Communicating With Your Teen About Addiction (and What to Do If They’re Suffering)

The first thing to know if you suspect that your child is using substances is to stay calm. Don’t overthink, and don’t assume the worst. It could be that they’ve only used once. And even if they’ve developed a habit, this isn’t the end of the world – or the end of their life. Addiction treatment is available.

Start off by taking a deep breath, and remembering that you’re dealing with a child here. If they’re still a teen, then it’s important to understand that teens making mistakes is about as much of a fact of life as the sky being blue. Don’t become judgmental, or seek blame. Instead, endeavor to understand why this is happening, and consider what’s best to help them learn from this.


Your Child Isn’t Evil

It obviously goes without saying that your child isn’t morally bankrupt because of substance use or addiction, but it should be reiterated that addiction in no shape or form is caused by moral failure, or is a sign of weak will. Instead, consider that your child made a mistake, as kids tend to do. Growing up is all about making mistakes, so start off by looking at this as an opportunity for growth and character development above all.


Communicating to Your Child About Addiction

Of the millions of people who used illicit drugs at least once in the past year, only about 10% were addicted. That doesn’t mean substance use is a good idea – especially for high-risk drugs such as prescription medicine, meth, crack and cocaine, the risk of addiction is too high to consider casual use.

Substance use is a sign that something is wrong in your child’s life, and they’re doing what they think is best to deal with it. While it’s misguided, it’s also an opportunity for you to better understand what your teen is dealing with, and why they act the way they do.


Learn More About It

While it’s never a good idea to simply guess whether your child is struggling with addiction – there are a wide variety of causes for many of the common telltale signs of addiction, including depression, heartbreak and stress – be sure to take the opportunity to learn more about addiction before confronting your child. Read up on reputable, commonly-cited sources such as the NIDA, and be sure to read up on more advice targeted towards parents who suspect that their teen is suffering. Remember – this isn’t the end of the world. If you approach the situation with too much anger or from an overzealous, judgmental position, then you’ll only make matters far worse.

Don’t inadvertently push your child deeper into their habit, or create the kind of environment that lead to drug use to begin with. Instead, try to understand if your teen doesn’t trust you, why they turned to drugs to begin with, and why they never felt the need to talk to you about their problems. A parent should help their child grow, not make them feel cornered and misunderstood.


Understand Instead of Punish

The thing about drug use is that it’s meant to account for something. Teenagers are known for being confused. They’re at a crossroads in life, and they’re struggling with the concept of growing up. They’re standing before adulthood, unable to fully grasp who they are or what they’re supposed to be doing. For most teenagers, life is a complicated mess and making sense of it all is impossible.

But there needs to be a specific reason why they turned to drugs. For some, it’s pure curiosity. For others, drugs are a way to escape from the stress of school, the pressures of socializing with people they don’t like or agree with, or any other number of personal struggles.

Before you decide what to do, understand first why they started using to begin with. Often, you’ll find that they’re using to cope with something, or to make up for something else, and knowing that can help you help them figure out a healthier way to deal with their problems. For example, if they are using drugs because they feel disconnected to everyone and everything, then ask them to explain further what they mean. It could be that their drug use is tied to deeper feelings of depression, brought about naturally or through some external stressor.

If they’re using prescription medication to improve school performance, then tell them to take some pressure off. Explain to them that school may be important, but it’s not that important. Encourage them to relax more often, or take time to pursue other things.


Treatment for Addiction

Regardless of whether they’re suffering from addiction, your child is still the same child it was before this. Addiction can drive a person to stop considering long-term consequences, even as they go through lengths to mask their behavior. If you catch your child lying about where they’re going, or even stealing from you to pay for their habit, then it’s important to confront them and suggest getting help.

At the end of the day, the goal here is to help your child struggling with addiction. But the only way to do that is to first understand how it all started, and why they came back for more. Don’t let your emotions get the better of you – if you punish them, or become irrationally angry, all you do is damage the relationship between you and your child and further push them away from you. Instead, this can be an opportunity for them to develop. Reaching out a treatment center is the first step in moving forward. You are not alone.


The Lakehouse Recovery Center offers private, residential care. Our program brings together recovery and non recovery focused treatments to help clients heal and learn how to live life again, without drugs and alcohol.

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