Under the best of circumstances, raising a child can be a wonderful but challenging experience. Unfortunately, far too many parents understand the living nightmare that is having children who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. This experience can be horrifying. Thankfully, parents have ample resources and places to turn if their kids do suffer from some sort of substance use disorder.
Statistics on Adolescents and Addiction
Every year, millions of teenagers become addicted to some sort of illicit substance. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse statistics, thousands lose their lives and even more require extensive medical care to recover.
As of 2018, almost 24% of all teenagers between the ages of 12-17 had tried some sort of illicit drug. An even higher number, 30%, had seen some sort of illegal drug use. In 2020, an estimated 47% of teens had tried drugs before graduating.
Studies suggest a correlation between younger age of first drug use and addiction. Unfortunately, statistics show the stark problems facing teenagers and parents when it comes to future drug abuse and addiction. NIDA surveys have noted that 70% of all teenagers who tried an illegal drug at the age of 13 or younger would develop a substance use disorder.
When it comes to the need for treatment, the numbers are downright horrific. In 2018, an estimated 863,000 adolescents needed some sort of substance use treatment, but a mere 159,000 received that treatment. Put another way, only 18.5% of all teens who need treatment actually receive it. As you can imagine, a variety of issues get in the way of teenagers receiving treatment, including health care, family situation, and having proper insurance.
All of the above numbers deal with drugs, but the numbers when it comes to alcohol use are just as frightening. An estimated 6% of all American teenagers between 12-17 have an alcohol use disorder. Furthermore, 2 million teenagers of the same age are estimated to be binge drinkers.
How Parents Can Approach Addiction With Their Kids
There is good news for parents. For starters, they can be huge influencers. As of 2018, 55.8% of teenagers said that their parents were the main deterrent to them using drugs. This is a huge number and shows just how impactful parents can be when it comes to keeping their kids from using drugs.
Remember: Not talking is not an option. By not saying anything, you are sending your kids a message that there is nothing wrong with alcohol or drug abuse.
It can be all too easy for parents to accidentally drive their kids away from a real conversation about drugs or alcohol if they don’t approach the topic the right way. That’s why it’s so important that parents prepare themselves. In order to do this, parents must start by doing their homework. They have to discuss the issue in research-proven ways that have been demonstrated to work. Here are a few tips for parents.
- Start early: According to one survey, 3,300 kids as young as 12 try marijuana for the first time every day. However, kids are much less likely to develop substance use problems if they wait until they are older before trying alcohol or drugs. Therefore, it is important to have these conversations with your kids at an early age. Remember, alcohol and drug use at a very young age are tragically common.
- Make sure the conversation is age-appropriate: As noted by KidsHealth, you would never talk to a 7-year-old the same way you would talk to a 14-year-old. You can likely be a bit more honest about the dangers of drug or alcohol use with older kids. Talking to older kids also means that you can get more in-depth into your own experiences.
- For younger kids, take advantage of “teachable moments”: There are plenty of times when you may be watching television or YouTube with your kids and see someone engaging in unacceptable behavior, such as excessive drinking or smoking. At these moments, ask your kid if they can see what’s wrong. Be sure to explain the potential consequences of that person’s actions. This way, a child will have a visual example of the potentially problematic behavior.
- Ask questions: As your child gets older, they will naturally come to understand more and more about drugs and alcohol. As this occurs, don’t just make statements with your children. Instead, ask questions and listen to their response. Ask what they know about drugs, what their feelings are, and what their experiences are. It’s up to you to start the conversation, but from there, let them lead it. Take the opportunity to remind your kids about the potential dangers about drug and alcohol abuse, and reiterate that you are there to answer questions or support them in any way.
- Be non-judgmental: If a kid expresses curiosity about trying drugs or alcohol, do not jump down their throat. Remember, extreme reactions may only serve to drive your child further away and make them more reluctant to come to you with questions or concerns. Instead, make sure to tell them that there is nothing wrong with feeling curious. However, remind them that there are potential problems with drug or alcohol use. Encourage them to come to you with further questions, and monitor their behavior accordingly.
