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How Do You Talk To Your Spouse Or Family About Your Teen Or Young Adult’s Substance Use?

Updated 03 August 2021 Written by Clint MallyClinically Reviewed by Sarah Fletcher, LPC, LAC
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Table of Contents

When talking about your teen or young adult’s substance use, you really want to focus on education and communication. 

You also want to make sure that you communicate internally as a family system and have an ongoing conversation with all family members about treatment programs, mental health, and substance use disorders.

Internal communication among family is critical to helping your child with a substance use disorder. You need open communication without fear of judgment to bring the family into an ongoing conversation about recovery and supporting your loved one.

When communicating with your spouse or other loved ones about your concerns, be sure to:

  • Have their full attention: no distractions, cell phones turned off or put away, etc.
  • Find a private space to talk
  • Make eye contact
  • Speak from a place of concern, not lectures or accusations
  • Be direct and honest
  • Listen to their perspective

The best approach is fostering an environment of open communication. Be attentive when addressing your concerns, listen to others, and don’t worry about who is “right” or “wrong,” just get the conversation going!

couple having an argument

What If One Partner Doesn’t Think Their Child Has A Problem And The Other Does?

When you disagree with your partner about a child’s behaviors, you are not in a place to address the behavior.

Families and couples need to be a united front. Everyone needs to be on the same page before moving forward. Open communication really is the staple of addressing what’s happening within a family dynamic.

If you express concern about your child’s behavior and your parenting partner isn’t on the same page, you need to seek support first. Support is important to make sure you understand where the other person’s coming from before moving forward.

If everyone is not on the same page as a united front, helping your child with substance use disorder will not work.

Then you are setting yourselves up for splitting behavior and long-term arguments down the line, creating a disconnect with your child. You can have a difference of opinion, disagree, and challenge each other because often, that’s the only way to come to a better solution.

However, when you and your partner aren’t on the same page, and your child does not have clear rules, you need to listen to each other, feel heard, and develop a plan to get to a good place.

couple having an argument

Could Not Communicating With Your Partner Cause More Issues For Your Child?

Not communicating with your partner can cause and bring on feelings of guilt and shame as a child thinks, “Now I’m causing issues between my parents!” 

A lack of communication between you and your partner sends your child the message, “This is something that I could probably get away with,” or “this is something that I can use to my advantage from a strategic standpoint.”

When you want to create a place of open communication, you cannot shut your partner out. Your child might see you as a hypocrite, which could lead to them not taking you seriously.

Children will look to you as their role models for open communication.

Adolescents and young adults will pick up on the tension between you and your partner. It is important to make sure that both partners are on the same page before moving forward with any intervention.

If you are going to move forward with treatment, you need to get on the same page with your partner. It would be best to be a united front, or the chances of success are much lower.

Teen girl bullied through social media

What’s The Most Effective Type Of Therapy To Be Able To Address Teens Or Young Adults With A Substance Use Disorder?

The most effective type of therapy to address teens or young adults with substance use disorders is cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT. 

CBT looks at what led to behavior like substance or alcohol use and then identifying the consequence and outcome of that behavior.

By understanding the cause and effect of underage drinking, drug use, alcohol abuse, or other behaviors, you can connect the dots to find healthy ways for young people to meet their needs.

For example, if your child sneaks out of the house to spend time with my friends, then the negative consequence is that they are grounded for two weeks for not following clear rules.

In this example, what was the need? Was your child lonely? Did they get into an argument with you and wanted to escape? Look at the emotions behind the behavior, and ask if your child was meeting a need by sneaking out.

While you might set a negative consequence to stop the behavior, you must also teach your child healthy ways to meet that need. In CBT, the cause and effect of behavior are viewed as the child getting a need met.

With CBT for substance use disorder, a therapist will look at the need for behavior and why your kid thinks that drug or alcohol use meets these needs. Once you get to the cause of the behavior, you can find ways to get what they need that will not affect their well-being.

CBT is an evidence-based practice that has been proven to help teens and young adults with many issues, like substance abuse, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other mental health concerns.

parents-having-conversation-with-teen-son

How Do Teen’s And Young Adult’s Developing Brains Learn New Habits?

Teen’s and young adult’s developing brains learn new habits by growing neural pathways when engaging in a behavior.

The brain creates new neural pathways every single day. Think of your brain like a forest, where neural pathways are the trees. The trees that are watered and nurtured will continue to grow. The trees that are not cared for will not grow.

Building new habits and creating new coping skills works in our brain in the same way. The more that we practice healthy habits, discuss them and understand what works and what doesn’t work, the more our habits grow.

Struggling with substance use will not be the same level of cravings and level of need forever. Cravings can be intense, and they can come up from time to time.

But the more that teens and young adults practice those healthy coping skills, the more they can learn healthy ways of living, and make health a habit to replace addiction and substance use.

Mother and daughter meeting with a therapist

Is There A More Effective Treatment For Substance Abuse Compared To Mental Health Conditions?

Treatment effectiveness depends on what a young person struggles with and who they are.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been statistically proven to have the most positive outcomes for substance use disorders and addiction.

For mental health, you might want to consider dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), which is similar to CBT. DBT is more designed towards how to get your needs met without manipulation and communicating in a healthy way.

Both CBT and DBT can be effective in treating both substance abuse and mental health issues, especially for young people with co-occurring disorders. Depending upon the causes of addiction, one type of therapy might be more effective than another.

Meeting your kids where they’re at in the recovery process and staying mindful in the present moment is also beneficial to addiction recovery and stability with mental health.

