Getting Help for My Child
All kids change during the teen years, growing more distant as they seek out the independence that will carry them into adulthood.
But you will notice if the changes you are seeing are more extreme than normal. For example, if your child’s grades are plummeting, their behavior is aggressive, their friends are changing for the worse, and they are isolating themselves from supportive friends and family, it may be a sign that substance abuse is an issue.
One of the first steps to addressing the problem is to open the lines of communication. Attempting to have an honest discussion can help you to determine where you are in terms of your ability to help them. If they are nonresponsive or uninterested in your attempts to help them, then it’s time to set boundaries.
Clear house rules that you follow yourself can help you to determine whether or not your child needs treatment. If they are able to moderate their behavior and stop all use of drugs and alcohol, then they may not need drug rehab. If they struggle with maintaining boundaries, and predetermined consequences are not effective in helping them to change their behavior, then treatment is recommended.
Depending on your child’s age, history of substance use and treatment, co-occurring mental health and behavioral issues, and academic requirements, their needs from drug rehab will vary. It is essential that you take the time to find the right program, one designed specifically to meet your child’s needs, so their time in treatment sets them up for success in sobriety.
Signs Your Child Might Be Abusing Drugs
The number one sign of drug use in kids is extreme, negative change that is not attributable to another source. For example, you might notice:
- Poor dental hygiene and personal care.
- Extreme mood swings, such as going from very chatty and personable to surly and aggressive.
- A sudden drop in grades.
- An abrupt stop to engagement in activities and hobbies that used to be of interest.
- New friends who are not doing well in school and mimic some of the same behaviors.
- Excessive isolation.
- Frequents complaints of being tired or sick.
- Extreme changes in sleep patterns, such as insomnia or sleeping too much.
- Extreme changes in eating behaviors, such as eating far too much or not much at all.
- Dilated or “pinned” pupils.
- Frequent requests for money.
- Lying about their whereabouts.
- Stealing money or items of value.
- Sneaking out, not going where they are supposed to, or staying out far later than expected.
- Medication disappearing from around the house or missing alcohol.
Drug Use Effects
Depending on the drug of choice, you may notice personality changes that coincide with the effects of that substance.
For example, if your child is abusing stimulant drugs like crystal meth, cocaine, or ADHD stimulant drugs like Adderall or Vyvanse, you may notice they are eating less, losing weight, rarely sleeping, and often highly focused on a specific task for long periods or excessively social.
If your child is abusing a sedative drug like painkillers or benzodiazepines, they may seem to sleep all the time, be barely able to maintain a conversation, and spend most of their time in isolation.
Commonly Abused Drugs
The most common drugs of abuse among teenagers are the ones that are easiest to get: alcohol and marijuana. The use of these often comes with a distinct smell. You may smell alcohol on your child’s breath or marijuana on their clothes or hair.
Sometimes the easiest substances of abuse for kids to access are the medicines in the cabinet. Over-the-counter cold medications, painkillers, and even ADHD medication can be abused by kids. If you notice these missing or see the effects of these substances on your child, it can be a sign that they are struggling with substance abuse.
To prevent prescription medication abuse, keep your medications in an area they can’t access. Dispose of any unused or expired prescription medications safely. Many police departments and pharmacies host drug take-back events or boxes, where you can drop unwanted medications.
Talking to Your Child About Drugs and Alcohol
If you believe your child is drinking or using drugs, do not ignore the situation or hope it will pass on its own. Substance abuse is not a phase or a rite of passage. It is a potentially deadly choice, especially during the teen years.
Your child needs to hear the truth about substance use and its impact from you. They need to know what your expectations are as far as such use and the consequences if they choose not to maintain those boundaries. This can only happen with an open and honest conversation.
The Facts About Substance Abuse and Teens
Getting high and getting behind the wheel, getting in the car with someone under the influence, sleeping with someone, and potentially contracting a fatal or life-altering disease are risks not worth taking. Even a single use of the wrong substance, or multiple substances in combination, can result in overdose.
Be honest with your child about the risks of substance abuse. Simply cite facts on the results of substance abuse in young people.
