Parents: Think like a teen to help child recover from substance abuse

Easy access to drugs and alcohol and social pressures to conform complicate recovery for teens and young adults.

And with college and adulthood ahead of them, the idea of not drinking or using drugs for the “rest of their lives,” can seem like an eternity.

“Telling them they will never be able to drink in college, socialize with friends over a beer or celebrate their 21st birthday with a drink is a hard sell for young adults in recovery,” says Michael Rios, an addictions counselor who treats young adults age 18 to 30 in The Menninger Clinic’s Compass Program. Rios says recovery from substance abuses involves preparing for relapse.

He adds that many young adults don’t think they are addicted because they are experimenting with many different drugs, instead of abusing one drug. Teens or young adults who have experienced few consequences from using drugs or alcohol may not see the need for staying sober. Adding to their feelings of invincibility, many teens and young adults don’t experience painful withdrawal symptoms when they stop using drugs because their bodies are young and strong.

“Teens don’t have as much physical addiction to drugs and alcohol, but their psychological dependence is great,” says Lynn D’Antoni, an addictions counselor for Menninger’s Adolescent Treatment Program, which treats young adults age 12 to 17. “Teens (using drugs or alcohol) lose control very quickly. Once they control the way they feel through chemicals, they get hooked.”

Ongoing treatment support is essential for recovery, and may be a challenge to find because few support groups and 12-step groups are geared to young adults and teens.

At The Menninger Clinic, D’Antoni and Rios work hard to place young adults in support groups with people their own age and look for group meetings and activities held on Friday and Saturday nights, critical times when teens are more likely to drink or use drugs. The goal is to help teens and young adults learn that they can socialize without abusing substances.

“Many young adults think everyone they know is drinking or smoking pot, because everyone in their world of 20 or 30 people are,” Rios says. “They are surprised to learn that the majority of people outside of their social circle do not use drugs or alcohol.”

Support groups are also helpful for parents of teens and young adults in recovery. For parents of teens in recovery, D’Antoni recommends they attend support groups and 12-step programs together with their teen and attend family counseling. Vulnerability to addiction often runs in families. Also, the family environment influences the coping strategies a person develops in life. Counseling can help family members communicate with each other in a more constructive manner.

“Dysfunctional communication is common in families who have children who are battling addiction,” D’Antoni says. “Feelings aren’t expressed, needs aren’t asked for and unhealthy patterns of communication are the norm.”

Counseling can also help parents learn how to establish boundaries for their teens that will make them feel secure, but not too restricted.

Parents have less control of what their child does once he or she turns 18, but their support is still critical to a young adult’s recovery from addiction. Because relapse is very common in the first year of recovery, parents should be attuned to how their child’s life is going, and recognize signs of relapse such as changes in mood and behavior, depression, irregular attendance at treatment meetings and lying.

“Trust your gut if you think something is wrong, and talk to your child,” Rios says. “The key to a successful recovery is communication.”

From a press release of the Menninger Clinic.

The Truth About Kids, Alcohol, and Other Drugs- How to Recognize the Problem and What to Do About It

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