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What Should You Do If Your Child Is an Addict?

“I wanted to speak to another mother. I felt like I needed to connect with those mothers who were going through the same pain and trauma that I was going through… When it came to my children, I was willing to do anything; I was willing as a mother to do anything I could if it would possibly save them… I needed to connect with the primal emotion of a mother’s love and the desperation felt when that love is put under siege by the horror of the child’s addiction.” ~ Barbara Theodosiou, founder of The Addict’s Mom

There is perhaps no greater pain for a parent than discovering that one of their children is addicted to drugs. No matter what the circumstances, it always comes as a shock, because parents are of the mentality that “it can’t happen in my family” and that addiction is something experienced by “some other person’s kids.” Yet, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, results coming from their 2014 “Monitoring the Future” drug survey, drug experimentation, regular use, abuse, and alcoholism are all real dangers facing America’s teenagers right now.

Frightening Statistics about Teenage Drug Abuse in America

While overall use of illicit drugs for all school-age children declined in 2014, that is only encouraging in the fact that it declined in comparison to past years. Take a look at some of the findings –

  • 27.2% of all school-age children used an illicit drug within the past year
  • 6.5% of 8th-graders used marijuana within the past month
  • 16.6% of 10th-graders used marijuana within the past month
  • 21.2% of twelfth-graders used marijuana within the last month
  • approximately 6% of 12-graders admit to using marijuana daily
  • 9% of 8th-graders reported using alcohol within the last month
  • 23.5% of 10th-graders reported using alcohol within the last month
  • 37.4 % of 12-graders reported using alcohol within the last month
  • 19.4% of high-school seniors reported binge-drinking – having five or more drinks in a row – within the last month
  • 4.8% of 12-graders used Vicodin non-medically in 2014
  • 6.8% of 12-graders used Adderall non-medically in 2014
  • 1.8% of 12-graders used Ritalin non-medically in 2014
  • 2.8 % of 8th-graders used cough and cold medicines containing dextromethorphan non-medically in 2014
  • 7.1% of high-school seniors used narcotics other than heroin in 2014, which includes all opioid pain relievers
  • 2.3% of 10th-graders used ecstasy in 2014
  • 5.8% of 12th-graders used synthetic cannabinoids such as K2 or Spice in 2014
  • 5.3% of 8th-graders reported using inhalants within the past year
  • 2.6% of high-school seniors used cocaine within the past year.

If some of those percentages seem low enough to not warrant any special concern, consider this – there are approximately 18.5 million students enrolled in grades 8 through 12 in the United States. Doing the math, there are millions of students in this country at risk of addiction.

What Can a Parent Do When Their Child Is Addicted to Drugs?

Obviously, the bad news is that there are so many children using and possibly addicted to drugs. The good news is that parents can do much more than they might think to protect their children. Here is the most important thing you need to remember – you have to do something. You absolutely cannot be of the mindset that teen experimentation with drugs is “no big deal”, even if you did the same when you were younger. Today’s “designer drugs” are much more powerful than the substances used generations ago. The abuse of prescription opioid pain medications is a far greater problem in America than it was when you were a teenager. Even today’s strains of marijuana have higher amounts of THC than in years past.

You Can’t “Fix” Your Drug-Addicted Child without Professional Help

The first thing a parent needs to do if their teenager is addicted to drugs is to seek professional help. Addiction is a cunning and insidious disease that will only get worse if ignored. Addiction is not something that can be reasoned with, bargained with, threatened, bribed, cajoled, or fooled. There is virtually nothing you can say or do that will convince your child to give up drugs if they are truly addicted. You will want to try. You will hear promises and apologies and “I’ll never do it again”, but in the end, those are just empty words spoken by the disease, not by your child. If you try to do this alone, you are setting yourself up for heartbreak and failure. You must come to understand that the regular use of drugs or alcohol creates physical and chemical changes in the brain, and these effects are greatly magnified in a teenager’s still-developing brain. The nature of addiction means that the sufferer is powerless over the drug, and as a result, their life is unraveling and becoming unmanageable. Because this is a disease – and no longer a choice – you cannot talk to your child as their parent and expect them just “stop”, any more than you could talk them out of having cancer or diabetes. The bad news is there is no cure for addiction. The good news is that addiction is a disease that can be managed. The progress of the disease can be arrested, and with proper care, diligence, and lifestyle changes, your child can live a normal, sober, and productive life.

What Happens When I Talk to an Addiction Specialist?

