At Sobriety Options, many of our inbound callers are parents. Some of them are experienced with helping their children, whether they or teen or adult children, find the substance abuse or mental health programs they need. When they are first-time callers, the experience can be overwhelming, especially if their child isn’t fully committed to finding their sobriety.
Let’s be honest, the purpose of this post is NOT to convey we have all of the answers and that by following the suggestions in this article, your child will become healthy, happy and sober. Instead, the true purpose and hope of this article is that you, as a parent, may find some of the ideas contained herein helpful, that the knowledge you’ll gain may help you reduce your own uncertainties and more successfully approach your son or daughter so they can get the help they need.
Let’s face it, living with an addict or someone that has severe mental health issues can be challenging, at best, especially if you’ve never experienced substance abuse issues of your own. For these parents, one of the most surprising suggestions they receive is that they get education about substance abuse and addiction. There are literally thousands of resources online from articles, YouTube videos, support groups and forums. I addition, your local library, Barnes & Noble or trust Amazon.com will feature thousands of books about addiction and the more focused they are on your child’s specific addiction the better so go and check out all of these resources.
Another very helpful resource for parents is Al-Anon and Nar-Anon. These are group meetings focused on helping family members of alcoholics addicts learn to cope with their family member suffering from addiction. These groups can help you understand from other people’s experience in the group what it’s like to confront your children for the first time to help you better prepare for the experience.
Interventionist? Yes or No?
Should you consider an Interventionist? This is a perfectly good question. Some families hire an interventionist because they really don’t know how to approach their child or are emotionally unable to cope with the situation themselves. However, an interventionist alone won’t be able to convince your child to go to treatment and they always suggest family and friends be present to give their sides of the story, namely, how their child’s substance abuse has affected them and makes them feel. Moreover, they will encourage the parents to set boundaries with their children they will live up to, e.g. “…if you are unwilling to accept the treatment we are offering you, then we can no longer have you live in our home while abusing drugs and alcohol.” Our opinion is that parents should learn more about interventions and seek free consultations from them before making any commitment to including them in the parents’ efforts to help get their children into treatment.
Be Prepared for Defensiveness.
Something you should consider, and you’re probably well aware, your child will almost certainly be defensive when you approach them about treatment, especially for the first time. Their defensiveness may manifest as anger, resentment, name-calling and blaming in return of your attempts to suggest they find help. In these siutuations, it’s best to be prepared for the worst and hope for the best, to expect anger and resentment because if you lose emotional control, the child, teen or adult, will interpret it as a sign of judgment or assign your emotions as a reason for them to not need to accept your help.
Be Strategic about Time and Place.
One of the most important things to consider is when the right time and place is to have this discussion. Here’s why: parents often feel like they’re walking on eggshells around children who abuse drugs and alcohol, meaning, setting a definite time in the future, e.g. next Wednesday at 5:00 pm after work, isn’t very practical. Here’s some criteria to consider:
- Where does my son or duaghter feel most comfortable? That’s where you might want to consider talking to them for the first time about treatment.
- When will my son or daughter be most receptive to the discussion? “Moody” does not even approace describing how some people suffering from addiction can be so it’s important to understand you’ll need to work around their timetable of emotions to have the discussion. Choose a time when they are at their calmest and at their most sober. Avoid having the chat when they are under the influence especially.
Be Authentic, Observant, Loving and Inclusive.
People suffering from substance abuse have keen radar for judgment and lack of authentic concern for their well-being. That is why your approach to them should include statements beginning with “I have noticed changes in your behavior lately that are starting to worry me and I really just want to understand what you’re going through so I may be able to help.” You might want to consider telling them what you’ve noticed specifically such as, “You used to enjoy sports and now it just seems like you’ve lost interest in something you used to love.” Above all, you really need to express unconditional love, “No matter what you’re going through I want you to know I will always love you and I just want to help you in any way I can.” You may have friends of your own, other family members or relations that have gone through treatment and you can point the benefits of treatment out to your child, e.g. “Remember, Uncle Dan? I don’t know if your aware but he went through some very difficult times and found his way to a program that helped him. Only after that did he find his current job, wife and get back into running.”
When your child gives you the feeling that they may be open to treatment, be sure to give them an opportunity to be a part of the treatment program selection process, otherwise, they may feel like you’re simply sending them away and, more importantly, if you don’t include them, they’ll be more likely to not follow through with treatment.
At Sobriety Options, we take calls 24 hours a day, 365 days a year from individuals seeking treatment, from their friends and their family members. While discussing these issues may be commonplace to us, we’re quite aware of how difficult talking about treatment can be to your own children. We hope this brief article gave you some insight and empowerment but if you’d like, you can call us any time at 1 (855) 485-0071.