All parents want what’s best for their children, so when it comes to drug and alcohol addiction, you naturally want to find the best information possible to help them. While there is no instruction manual on how to support an addicted child, there are many resources that can help you find an approach that feels right for you and your family. You likely have many questions about what you should do, like:
- How should I talk to my child?
- How do I know if they need treatment?
- If they do, where should they go?
- Where do I begin?
To start, it can be helpful to learn more about teen substance abuse, including adolescent rates of use and the most current research-based treatments.
- Social pressures at school or at home.
- Genetic susceptibility for developing substance use disorders.
- Environmental stressors, such as living in a neighborhood with high rates of crime or poverty.
- Mental health issues.
- Personality characteristics (e.g. risk-taking).
Other additional characteristics may also place a child at an increased risk of abusing substances compared with their peers, including:1
- Mental health problems (especially depression and suicidality).
- Having a physical disability.
- Being part of a peer group that abuses substances.
- A history of physical, sexual, or psychological abuse.
- Having a parent who abuses substances.
In 2016, some prevalence rates for illicit drug use by certain age groups were as follows:2
- College students: 54.4%
- All 19- to 28-year-old young adults: 62.8%
- 12th graders: 48.3%
- 10th graders: 33.7%
- 8th graders: 17.2%
The most commonly abused substances by high school and college-aged students, respectively, are:2
- Alcohol: 22.8–81.3%
- Tobacco: 9.8–28.3%
- Amphetamines: 5.7–13.6%
- Inhalants: 3.2–7.7%
- Hallucinogens: 1.9–7.7%
- Cocaine: 1.4–5.3%
- Painkillers (OxyContin, Vicodin): 0.8–3.4%
- Anabolic steroids: 0.9–1.6%
- Methamphetamine: 0.6–1.2%
- Heroin: 0.5–0.7%
As a parent, you are in a unique situation to notice subtle changes in your child—such as a loss of interest in things they once enjoyed doing or changes in sleeping or eating habits—all of which could indicate that something is going on. It is important to recognize the other signs of substance abuse or addiction so you can help your child get the help they need as soon as possible.
Is Your Teen Abusing Drugs or Alcohol?
If your teen is acting unusual and you wonder whether or not they are abusing drugs or alcohol, the following are some signs that could indicate that your teen might be using substances or has developed an addiction. Keep in mind that individual addictions may manifest differently, but some common features to look out for in your child include:1
- Getting pressure from their friends or other peers to use drugs or drink alcohol.
- Feeling depressed, hopeless, or suicidal.
- Talking about using drugs or alcohol.
- Being suspended from school or afterschool activities because of a drug- or alcohol-related incident.
- Getting in trouble at home, in school, or with law enforcement.
- Stopping participating in activities they once enjoyed because they do not involve substance use.
- Lying about their drug or alcohol use (to you or to school officials).
- Getting high or drunk on a regular basis.
- Missing school or dropping out of school altogether because of their substance abuse.
- Thinking they need to be high or drunk to have fun.
- Taking risks while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, such as drunk driving and engaging in risky sexual behavior.
There is a difference between experimentation, occasional use, regular use or abuse, and addiction. The following is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorder, 5th Edition’s (DSM-5) criteria for a substance abuse disorder (or addiction):3
- The substance is taken in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than was intended
- There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful effort to cut down or control substance use
- A great deal of time is spent trying to get more drugs or alcohol, use substances, or recover from their effects
- The person experiences strong cravings or urges to use the substance
- Recurring substance use results in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home
- Continued substance use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of that substance
- The person stops engaging in social, occupational, or recreational activities because of their substance use
- They use substances in situations that are physically hazardous
- Despite the person knowing that substance use continues despite knowing that persistent physical or psychological problems are caused or exacerbated by such use
- The development of a tolerance as defined by either of the following:
- A need for more of the substance to achieve intoxication or a desired effect
- A diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance
- The onset of a characteristic withdrawal syndrome for the substance being abused or the substance is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms
Instead of shrugging off any of these behaviors as normal parts of puberty or merely as teenage issues, take any changes seriously and dig deeper to find out what is really going on. It could make all the difference in saving their life. Fortunately, there is more information available about addiction than ever before.
These resources are tremendously helpful when you first start learning about how addiction works:
- The Know Dope Documentary focuses on drug addiction and how it affects not only the user but the entire family unit.
- The latest in addiction research is available at websites such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse or Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration or NIDA for Teens.
- Support and more information from people who are experts on teenage addiction can be found at websites like Partnership for Drug-Free Kids or by joining a 12-step group designed specifically for family members of addicted people like:
How to Take Action
It can be challenging to get your teen to open up to you—especially if they are abusing substances—but there are ways to build trust and open up communication. When your child knows that you are genuinely curious about their life and that you support them no matter what, they may be more willing to share. By staying connected to your child’s world, you will be better prepared to handle challenges as they arise.
Talking to Your Addicted Child
Every parent has a different approach to talking to their child about drug use, but these strategies may help you prepare for a what could be a difficult conversation. Preparing ahead of time can help you feel more confident when the time comes.
- Be curious.
- Remain supportive.
- Not pass judgment.
- Show that you trust them.