When you make an appointment with a certified addiction counselor or a licensed medical professional specializing in the treatment of addiction, the first thing that will happen is an intake/assessment, where your child will be medically screen for drug use and any other related physical or mental health conditions. This is so the specialist knows what they are dealing with. You and your child will also give the addiction specialist a case history, citing your concerns and any behaviors you may have noticed, while your child will be given the opportunity to honestly and safely discuss their actual drug use. More than likely, you will have an interview with a certified specialist or a licensed psychologist, psychiatrist to determine if there are any mental disorders co-occurring with the addiction. This is very common, with most addicts and alcoholics also meeting the criteria for a clinical diagnosis of such disorders as anxiety, depression, PTSD. In most cases, the first recommended step will be for your child to undergo drug detoxification. This is when they get “physically clean” from the abused substance. The idea is that they cannot be open to the message of recovery while they are still feeling the overwhelming compulsion to use. Usually, drug detoxification starts just hours after the last use of the drug and will last anywhere from a few days to two weeks, depending upon the abused substance. When any addictive substance is stopped, the newly-sober addict will begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms within hours. The symptoms can range from the mildly uncomfortable to severely unpleasant to downright hazardous, depending upon the drug that was used and the amount/frequency of use. The most common drug withdrawal symptoms include –

  • strong drug cravings
  • anxiety
  • irritability
  • mood swings
  • tremors
  • vomiting/nausea/diarrhea
  • muscle aches
  • headaches
  • flu-like symptoms
  • insomnia

In most cases, quitting drugs is done “cold turkey”, with no further dosages allowed. Some drugs are best discontinued by a “tapering off”, where the dosages are gradually reduced. Some drugs, such as benzodiazepine tranquilizers or alcohol can have withdrawal symptoms that are so severe as to be life-threatening. For this reason, it is always recommended that drug detoxification the professionally monitored by an experienced medical staff. When necessary, the staff may recommend certain medications to safely alleviate the worst symptoms of drug withdrawal.

Inpatient Rehab

In a perfect world, the absolute best solution for your child’s drug problem is for them to check into a residential inpatient drug rehabilitation facility. This will be a closely-monitored and structured environment where they will be taught the necessary skills and given the necessary tools to live a clean and sober life. Some of the focuses of inpatient rehab include –

  • education about drugs and what leads a person to use them
  • therapy – to include individual, group, peer-led, and family
  • learning new coping strategies
  • keeping away from the people, places, and things that contribute to drug use
  • replacing bad habits with good ones
  • how to avoid “triggers”
  • relapse prevention

Best of all, your child will be in a drug-free safe environment while their brain physically and chemically returns to normal. Statistics show that inpatient rehab programs are most successful when they are of a duration of 90 days are longer.

Outpatient Drug Rehab

Unfortunately, inpatient drug rehab is not an ideal situation for every family, because of expense, family obligations, or school. In many cases, their needs can be met by a structured outpatient drug rehab program. Most of the same information provided in an inpatient setting is given here, albeit in a less-structured environment. Typically, your child (and sometimes you) will be required to attend therapy/counseling sessions several times a week at the outpatient facility. Most facilities require that regular drug testing occur, and this can be a source of comfort to a parent when they are shown their child’s ongoing sobriety. The chief benefit of outpatient drug rehab is its flexibility to your lifestyle and obligations. Your child will still be able to live at home, still be able to attend school, and still be present for all family events. Another big advantage of outpatient drug rehab is the cost. Inpatient residential drug treatment can easily cost dozens of thousands of dollars, while outpatient attendance will cost a fraction of that. In both cases, however, most of the cost of treatment may be taking care of by insurance.

12-Step Support Groups

Many teenagers receive the message of recovery better when it is coming from their peers. 12-Step recovery groups like Alateen and Narateen are informal peer-led fellowship groups where teenagers who are recovering addicts and alcoholics can meet and share stories and give encouragement and support to others in their age group facing the same challenges. When your child is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it can be the most painful and lonely feeling in the world. It is important to remember that you are not alone, and the professional addiction staff helping your child will also strongly recommend that you receive services yourself as someone who has an addicted loved one. It may seem impossible, but while your child is recovering, you have to continue to live your life and take care of the rest of your family. If you were yourself sick or drive yourself crazy over a disease that you cannot control, you will be doing your child no favors. Remember, you cannot be there for your child if you are not there for yourself first. There is hope. There is recovery. It will take time, effort, and patience, but in the end, it is entirely possible for your child to come back to you as a whole as they ever were.