- It’s more than just a conversation: Remember, no single conversation will ever stop your child from potentially using or abusing drugs. It involves being an active parent over the course of their formative years being engaged in their life. Watch your kid’s internet habits. Make sure you know their friends. Most importantly, be the kind of parent who your child will listen to. It is vitally important that your child feel comfortable approaching you when they are concerned about something or need advice.
Signs and Symptoms of Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Substance use disorders are not always as easy to spot as you may think. Indeed, many teenagers are surprisingly adept at hiding their substance use. However, there are some symptoms that you can watch out for. These include:
- Unexplained changes in behavior
- Changes in social habits, like hanging out with new friends or withdrawing from previous social groups
- Pulling away from activities that were previously enjoyed
- A sudden decline in performance at work or school
- Unexplained and sudden changes in physical appearance, including clothing or personal grooming habits
- Sudden decline in relationships with parents, family members, or other friends
- Physical changes when they come home after being out with friends
If you’re concerned about your child’s behavior but unsure if it’s attributable to potential substance use, try reaching out to others. Teachers and school counselors may see your child in a different light. They may be able to give you a more professional, unbiased opinion about what your child is going through. Do not hesitate to reach out to these professionals who interact with your child on a regular basis. Their advice may be critical to helping you get your child the help they need.
Resources for Parents Who Want to Help Their Kids
There is no question that this can be a difficult conversation to have with your children. Thankfully, various government and nonprofit groups have put a great deal of effort and energy into creating resources for family members and parents who are interested in having this conversation with their kids but need help in doing so.
For example, if you are unsure of what to say, check out the “action plan” put together by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It provides a variety of customizable tools that can help you figure out what to say and how to say it.
In addition to the websites noted above, a variety of nonprofit groups have set up in-depth websites that can help teach parents specific tools and tactics to use when talking about drugs and alcohol with their kids. These websites are notable for not only their extensive tips and research but also because they don’t just focus on teenagers. Indeed, as noted by many studies, having a conversation with kids as early as possible about drugs or alcohol is vitally important. For example, the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids has set up a website that bills itself as a place “where families find answers.” It lists extensive advice on how to talk with kids of any age about drugs or alcohol.
Other organizations have set up similar websites. For example, KidsHealth has a great page for the same purposes. Like the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids website, it lists extensive advice on how to talk with kids of any age about drugs and alcohol.
Keep in mind that there is a variety of non-digital resources as well. Depending on your specific circumstances, you may be able to consult with a number of experts, including your child’s school administration, teachers, or guidance counselors. Local doctors, teachers, or religious figures may also be able to provide insight into how to broach this subject with your child and if there are any specific behavioral warning signs. They may also have more localized insight into trends when it comes to drugs or alcohol.
Getting Treatment for Substance Use Disorder
While there are a variety of treatments to help your child overcome a substance use disorder, an inpatient program will probably be necessary for the most serious cases. Thankfully, there are high-quality rehabilitation centers throughout the country that are geared toward developing individualized treatments for patients.
One such example is the NFA Behavioral Health in Canterbury, New Hampshire. Our facility offers a variety of comprehensive treatment methods designed to treat the whole person, not just the addiction. The recovery specialists at the New Freedom Academy can customize a program to best suit your needs. Our licensed clinicians and therapists offer the following clinical support options:
- One-on-one individual therapy
- Process groups
- Treatment for co-occurring mental disorders
- Motivational interviewing
- Various types of behavior therapy
- Grief and loss therapy
At the end of the day, every parent wants what is best for their child. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, our children suffer and take the wrong path. Thankfully, there is an array of resources available for parents who have children who are suffering. As a parent, the best thing you can do is educate yourself about the available tools and reach out for help. Remember, it’s difficult to help anyone battle a substance use disorder on your own. Make sure you take advantage of the tools that are available to you in order to help your child recover and lead a happy life.