Struggling with Teen and Young Adult Drug or Alcohol Abuse
Nearly every week, I hear from a distressed parent how frustrated they are with their adolescent or young adult’s drug or alcohol abuse. They feel as if they are hitting their head against the wall. They tell me that they have tried everything. They have lectured, begged, cajoled, threatened, provided pamphlets, talked to their pastor, recommended drug rehab programs, tried to set limits, made their kids take drug tests, talked to school counselors, and prayed. They don’t know what to do to help their son or daughter see that they have a problem.
For example, Joe, a teenager, doesn’t feel that his marijuana use is a problem. After all, he says, it’s now legal in Washington. His replies to his parent’s appeals---“It helps me relax. I can focus better. It helps me fall asleep at night. I feel good when I smoke!” He doesn’t believe that it has any negative effects on his behavior. He uses it daily. The problem—he doesn’t do much else besides smoking pot.
Marijuana is one drug. But what if your son or daughter is abusing alcohol, getting drunk, passing out, and getting sick. What if they are using harder drugs—heroin, cocaine, speed, or ecstasy?
When your youngster is a teenager, they are still living with you, under your roof. You are responsible for their care and feeding and yet, there are many times, when you have little authority or influence over their choices. And you feel like you are always picking up the pieces. They make a mess, and then you have to clean it up. It’s very frustrating—especially when they are making poor choices. Parents feel powerless.
Nowadays, more young adults live at home with their parents because they can’t find a job or they are in school. And even if they work, they may not be able to afford to live independently. While they are older, it is hard for parents to know what to do when these older kids are abusing drugs or alcohol.
When I do finally see these kids in my office, their parents are praying that I will come up some magic incantation that will influence their kid where their appeals fell on deaf ears. Parents hope that when I tell Joe he has a problem that he will believe it.
Unfortunately, that is the exception rather than the rule. More typically, I employ a method called “motivational interviewing” which focuses on having the user discuss the pros and cons of their drug use—how they think it affects the way they feel, act, or make choices. The goal is to help them explore their own mixed feelings about their use of drugs. Motivational interviewing aims to help the individual explore their motivation to change. Sadly, there is no magic wand here. The user has to come to the decision to make change, before any treatment can help.
Parents can help users experience the negative consequences of their behavior (an important component in motivation for change) by not interfering with the legal, social or vocational penalties that can come from drug or alcohol abuse.
They can also make reasonable demands—no illegal drugs in the house. Its important for parents to realize that if these drugs are found in their home, they can be held liable. Young adults, over age 18, can find another place to live if they intend to use drugs. This kind of “tough love” is hard to administer. But it also is a reality check. The consequences of your life’s decisions are the best prescription for motivating change.
Recognizing the need for change, deciding to make change, and seeking help can be a process that occurs over time, and must come from within. Sometimes this is the hardest thing to accept.
If your son or daughter has received help for drug or alcohol abuse, what helped them take the first step?