Your child is in treatment, but so are you. To achieve sustainable change, the whole family system must change. It is important to be open to exploring ways that your family may be inadvertently perpetuating your loved one’s problem. This does not mean blaming yourself for your child’s drug use, but rather remaining open and curious about the family’s role in their struggles. Families who succeed in treatment often find that they are all transformed in the process, not just the “identified patient” who is abusing substances.
At Sandstone Care, sometimes we see parents advocating to get their children out of program requirements, trying to explain away results of drug testing, or otherwise fighting against the program, “for” their child. Of course, you want to defend and protect your child—this is wired into parents from their children’s birth.
However, when taken too far, this instinct can create learned helplessness in your child, and reinforce a belief that they cannot successfully advocate for themselves. It can also create problematic “triangles” between the client, family members, and treatment team. If your child believes they are being treated unfairly or would like to see a change in their treatment, listen supportively, and encourage them to advocate for themselves.
Remember that the treatment team you are working with is highly experienced and that, being one step removed from the family dynamic, they are able to see things that may be hard for you to recognize. Ideally, the dynamic between you and the treatment team should feel collaborative.
An outpatient program is a big commitment for both the parents and the child. However, it is also time-limited. Think of these 2–3 initial months as an investment towards long-term success. You signal to your family the importance of treatment when you change your conference call in order to make your family therapy session, and block off Wednesday evenings for a multi-family group. You may also be amazed that when you show that you are willing to change and sacrifice as part of the process, your child shows greater willingness to do the same. This does not mean that you take on all the responsibility of program requirements, but it does mean that you are setting an example and demonstrating your own commitment to the process.
This may at times seem contrary to the previous point, but both things are true: you as a parent are setting the example and demonstrating your own commitment, and your child is ultimately responsible for their own recovery. For example, you are responsible for being at a multi-family group, but perhaps your child can take public transportation to arrive at IOP groups. While this program is a commitment for all, it should not require you to put your entire life on hold.
You cannot control your child. You can only control your own actions. However, as a parent, you do have a great deal of influence over your child. One of the best ways you can both influence your child and keep your own sanity is by establishing clear boundaries and sticking to them.
It may not seem like it, but teenagers need boundaries in order to feel safe, and you as a parent need them too! A clear boundary is empowering for both parties and allows each party to make a choice. If your teen clearly understands that in order to spend time with friends on the weekend, they must make it to all program activities and get a negative drug test, they can then choose based on this understanding.
While we at Sandstone practice creating clear boundaries and consequences, it is you as parents who have the most power in this regard. The therapists at Sandstone can help you clarify helpful boundaries for your family, but ultimately it is up to you to follow through on them.
The more that you understand about substance abuse and addiction, the more you will be able to respond compassionately and appropriately to your loved one.
Some of the teens and young adults that we see at Sandstone have fully progressed to chemical dependency. Some are abusing substances and engaging in destructive behavior, but are not truly chemically dependent. Even if your teen is in the early stages of substance abuse, it is important to learn about the way addiction can progress, and the negative impact substances can have on developing brains and bodies.
In addition to learning about the effect of substances and addiction in general, learn about it as it applies to your loved one:
You have probably heard airline attendants instruct passengers on planes to “secure your oxygen mask before assisting others.” This is excellent advice for family members embarking on the recovery journey as well.
If you are not eating well and getting exercise and sleep, you will not be at your best. It is important for you to model self-care for your child, as well as to protect your own sanity. When you take care of yourself, everyone benefits.
In the family dynamics that can often arise around substance abuse and addiction, everything begins to revolve around the person abusing substances. It is important to take a step back and make the choice for self-care. Get tea with a friend. Go for a walk. Have a date night. Recovery is a marathon, not a sprint.
When parents/guardians can present a united front and a consistent message, it is very powerful. It is natural for teens to test boundaries and explore whether they will get a different response from one parent than from another. As much as possible, try to be consistent in your approach so that your child cannot “shop” for the answer they are looking for.
If you and your spouse, or ex, or partner, do not agree on the approach to take with your child, it is important to work this out away from your child. If you need to seek additional professional help to get on the same page, do so. This is an example of what we mean when we say that the whole family is in treatment and everyone must change! (See number 1).
Very few lifestyle changes we try to make have black and white terms we often impose on substance abuse and recovery.
Think about it—if you are trying to lose weight and you miss one day at the gym, do you think that you have completely failed and had a “relapse”? Probably not. You recognize that you may need to make some adjustments to get back on track, and may take steps such as enlisting a workout buddy.
Expect that your child will make mistakes. Hold them accountable, but treat it as a problem to solve:
It can be very difficult to maintain a positive relationship with your child when they are not behaving as you’d like them to. However, it is when they are struggling the most that they most need your love and support. This does not mean enabling their negative behaviors; it means communicating your unconditional care and acceptance of them as a person, apart from their actions.
Most teens, on a deep level, become afraid that their parents do not like or care for them when they are acting out. Maintaining a secure connection and communicating love is important even (especially!) when your teen is at their worst.
Sandstone Care provides outpatient treatment for adolescents and young adults struggling with drug and alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorders. We also provide a transitional living program for young men in Denver, CO. Our individualized treatment plans address every aspect of recovery and include extensive family involvement, academic and vocational support, and top-notch mental health assessment and treatment. If you think your loved one may need help with a substance abuse problem, call us today at (888) 850-1890.