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7 Substance Abuse and Addiction Facts Parents Usually Get Wrong

Sharon was worried about her son, Tom. His grades were slipping, he hardly came out of his room, and he just quit the basketball team. She knew something was wrong, but had no idea what it could be. Sharon tried talking to her son, but that usually led to an argument.

What she didn’t know was Tom had been abusing prescription painkillers for months. He started taking the pills after having wisdom tooth surgery…and never stopped. He liked the feeling that came over him after taking a few pills. But now Tom needed to feed his habit or he felt shaky and sick. Unfortunately, this scenario is common in our society today and some parents, like Sharon, could find it difficult to recognize the warning signs of substance abuse.

The Scoop on Substance Abuse

Child holding two pills in the handsAs the opioid epidemic continues to grow, parents are bombarded with information about the dangers of substance abuse on a daily basis. But when it comes to addiction, it can be difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. Widespread myths circulate and details about this disease are commonly misunderstood. Parents can end up feeling confused and ill-prepared to support a teen struggling with substance abuse.

To ensure you’re properly equipped to help your child, review the following basic facts about chemical dependency:

  • Fact #1 – Substance Abuse Alters Brain ChemistryWhen your teen begins to abuse drugs, he could become enticed by the feelings of induced euphoria. With continued use, the neurotransmitters in his brain are rewired to crave those feelings. The desire to reach an even better “high” leads him down the path of continued substance abuse and his use becomes a compulsion. At this point, it’s no longer about feeling good; he physically needs the drug or he’ll begin experiencing symptoms of withdrawal.
  • Fact #2 – Recovery is a ProcessGoing “cold turkey” isn’t a realistic expectation and can even be life-threatening. It’s important to keep in mind recovery doesn’t happen in a day (or even 28). Do some research about the disease of addiction. This knowledge allows you to provide the right kind of support during the recovery process, as achieving sustained sobriety will take time and effort. He might have to work through denial, conflicting emotions, making behavioral changes, and coping with challenges without the use of alcohol or drugs. He may even relapse one or more times. But a proper understanding of this difficult undertaking will help you and your child achieve a positive outcome.
  • Fact #3 – You Don’t Have to Wait for “Rock Bottom”You’ve heard the saying: people who are dependent on drugs or alcohol have to hit rock bottom before turning their lives around. This figurative low point does happen to some teens, but reaching it isn’t essential for a successful recovery. In fact, it’s better to intervene early and avoid this bottom altogether. It’s easier to provide help while he still has strong social supports and outside interests.
  • Fact #4 – Pressured Treatment is Okay“They have to want recovery themselves – we can’t force it on them.” While this addiction recovery philosophy holds some truth, it’s not always the case. Studies show pressured treatment can be effective. Even if he’s ambivalent about getting help, he can do well in a treatment program. If he enters treatment because you encouraged him to do so, rather than of his own volition, that’s okay.
  • Fact #5 – Your Teen Will Probably Relapse – and That’s OkayIt doesn’t mean he’s a lost cause. It doesn’t mean treatment has failed. Most teens have one or more relapses. They can use them as a learning experience and move on towards sustained recovery. View a relapse as an opportunity to identify triggers and make changes for the future.
  • Fact #6 – Punishment Isn’t the AnswerAt some point, you’ve probably had to discipline your teen for bad behavior in the hopes of guiding him toward better choices. When it comes to substance abuse, punishment often backfires. Shaming, detaching, and penalizing often pushes teens into further isolation and encourages more risky behaviors. Instead, focus on developing communication skills and positive behaviors. Use empathy and compassion to support him through this difficult time.
  • Fact #7 – Recovery Is Not “One-Size-Fits-All”A treatment plan that works for one teen might not be a good fit for another. If you explore a program and it’s not well-suited for your teen, don’t give up. There are a variety of treatment options available and you might need to investigate several of them before you find the best one for him. As you do your research, look for programs that provide in-depth assessments and individualized treatment plans to address his specific needs. You can start your search here.