It’s our worst fear; discovering your son or daughter is an addict. What do you do? Who can you turn to? And how do you help them?
The News Herald tells the harrowing story of Sharon Whisnant who had to deal with a son who would demand her pain pills. Says Whisnant, “I thought I was going to go completely crazy. It makes you feel like you can’t take another day of it. You get angry. You cry.”
Sadly, her son Derrick died in 2009 from a medical condition that Whisnant said was brought on by frequent alcohol and drug use. So what can you do when you discover your child is also an addict?
The first step is identifying whether they are an addict or not. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, if an adolescent starts behaving differently for no apparent reason—such as acting withdrawn, frequently tired or depressed, or hostile—it could be a sign he or she is developing a drug-related problem.
Other signs include:
- a change in peer group
- carelessness with grooming
- a decline in academic performance
- missing classes or skipping school
- loss of interest in favorite activities
- trouble in school or with the law
- changes in eating or sleeping habits
- deteriorating relationships with family members and friends
If you’ve discovered your child is addicted, treatment is the next step – but what if they don’t want to go?
Unfortunately, the brain changes upon consistent drug use. Areas in the brain critical to judgment, decision-making, learning and memory, and behavior control are all affected which makes quitting difficult, even for those who want to.
Bearing that in mind should gird you for the journey ahead for all of you. It won’t be easy but you can begin by taking your child to a doctor for a full screening of what they’ve been taking. You can also contact an addiction specialist yourself; there are around 3,500 board-certified physicians who specialize in addiction so hopefully one is in your area.
Don’t take it too personally either; according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, 78 percent of American teens have drunk alcohol, and 47 percent of the group said they’d consumed 12 or more drinks in the past year. When it came to drug use, 81 percent of teens said they had the opportunity to use illicit substances, with 42.5 percent actually tried them.
The report shows a shocking finding that 15 percent of the teens met the criteria for lifetime alcohol abuse, and 16 percent could be categorized as drug abusers. In fact, the median age for alcohol abuse to begin was 14 with or without dependent behavior. The median age for drug abuse with dependence to start was at the age of 14 and teens who began using illicit substances at 15 were less likely to be dependent.
It doesn’t stop there. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry warns that the average age of first marijuana use is 14, while alcohol use can begin as early as 12. And out of the estimated 20 million alcoholics in America, more than half began drinking as teens.
Aside from running for medical help, there are some other steps you can take in the home environment – and the first rule of law is to think before acting. Raw emotion is not going to help situations like this as it serves to alienate the child, and that’s the last thing they need.
You need to:
Be Prepared – think about what’s going on and what constructive steps you can take.
Make Rules – set some ground rules and, more importantly, stick to them.
Let Them Talk – lectures achieve nothing.
Be Supportive – let them know you’re there for them.
Use Resources – from doctors to AA meetings, there are places there to help you.
Unfortunately, addicts can be notorious for not wanting to get help, but until the age of 18, at least, the law is on your side. In most states, you can legally admit a teen into a rehab program or facility without them consenting. But use this as a last-resort option only.
Sharon Whisnant was never sure what caused her son’s tragic addiction. “Some people blame God, but I wouldn’t,” Whisnant said. “I think he got in with the wrong friends because all of them have been doing the same thing.”
Love, support, and warmth are going to help you connect with your addicted child; the anger we might feel has to be dealt with in other ways as it will only hinder attempts at getting them into recovery.