Treating Teenage Addicts: Advice for Parents
Children and adolescents start to hear anti-drug messages at young ages. Parents tell them not to drugs at home, and teachers repeat the message at school. But every year thousands of teens try alcohol and other drugs, and some of them become addicted.
If parents believe their son or daughter is using drugs, they should intervene quickly but wisely. Most parents know that teens don’t communicate or think the same way adults do. That’s because the brain continues to develop until a person is about 25 years old.
Parents have to be strategic when discussing drug abuse.
Don’t lecture, demand or threaten. Ask for questions. Listen to their thoughts or concerns. Have a two-way discussion about the risks of alcohol or other drugs, but be clear that using them is unacceptable.
Addressing addiction is a different story. Someone who is addicted doesn’t think or rationalize like other people. The brain’s chemistry has been changed to crave the substance, and it’s been programmed to believe consuming the substance is a top priority.
Parents should try to identify warnings signs for addiction, such as:
- Changes in appearance
- Hanging around new friends
- Mood swings
- Dilated pupils
- Chronic drowsiness
- Sporadic health problems
If parents are worried that their child is addicted, they can try to have a conversation to see if the child will open up. When children aren’t cooperative, parents should take them to a doctor, therapist or addiction specialist for an assessment.
When children are diagnosed with a substance use disorder, parents should try to convince them to go to treatment willingly. If they refuse, then parents should force them to go. Make sure that the child knows he or she is going to rehab because people love them and want them to get better.
Treating Teenage Addicts
Addiction treatment for teens varies depending on what caused the substance use disorder. Genetic predisposition, a stressful home environment, neighborhood influences and a variety of other factors can lead to addiction.
Regardless of the age of the patient, treatment always begins with detox. Teens will go through detox under the supervision of health professionals who can use a variety of medications or medical techniques to keep the patient as safe and comfortable as possible.
After detox, teens with severe drug addictions may stay at an inpatient facility for four weeks or longer. At inpatient facilities, they’ll undergo group therapy with peers. They’ll receive individual counseling, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, and they’ll learn how to maintain sobriety.
If substance abuse was caused by a traumatic event, they may receive post-traumatic stress disorder treatment such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy.
If it was caused by an unstable family environment, parents and siblings may be asked to participate in family therapy. During family therapy, each family member will learn how to communicate effectively, reduce interactions that cause tension and how to help one another.
Teens with less severe addictions or those who complete inpatient programs often attend outpatient therapy. Outpatient therapists use the same counseling techniques that inpatient therapists use, but they can continue treatment for longer periods of time.
Therapists rarely use medications such as methadone or naloxone to treat teens despite some evidence that the medications are effective. Few studies on addiction medications have included participants younger than 18 years old.
The most important thing parents can do is to continue to love and support their child before, during and after treatment. Drive your child to appointments and support group meetings. Listen when your child wants to talk. Reward positive behavior, but enforce strict rules and consequences.
Know that relapse and slips are common, but sustained recovery is possible.
Levy, S. (2016, August). Medication-Assisted Treatment of Adolescents With Opioid Use Disorders. Retrieved from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/08/18/peds.2016-1893
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012, December). Behavioral Therapies Primarily for Adolescents. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/evidence-based-approaches-to-drug-addiction-treatment/behavioral-6
Chris Elkins is a senior writer and researcher for DrugRehab.com. He writes about addiction-related topics, reports the latest news and tells stories of recovery.