The earlier that a teen first uses any illicit substance and the more frequently that they drink or get high at this young age, the more likely it is that they will develop a lifelong addiction and/or suffer an early death. Even if they don’t end up addicted, substance abuse can seriously affect a developing brain, so any use before one’s mid-20s carries greater risk.
It is not a doomsday tactic to share these facts with your child. More people die of drug overdose in some states than car accidents and homicides combined. It is not a small threat, and all drug use starts with experimentation.
It is essential to make it clear to your child that no use of drugs is the expectation and a firm house rule. Absolute abstinence is key for growing kids whose brains and bodies will continue to develop until their mid-20s.
Let your child know unequivocally that you expect them to avoid any binge drinking or drug use of any kind. Tell them that if they are ever in a situation where they are around people who are using substances, they can call or text and you will come get them.
During this conversation, it is also important to make it clear what the consequences will be if they decide to binge drink or use drugs anyway. Some form of consequence, or punishment, is necessary, just as it would be if they repeatedly made choices that put themselves and others in danger.
If your child is unable to stay sober despite your open communication, it is necessary to follow through on your promised consequences. Allowing them to “get away” with using for any reason will only complicate their path to the recovery and potentially put them in harm’s way if it opens the door to their continued use of substances.
If your child continues to drink excessively or get high despite the consequences, whether or not they profess to want to stay sober and promise to do better next time, it is essential to get them into a treatment program immediately.
Determining Whether or Not Your Child Needs an Addiction Treatment Program
As part of your boundary setting, you may choose to enroll your child in therapy if they are not currently talking to a therapist regularly. Make sure that this person is aware of the substance abuse issue and equipped to handle it. If your child is also struggling with co-occurring mental health issues like social anxiety or depression, or if a behavioral disorder is an issue, their therapist should be able to effectively address all these things.
Additionally, meeting regularly with a family therapist, you and your child and potentially your spouse or co-parent as well, can also help to continue the discussion about substance abuse and increase the number of watchful adults who are vigilant in the situation.
Keeping the lines of communication open with your spouse or co-parent, your child, their therapist, and a family therapist will all help you to determine when the time is right to go to treatment.
In general, it is time to send your child to treatment when:
- Your child is violent or aggressive toward you, others in the family, friends or people out in the community, or themselves when under the influence of substances.
- Your child’s grades stay low, and their use of drugs is impacting their academic future and hopes of getting into college or being successful in life.
- Your child’s health begins to suffer due to their drug use.
- They try to stay sober but are unable to do so on their own.
- They overdose or have an accident or other medical emergency due to drug use, and they are still unable to stay sober on their own.
The truth is that you know better than anyone when your child has a problem. If they are using substances, they are at risk — it’s that simple.
If they cannot stop using drugs immediately, it’s time to get help. Waiting to connect them with treatment only puts them at risk for potentially deadly consequences.
Identifying the Best Drug Addiction Treatment Program for Your Child
Teens will benefit from different addiction treatment programs than college-aged kids or adult children who may or may not live at home. It is important to find the right program with the right support options. This will ensure that your child has access to the best combination of therapies for their age, stage, and circumstance.
Teens are not mentally or psychologically at a point where they can process the issues that face adults in active addiction. Putting them in an adult drug rehab would expose them to issues that aren’t relevant to their lives.
Instead, it is important to connect your teen with a program that is specifically geared toward their age group. Confirm that the program is equipped to meet them where they are in turns of behavioral and cognitive function.
For example, if your teen is in school and not taking a leave of absence, then the teen drug rehab you choose should have the ability to work with your child’s teachers, so they do not miss out on school work while in rehab.
Conversely, if your child is struggling with a behavioral disorder, taking medication to manage a chronic illness, or otherwise actively in treatment for a co-occurring mental health or medical disorder, then it is essential that the drug rehab you choose is capable of continuing and amplifying that treatment while they address the substance use issue.
- Academic support, whether or not your child will attempt to keep up with classmates.
- Appropriate peers. Avoid state-sponsored rehabs that double as juvenile detention centers.