The effectiveness of treatment also depends on the stage of change that you are in:

  • Precontemplation: Not even thinking about making a change and do not see a problem with substance use.
  • Contemplation: The young person thinks that their alcohol or drug use might be a problem. They might be “on-the-fence” about treatment.
  • Preparation: They are ready to make changes to address their substance abuse. They begin making a plan for treatment.
  • Action: They are now following through with their plan by entering a treatment center, beginning outpatient therapy, attending support groups, or other steps toward a healthy life.
  • Maintenance: They have been changing habits for at least three months now, and healthy ways of living are becoming habits. Now, they work at maintaining their sobriety.
  • Relapse: When a person slips or begins using substances again, they have relapsed. They often learn from the relapse and can get back to taking action.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 40-60% of people in recovery will relapse during their recovery. 

Depending on the stage of change, a therapist might use a different therapy solution for a teen or young adult with substance use disorder. During the action stage, the therapist could dive into practicing coping strategies, emotional stability, and goals.

The stages of change are not linear. Your child might take a step back after a big life event, like a breakup, the death of a loved one, or graduating high school. Treatment will depend on what a young person is going through at that time.

group-talking

What Is The Difference Between Group And Individual Therapy?

The difference between group and individual therapy is that in group therapy, you get a therapist’s expertise along with other people in a similar position that makes you feel less alone.

Group therapy is the most effective way to deliver services for someone struggling with a substance use disorder. With group therapy, you get the “power of the peers.” Many young people are comforted knowing that they are not alone.

Group therapy for substance use is incredibly beneficial. It also helps encourage not keeping secrets, which keep you safe when you’re using. A saying used in the recovery community is “secrets keep you sick.”

When you are not sharing what’s really happening in an authentic way, you protect your addiction.

With group therapy, you get the advantages of a support group with the guidance of a therapist as you learn and share ways of managing your substance use disorder.

parents-having-discussion-outside-on-deck

Why Should Parents Not Worry About Their Child Being In Group Therapy With Other Teens Or Young People With A Substance Use Problems?

It would help if you did not worry about your child in group therapy because young people in treatment centers are held accountable not to use substances.

Accountability is held by regular testing for alcohol or drug use. At a treatment center, your child and other young people in treatment might have urine tests, breathalyzers, or other forms of testing to ensure that they are sober.

Treatment centers also have open communication among clients to discuss relapses and slips without fear of judgment.

Your child may not have the same substance use disorder that other young people in that group maybe have experienced. They’re all in a place where they’re working to make changes and work towards sobriety.

Young people are heavily influenced by peer pressure, especially regarding substance and alcohol use. Your child’s peer group can have an impact on what kind of habits are nurtured. Support groups offer “positive peer pressure” to recover from substance abuse.

The people in this group setting are all learning and practicing coping skills. They’re actively learning how to stay sober, emotionally regulate, and learn to live a  healthy and effective life.

Kids and young adults are safer with peers in a treatment environment, even though that means they could be working and learning skills with others who have used different substances.

People support each other in a rehab session

What Makes A Treatment Program Effective?

A treatment program is effective when everyone recognizes that addiction recovery is a process with no start or end.

Depending on what is occurring at the moment and what stage of change the person is in, an effective treatment program will be flexible to address these needs for your child. Some days might be heavy, where other days in treatment are light and fun.

You get out of it what you put into it. Treatment is effective if you come to the table completely open and ready to look at the hard stuff, answer really tough questions, and go through some heartache.

Being open to understanding that you don’t understand is the most effective tool you can bring to treatment. 

The treatment process has many different layers and levels. Your child is unique with different coping skills and interests than other young people in treatment. By being open to these differences, your child can work to create an effective treatment program with their team.

Find an effective treatment program also teaches healthy ways of living by teaching young people:

  • Valuable life and vocational skills
  • Healthy nutrition
  • Building a support system
  • Mindfulness
  • Importance of exercise in recovery

Recovery is not just about sobriety. It is about finding healthy ways to live a full and happy life without using drugs or drinking alcohol to cope with stress.

How Important Is The “Openness” Of The Family, When Supporting A Teen Or Young Adult With A Substance Use Disorder?

The openness of the family is fundamental to support a teen or young adult with a substance use disorder.

Recovery is a family process, which is not about blame or finding fault with others. Family members can come into the treatment process to join their child in the journey of recovery.

Therapists want to understand the home environment, dynamics within the home, and family history contributing to young adult and teen substance abuse. Family support is part of the united front that your child needs to succeed in their treatment.

Diverse people in a support group session

Why Is Community Important When Trying To Stay Sober Long-Term?

Recovery communities and alumni programs are essential for staying out of isolation and remaining connected to a peer group.

With the community of recovery in a support group, you get to practice your recovery skills with others. Treatment is not a “one-and-done” part of a young person’s recovery. The recovery community helps young people stay in the maintenance stage of change.

The importance of community is having people and a peer group who understand what you’re going through. Even when you leave treatment, maintaining community and support through a group of individuals who truly understand what it’s like to walk in your shoes is important.

The empathy of a support group is highly undervalued. While treatment is an effective part of recovery, you need to feel supported, valued, care for, and like you belong within a peer group. Community is a valuable part of any treatment program for substance use disorders.

Many young people support one another at treatment centers and build relationships that could last a lifetime during recovery. Many treatment centers have alumni programs to keep clients engaged in the recovery community.

Open communication among family members is important to treating teen substance abuse. At Sandstone Care, we understand that healthy family systems are crucial to helping young people in recovery.  Let’s take the next steps together! Call us today at (888) 850-1890.