about alcohol and drug abuse, and how to address a potentially serious problem.
Evidence suggests that certain populations of people are predisposed to addiction. If you or your partner struggles with addiction, your child is about 50 percent more likely to develop a substance abuse problem. Those with a preexisting mental health disorder, such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, and bipolar, are also more likely to develop addiction. Childhood abuse and trauma also contribute, as do easy access to drugs and alcohol. And the earlier abuse starts, the more likely addiction becomes.
Keep in mind that, even if your son or daughter demonstrates all of these risk factors, it doesn’t mean substance abuse is a sure thing; however, it does make open, calm communication and early intervention essential.
Talk Openly, Set Consequences, and Stay Calm
The Grammy-winning rap artist and former drug and alcohol addict, Macklemore, credits his father with intervening at age 25. Make a habit of having open conversations with your child. Reward your son or daughter’s honesty by not panicking and not yelling; at the same time, and especially if your child demonstrates risk factors for addiction, express concern while identifying clear boundaries and consequences.
Should your child break those boundaries, it’s time to get help.
Don’t wait until rock bottom to seek professional treatment because this popular myth can actually do more harm than good. Imagine substance abuse as a kitchen full of dirty dishes. Is it easier to clean a sinkful of dirty pans, or does it take more work to clean up when every surface is covered in muck?
Identifying the signs of addiction early can help you decide whether or not to get help from a drug and alcohol treatment program. Closely monitor activities and behavior — are grades falling? Is there a new crowd of acquaintances to worry about, or is your son or daughter spending more time alone than usual? Have you caught your child in continuous lies? Are once-loved activities such as sports or an instrument now being ignored?
If so, it’s time to get professional help.
Photo: Christian Senger