- Mental health treatment that is comprehensive and tailored to the individual.
- Detox support and medical care, if needed.
- Family therapy and support so you are an active part of your child’s recovery.
Whether your child is living at home while attending school or living on or near campus, enrolling in a drug rehab program will likely mean taking a semester off to focus on healing and recovery. This is a positive step. It means that your child is acknowledging the serious nature of the problem, and they will have the time and space they need to focus on nothing but getting better.
Because your child is over the age of 18, they will likely not qualify for a teen rehab, even though that may be more of an appropriate setting in terms of shared experience with other peers in residence.
It is important to take great care in choosing the right drug rehab program. Find out what you can about the ratio of patients to substance abuse treatment professionals, the ability for staff to monitor and uphold boundaries on relationships among patients, and what you can expect in terms of involvement in your child’s recovery since they are of legal age.
- Low patient-to-staff ratios.
- High-quality professionals on staff, including therapists, physicians, case managers, and support staff.
- Low overall numbers of patients onboard at any given time.
- A clean, open, and comfortable feel to the establishment that reduces stress.
- Specialty therapies that speak to your child. Examples include sports therapies if they are athletic and arts and music therapies if they are artistic.
- Access to a personalized treatment plan that will connect them with the mental health treatment they need.
No matter how old your child is, they will always have your heart and feel like your responsibility. The older they are, however, the more likely it is that they will need to find their own way to recovery.
Though you should play as large a part as both of you feel comfortable with in their recovery process, and your support can be vital to their sustained sobriety, it is important to recognize that boundaries are key. You may need to make some big shifts in how you relate to your child if they are going to learn how to live independently in recovery.
Your support in connecting them with a drug rehab program can be what starts them down the right path. Look for a program that:
- Is close enough that you can take part if your child would like you to meet with them during family therapy sessions or on visitation days.
- Works with your insurance company or your child’s plan, if applicable.
- Offers a range of therapeutic options, including the testing and evaluation your child needs to determine what exactly is necessary in terms of therapeutic intervention and support.
- Will provide your child with aftercare support as well as the care they need while they are in treatment. This includes creation of an aftercare plan that will help them to build a new life after rehab.
Your Support Matters
No matter how old your child, they will see and hear shocking things in drug rehab that are parallel to or far worse than what they’ve experienced during active substance use and addiction. Addiction often goes hand in hand with trauma, destroyed families and relationships, and loss. This will have a tremendous impact on your child.
Being there for them both during the process of treatment and afterward is a key factor in their success. Knowing that someone loves them unconditionally and cares what happens to them can be a motivating factor. Though they cannot get sober or stay sober for anyone else, it can encourage them to stay positive when things get hard.
Ask your child’s treatment providers the best way to support them during treatment. Maybe you can write your son or daughter letters they can read in therapy sessions. Perhaps you can attend visitation days and participate in certain therapies. Be ready to step in and offer support as appropriate.
Your Own Healing Process
It is important for you to take the time that your child is in treatment to begin your own healing process. This can mean taking a long hard look at how your relationship with your child may have evolved during their active addiction. You’ll have to work hard to make and maintain positive lifestyle changes, perspective shifts, and new boundaries that will help both of you to be stronger in the future.
Your self-care has likely suffered greatly while your child has struggled with addiction. It’s highly likely that you put yourself last during this period of time. Maybe you’ve always put yourself last when it comes to your children. Your child is now getting the professional help they need, and it’s important that you address your own needs.
Find a therapist for yourself who can help you process through some of the issues you’ve faced with your child’s substance abuse problem. Attend support group meetings designed for those who have a family member struggling with addiction, such as Nar-Anon Family Groups. See the doctor, make a dentist appointment, and take care of all other professional appointments you put off while you were taking care of your child. Reintroduce yourself to old hobbies and activities you loved before your life got taken over by your child’s substance abuse.
All these things will help you to heal. While you’ll address relationship issues with your child in family therapy, it’s important to focus on your own life and goals. By taking care of yourself, you’ll be better able to support your child in treatment and ongoing recovery.