13 Things Parents Don’t Get About Teen Substance Abuse

What Parents Should Know About Teen Addiction

The line of communication between parents and their children can get a little strained or blurred in teenage years. While the child is seeking more freedom and independence, parents can tighten their grip a little too much to stay in control. Add to the mix teenage rebellion, emotional difficulties, and substance abuse and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Though it’s certainly not true that all teens become resentful or unruly during this time, if your child has developed behavioral issues including drug or alcohol abuse, there’s some things you need to understand. Here’s 13 things parents don’t get about teen substance abuse:

It’s Not Your Fault

Yes, drug use in teens may start as a rebellion against you or society, but addiction is not a reflection of your parenting. Substance abuse disorders are born of a chemical imbalance in the brain, much like many other conditions like bipolar disorder, depression, or the like. It’s a disease that lies dormant until triggered- there’s no way you could have known or acted in some other way to prevent it. People with substance abuse disorders come from all walks of life, raised in all types of families under all types of parenting styles. It’s not your fault.

It’s Not My Fault Either

When we are hurting it’s natural to look for a cause- a source that we can blame for our pain. In this case it’s the disease, not your child. Just like addiction is not a reflection of you and your shortcomings as a parent, it is not a sign of amorality or defect in your teen. It can be easier to decide your child in at fault than to truly dig down and find the roots of this disorder, but you need to- for the sake of both of you.

Enabling Me Doesn’t Help

Guilt, shame, or even love can lead you to do things in the name of helping that do exactly the opposite. Enabling behaviors like making excuses for your child’s behavior, ignoring missing pills, money, or items around the house, or even openly supporting their negative habit to stave off withdrawal symptoms never help. All you are doing is extending the issue by pushing it off to be dealt with another day.

Neither Does Harsh Punishment

On the flip side of that coin, harsh punishments and screaming matches aren’t going to help your teen overcome substance abuse, either. By saying cruel things or dealing out ‘tough love’, you’re creating mistrust between yourself and your child, leading to deceitful acts, lying, and further tension in the relationship. You can’t punish addiction away.

The Root of Addiction is Pain

The first steps to overcoming teen addiction is knowing where it comes from- and that’s pain. Children, teens, and adults alike turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism to escape; to feel nothing or anything at all. Understanding that simple truth will go a long way in mending the parent-child relationship and helping the process of recovery begin.

I Have to Choose Recovery

Is it possible to force someone into rehab? Yes- families and court systems do it all the time. Is it possible to make someone get sober? Yes. Is it possible to force someone into recovery? No, not in the long run. If true addiction recovery is to happen it has to be your teen’s choice. You can force them into rehab, but if they are not willing to truly accept the lessons taught to them and incorporate them into daily life, long-term sobriety is nearly impossible. That’s why at Safe Landing our focus is on showing young people that a life of drug and alcohol abuse is not the only path they can take; that through sobriety they can make their dreams a reality- if they choose it.

I Will Need Your Support

For teens in recovery, family support is everything. It’s akin to helping them take their first steps all over again: while you can be there for support, this is a journey they have to take themselves. They will need you there when things get rough. They will need your encouragement and guidance when urges crop up or something triggering happens. They will need your love and support every step of the way.

Sobriety Isn’t a Quick Fix

This one is hard for some parents to understand: sending your child to rehab doesn’t mean when they get back home all the work will be done. Sobriety is an ongoing journey, not a quick fix. There will be bumps in the road; your teen may stumble or fall. That doesn’t mean they failed nor does it mean you should give up hope on them or let them give up on themselves. This may not be a quick fix, but the journey is always worth it.

Even When I Say I Don’t, I Do Care

That people with substance abuse disorders don’t care about anything is a misconception- they do care, often too much. As noted before, substance abuse is about taking away the pain. An addicted mind may lead your child to do or say things they don’t mean; once you understand that you can learn to decipher what those outbursts really mean.

It Only Takes a Moment to Slip

When someone who has relapsed says they don’t know how or why it happened, often in the moment it’s true. It only takes a moment of vulnerability to slip up. Relapse isn’t always a conscious thought or decision. Getting swept up in emotions or not coping well with stress can cause teens in recovery to fall back on old comforts. That takes it back to the first two points: it’s not your fault and it’s not their fault. It’s something that happened that needs to be worked through to move forward and back onto the path of sobriety.

Relapse Doesn’t Mean I’m a Failure

Relapse can look and feel and seem a lot like failure- but it’s not. If your teen experiences relapse it’s important that you remind them that sobriety is still an option for them; that their life doesn’t have to be dictated by addiction. Remind yourself of that, too.

There Are Some Things You Can’t Do For Me

Wanting to provide the best for your child is a noble pursuit- but you can’t do this for them. Recovery is a personal journey they need to walk for themselves to prove to themselves they are more than this disease. It’s about building up self-value and self-worth and you can’t do that for them. Your child will need you to be their loudest supporter in this journey, but they also need to take each step themselves.

I Need You to Take Care of Yourself, Too

Part of supporting anyone through recovery is taking care of yourself, too. Therapy and counseling for the friends and loved ones of people in recovery has proven to be a great tool for everyone involved. Learn to let go of your guilt and cope with the tough times, too. You don’t have to be strong by yourself. Just as your teen has others who will understand their experiences to help them along the way, you also have the support of others in your shoes. It’s okay to make your own well-being a priority, too.

What other things to do parents not get about teen substance abuse?
Comment below and tell us what you think!


Tell us a little bit about you or your loved one: