My Son Has an Addiction
If your son is struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, it can be a devastating realization.
By looking at certain signs and symptoms, you may be able to determine if your son is abusing substances or if there is another problem present.
If there is enough evidence to support your suspicions, the best path forward is to approach your son from a place of love and support. Oftentimes, a mental health professional or interventionist can assist in this process.
How to Tell if Your Son Is Abusing Alcohol or Drugs
According to the book Adolescents, Alcohol, and Substance Abuse: Reaching Teens Through Brief Interventions, there are three general categories of signs that could arouse suspicion that your child is abusing alcohol or drugs. These categories include physical, emotional, and social signs.
Physical signs of drug abuse include:
- Frequent bloodshot eyes or pupils that are smaller or larger than they normally are.
- Frequent nosebleeds, which can be a sign of cocaine or meth use due to snorting these drugs.
- Altered appetite, such as periods of no appetite that alternate with periods of increased appetite.
- Frequent bruises or other injuries that cannot be unexplained. These are often due to problems with coordination while under the influence.
- Incoherent speech, jitteriness, or tremors.
- Breath that smells like alcohol.
- Drug paraphernalia in their room or backpack.
- Paint stains on the mouth due to huffing paint.
- Burns around the mouth or on the fingers due to smoking drugs.
- Track marks from injecting drugs.
Many of these signs are very telling and should suggest that your son is using drugs or alcohol. If you notice that your son is displaying several of these signs, you should be even more concerned.
Some of the emotional signs of drug abuse include:
- Uncharacteristic and unexplained changes in attitude.
- Sudden mood swings, such as outbursts of anger, irritability, or uncontrolled laughing.
- Periods of hyperactivity or agitation that alternate with periods of lethargy and/or apathy.
- Anxiety or suspiciousness that seems to have no apparent explanation.
- Uncharacteristic dishonesty.
- Unusual loss of motivation and problems with focus.
- A loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed.
Remember that growing up is difficult. Many of these signs on their own do not imply that your son is abusing alcohol or drugs. But if you notice a few of these signs in conjunction with some of the physical signs listed above, your son may be abusing drugs or alcohol.
Some social changes that may suggest drug abuse include:
- An explained drop in grades or issues with truancy.
- Loss of interest in social activities.
- A change in friends or hobbies.
- Becoming withdrawn and isolated.
- Suspicious or even sneaky behaviors.
- Stealing or unusual requests for money.
- Complaints from teachers, coworkers, or friends about unusual behaviors.
Often parents become suspicious that their son is using drugs because of his friends or social acquaintances. Again, this factor can’t be judged on its own. Consider signs from all three domains above to assess the situation.
How Should I Approach My Son?
If you feel your son is addicted to drugs or alcohol, a conversation is the first step. This can come in many forms, depending on the specifics of the situation.
Oftentimes, it can be helpful to consult a therapist, interventionist, or other medical professional prior to talking to your son. If you have a good understanding of addiction, it will help you to gently educate your son on the dangers of the situation and the importance of getting help.
There are several things to keep in mind when approaching your son about a potential addiction.
- Keep the tone calm. Being confrontational, calling him names, or accusing him will most likely result in anger instead of cooperation.
- Ask questions and express concern. Really listen to what he has to say. He may clam up, but if he’s talking, make sure you hear him.
- If your son denies he is using, don’t get angry. Instead, point out the facts about his behavior that have aroused suspicion. Avoid emotional commentary, and stick to the facts.
- Don’t aim to embarrass your son. Don’t start the conversation in front of his friends. Wait until you’re alone with him. He needs to feel safe.
- Recruit help. Sometimes a formal intervention (discussed below) is appropriate. Even if you don’t opt for this route, there is strength in numbers. It can help to have a therapist, his mom, or other loved ones present.
- Be prepared for multiple conversations. It’s rare that this conversation only happens once. Getting your son the help he needs will likely involve multiple attempts on your part. The key is to get the ball rolling and open up the line of dialogue.
If your son is a minor, you can compel him to go to rehab without his consent. If he is over 18, he needs to go voluntarily unless he is ordered by the court system to attend.
Regardless of your son’s age, it’s best to start with a conversation. While rehab doesn’t have to be voluntary to be effective, it’s ideal if your son is open to the idea of getting help. This is more likely if you approach him with love rather than ordering him to rehab.
Should I Stage an Intervention for My Son?
A substance use disorder intervention occurs when family members, close friends, and other important people approach an individual who has an addiction to encourage them to get help. The group lays out the evidence of the problem, expressing their love and concern for the person. The subject of the intervention is presented with a few treatment options, and they are encouraged to immediately enter rehab following the meeting.
Successful interventions are generally run by a professional interventionist or a clinician who specializes in addictive behaviors. Particularly in an intervention for your son, emotions will run high. This professionals ensures that the entire event stays on track, productive, and controlled.
If you work with a professional interventionist, they will help you assemble the team members and prepare for the event. They’ll help you craft what to say to your son in a manner that has the best chance of persuading him to get help. They’ll even escort your son directly to treatment following the intervention.
An intervention presents a unified front of several people who care for your son. Seeing this level of concern and love may motivate him to reach out for help.
Will My Son Need Medical Detox?
This will be determined during the assessment phase of the treatment process.
When your son enters rehab, the first step will be this overall assessment. A medical professional will determine his level of substance abuse and develop an appropriate treatment program.
If he is likely to experience withdrawal symptoms, he’ll need to undergo medical detox. Depending on the substance of abuse and the level of abuse, medications may be used to ease the withdrawal process.
Will My Son Be Better Off in a Residential Program or an Outpatient Program?
In residential programs, clients live at the treatment facility and undergo intensive treatment around the clock. In outpatient treatment programs, clients live at home or in a sober living home, and they visit the clinic for their treatment sessions. Many people in outpatient treatment continue to go to school or work while they receive treatment.
The choice that is right for your son depends on the situation.
If your son has experienced previous unsuccessful attempts at recovery or if he has a severe substance abuse problem, residential treatment may be the better choice. If this is your son’s first time in rehab, outpatient treatment may be recommended.
If outpatient treatment is chosen, your son needs a safe, sober home environment. Do your best to support him by keeping the house free of alcohol and drugs. If this isn’t an option, a sober living home may be a good choice for him while he goes through outpatient treatment.
Treatment Is Expensive: How Do I Pay for It?
Addiction treatment can be expensive. Insurance should be your first stop for payment help.
Oftentimes, insurance will cover a significant portion of the cost of rehab. Confirm that the chosen rehab center accepts your son’s insurance plan prior to enrolling. If your son does not have insurance and meets certain qualifications, consider public assistance like Medicaid to cover some of the cost of treatment.
There will usually be some out-of-pocket costs even if insurance covers a good chunk of treatment. Here are some options to help cover these costs.
- Discuss payment plans with treatment providers. Many rehabs offer financing options where the outstanding balance can be paid off over time.
- Begin a crowdfunding program. Talk to your son first before doing this. He may not want information on his situation shared with others, even if it helps to fund treatment.
- Consider treatment programs that offer discounted care. Many universities that have mental health programs, like psychiatry programs or graduate psychology programs, offer therapy and other forms of treatment on a sliding scale based on income level.
- Use credit cards. If going this route, make sure you are using a card with a relatively low interest rate.
Taking the First Step
You love your son, and you want to see him get well. Remember that addiction is a disease that requires comprehensive treatment.
While the first conversation is often the most difficult, it can be the beginning of your son’s journey toward recovery. Help him to take that first step.