For too many people in our society, substance abuse starts early in life. Considering all the ways substance use is glorified, one wonders how it could be any other way.
By the time children transition to adolescence, they have seen countless instances of substance use glorification in movies and video games, It is a major theme in popular music. Much of this messaging seems to be specifically catering to teens and young adults. It is useful to remember that the brain is not really developed until 25 years of age. Till then, the ability to make good decisions are compromised.
Society has set up far too many of our most vulnerable treasures to fail, and has provided far too few ways out of the trap. It is incumbent on our better angels to respond with empathy rather than anger, hope rather than despair, help rather than retribution. If you have a teen who is suffering from substance abuse, here are a few ways you can be the resource they need most:
Don’t Wait for Things to Get Worse
One of the biggest mistakes a parent can make is failure to act on the first sure sign of teen substance abuse. Meaning well, some parents assume that they used illicit substances at that age and turned out just fine. But it is not wise to assume that your kids are going through exactly the same situation as you did, or that they will handle it as well.
Coronavirus and our global response to the pandemic is like nothing experienced in our lifetime. It can be the source of such stress and anxiety that it overwhelms one’s ability to cope with the mechanisms that have worked in the past for other things.
While no two people react exactly the same to addictive chemicals, we know that it doesn’t get better the longer it goes untreated. On the contrary, it gets worse, and becomes that much more difficult to overcome. That is why it is vital that you act quickly to get the right help in the early stages when the help can do the most good.
Let Them Experience Help By Helping Others
Part of recovery is paying it forward. Often, people suffering from substance use disorder get so wrapped up in themselves that they fail to recognize their place in the bigger picture of humanity. Under the supervision of a medical professional, provide your teen with the opportunity to reengage with society in a healthy way by volunteering their aid to others.
It can be especially useful for troubled teens to volunteer some time helping seniors. It doesn’t have to be in person, a thing increasingly difficult in these Covid times. It could be time spent in conversation over video. It could be helping seniors learn to use technology better, or allowing a senior in the family to pass on a skill like sewing or cooking.
Giving help can make one more open to receiving it. Helping a senior can help your teen find their place in the bigger tapestry.
Give Them the Space to Be Imperfect
Don’t panic. It is surprisingly good advice for an awful lot of things. Yes, you should act quickly and decisively at the first sign of trouble. But that doesn’t mean you should lose your head in the midst of a crisis.
According to the National Institute of Health, relapse is normal. It is not an indicator that treatment has failed.
Treatment of chronic diseases involves changing deeply rooted behaviors, and relapse doesn’t mean treatment has failed. When a person recovering from an addiction relapses, it indicates that the person needs to speak with their doctor to resume treatment, modify it, or try another treatment.
Nobody’s perfect. This is equally true for people who have never suffered from substance use disorder. It is an illness that can be treated with medication, care, and time. Give your recovering teen the grace and space to be their marvelous, imperfect selves. As with other illnesses, recovery is a marathon and not a sprint.
If you have a teen suffering from substance use disorder, you have not failed as a parent and they have not failed as a child. Act early when the help can do the most good. Get them involved in meaningful volunteerism. And don’t panic if they don’t achieve perfection with the first attempt.