A child who struggles with substance abuse issues is one of the hardest situations that a parent may endure. Your child’s addiction may cause an enormous amount of stress on your patience, energy, resources, and relationships. But, you remember who your son was before his substance abuse, and you’d like to get a version of that person back. While it may not be possible to get your child’s innocence and youth back, you can get a healthier, stronger, and sober child again. Here’s how you can help:
Step 1: Educate Yourself
Once you know your child has a problem with substances, you may feel that you and your child are failures. Addiction is a disease, not a moral failing or lack of character, heart, or virtue. By taking the steps to get into the right mindset to meaningfully help your child, you can improve their outcomes and your attitudes toward your child.
Part of this education process includes being able to identify your child’s cycle of relapse, who their influences are, what triggers them into use, and how to identify signs of being high and overdose.
Step 2: Assess for Safety
One of the most basic steps in helping your addicted child is to keep them alive. Ideally, you’ve already learned to identify the signs of use and overdose, but it can be frightening to find yourself in a critical situation, nonetheless. If your child is overdosing, call 911 immediately. Opioid overdose, including heroin and fentanyl overdose, can be reversed by naloxone (brand name Narcan). Family members of known drug users are encouraged to keep the nasal-spray form of naloxone, as it is easy to use and can be the difference between life and death. However, some opioids remain in the body longer than naloxone’s processing time, which means that your loved one will still need medical attention and monitoring even after naloxone administration.
Another way to assess your child’s safety is to know your child’s intoxicated habits. For example, sometimes those under the influence of drugs or alcohol become intensely suicidal. Others may enjoy attempting to drive drunk or perform outlandish stunts. Make sure your child is kept away from those temptations until they are sober and able to make informed decisions about their behaviors.
Step 3: Express Your Concern
Expressing your concern for your child may seem like an obvious step, maybe even one that can go unspoken. Many families feel that providing a place to live, lending them money, or arguing with them are displays of love and concern. However, as great displays as they are, your child may not interpret them this way.
When your child is sober, not high or withdrawing, have a clear conversation with them regarding your worries about their behavior. Seek to understand how they fell into substance use and reiterate your love and support for them. Do not attempt to shame or blame them, and keep over-exaggerations or promises to a minimum. For some, this conversation will be the boost your child needs to see that you are making an effort to help them.
Step 4: Stabilize Environment
A significant element in the cycle of addiction is the presence of temptation and craving. Drug use changes the way the brain operates, especially as it relates to rewards and feeling good. This can heighten the feelings of desire for the drug’s high and associated pleasure. Temptation, then, only increases cravings.
Temptation can take many forms. When someone is drunk or high, their brains subconsciously associate environments, people, feelings, or things with the experience of being drunk or high. This means that something as innocuous as a set of car keys, for example, can create the desire to drink, since a person may associate igniting the engine with going to the bar. It will be tremendously helpful to know your child’s triggers and patterns to be able to take those items out of the house.
If your child lives with you, try to make your home as temptation-free as possible. Take the extra step of removing alcohol from your home, not hiding it or placing it under lock and key. Keep your medication with you instead of in the home. Buy cleaning products that cannot be huffed. It might seem like a laborious lifestyle change, but prioritizing your child’s ability to make a full and concerted effort can go a long way towards managing substance issues.
Step 5: Set and Keep Boundaries
One of the uglier sides of dealing with a child’s substance abuse issues is watching them face the consequences of their actions. Jail time, break-ups, social isolation, job loss, even physical beatings, can all be consequences of drug abuse and the associated behaviors. Watching your child endure these struggles can be tremendously heartbreaking and naturally, you’d like to protect them from as much harm as possible.
However, your child must see that their substance abuse creates problems and consequences. You can help your child learn through setting and keeping boundaries with them. By being upfront and clear about your expectations for behavior and following through on punishment or cutting off resources, your child will learn that you cannot be manipulated or disrespected into becoming a person who supports their habit. We have more information on boundary-setting and how to know when it’s time to admit that you can’t help your son on your own.
Step 6: Seek Treatment
If your child has developed a chemical dependence upon their substance of choice, they may need to enter an in-patient treatment facility. These environments vary, with some operating out of local hospitals while others are independent estates with acres of land. In-patient centers provide 24/7 supervision and a strict routine, including meetings with psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists. These centers can also be helpful for those who haven’t yet developed a chemical dependence but need a kick-start to attempt sobriety.
During this time, your child will likely go through medically assisted detoxification, where their vitals are supervised as their body withdraws from substances. It is highly encouraged that your child has medical supervision as they withdraw from synthetic opiates, alcohol, Benzodiazepines (such as Valium and Xanax), and heroin as the body’s detoxification process could produce an extreme reaction.
If your child’s substance use is still somewhat manageable, individual therapies and support groups, as well as family therapy, may be helpful in curbing drug abuse.
Step 7: Consider a Sober Living Home
After your child completes an inpatient program, they may benefit from structured support in the step-down process. Sober living homes provide your child with a healthy, positive, substance-free environment while allowing them to practice skills, utilize their independence, and craft a life for themselves, away from distractions and negative influences. Sober living homes also create a social support network to ensure accountability and positive influences.
New Life House is a structured sober living house for young men in recovery. We help families practice effective communication regarding boundaries and expectations for a life after addiction. We have experience changing young men’s lives for over 35 years. We incorporate a comprehensive approach toward recovery, utilizing detoxification, drug or alcohol rehabilitation, peer accountability, structure, clinical services, and behavioral modification to bring about long-term sobriety
Last Updated on September 12, 2023