- Keep an open mind.
- Use “I” statements such as, “I feel sad when I see you going through this,” or “I wish that I knew more about what was going on because I want to help”.
- Use phrases such as, “I’m here for you and I love you very much. No matter what’s going on, I will support you”.
- Empathize with what they are going through by trying to truly understand where they’re coming from.
- Control your own emotions.
Avoid these behaviors during the conversation:
- Placing blame on your child.
- Making them feel bad or guilty.
- Talking to them when they are drunk or high.
- Using accusatory language such as, “You always do this”.
Although this type of active listening is not always easy, it can help your child feel like someone will listen to them without judgment. For most kids, telling their parents about their substance abuse issues is scary so they usually don’t. These additional tips can help you be the kind of listener that your child will be more likely to share with:4
- Body language: Be present and open. If your child is sitting with their legs and arms crossed, try to sit with your feet flat on the floor and your back straight. You can place your hands on your legs and try to communicate that you are ready to receive whatever information they are going to share.
- Rephrase: This is a great strategy when you are talking to your teen. After they’ve said something, try to repeat it back to them to make sure you understand what’s been said. For example, if you child said, “Matt and Sarah moved, and everyone at school sucks, and I get bored and drugs are no big deal,” you might repeat back to them, “So, it sounds like what you’re saying is that you are using drugs because you are feeling sad and lonely that your friends moved away—is that right?” By repeating what they said back to them, you are giving them the opportunity to hear their thoughts played back to them and correct you if you’re wrong. If your child corrects you, this is a good thing—it means that they want to be clear about what they are communicating so you can understand them.
- Don’t interrupt: When you talk with your teen about substance use, be sure you are free from distractions. Try not to have your phone or computer around. If you are talking and are interrupted by a phone call, text, or visitor, your child may feel like you haven’t really been listening or that you don’t care.
- Make your child the focus of your attention: Talking about substance abuse can make a person feel vulnerable, so they may be reluctant to open up. Centering your attention completely on them reassures them you are really interested in what they have to share. If they sense you are distracted by something else, they may shut down and refuse to talk.
- Do not offer advice: When you are listening to your teen talk about their substance abuse, refrain from judging the situation or offering advice. If your child asks for your opinion, then you can offer it, but giving unsolicited advice might make them feel judged and they may stop talking.
- Give non-verbal cues that indicate you are listening: For instance, you can nod your head, say “mhmm,” and maintain eye contact.
Most parents say that looking back, they wished they had learned to listen well to their child. Though some people think that when you talk to an addicted person about their drug or alcohol use, they will lie, cover up, or tune you out, the truth is, if you learn to actively and compassionately listen, it can be a productive conversation for both of you.
Finding Them Help
When you are ready to find help for your child’s drug or alcohol addiction, there are a number of resources to help you get started, such as:
- Community centers.
- Online listings.
- Asking a trusted friend or relative.
- Consulting with a substance abuse counselor.
Before talking to your addicted teen about entering a substance abuse program, you may want to meet with an experienced and licensed interventionist who can help you prepare for the actual meeting, as well as follow-up care. They can help you learn more about what an intervention is and how to properly conduct it.
Another resource is the CRAFT Program (Community Reinforcement and Family Training), which is an evidence-based approach that helps parents talk to their children about substance use in a positive way.5 CRAFT gives parents the tools they need to understand their child’s behaviors around substance use, better communicate with their child, and motivate their child toward changing their behavior. It’s normal to feel stressed or exhausted by your child’s drug use, so this approach offers parents the opportunity to develop their own strategies for managing their emotional triggers and worries that naturally arise when their child has an addiction.
The Partnership for Drug Free Kids is another resource that offers a free and confidential helpline for families to connect with a trained substance abuse counselor. They may be able to direct you to local resources to help you prepare for an intervention or to figure out the best place for treatment. Depending on your needs, the hotline also offers parent coaching, which pairs you with a trained parent volunteer who coaches you over the phone.
Treatment costs are one of the primary concerns for all families, so it’s important to research your options:
- Insurance: If you have public or private insurance, call the number on the back of your insurance card to see what kind of substance abuse treatment is covered under your plan. Most providers cover some services.
- Private pay: If you have the means, you can always pay for treatment out of pocket. Insurance plans often have limits on the amount of treatment they will cover, so paying privately gives you more treatment program options.
- Loans: You can ask your friends and family for help with treatment costs. Or you can apply for a loan or healthcare loan through your bank or an entity that specializes in healthcare loans or credit lines, such as Care Credit or Prosper Healthcare Lending.
When a person suffers from addiction, their life revolves around using the drug and finding more of it to continue using. It is critical in understanding addiction to make the distinction between dependence and tolerance, terms that are not interchangeable when it comes to substance addiction. For instance, if your teen is using opioids prescribed by a doctor to manage pain from a sports injury, they can develop both tolerance and physiological dependence to the drug over time. However, if your teen does not exhibit an obsession with getting and using more of the drug, then this may not constitute an addiction.
Addiction is a compulsion to continue using substances despite harmful consequences. Parents may naturally want to prevent their kids from experiencing these consequences, however, since it’s painful to watch them suffer. But it is okay and even necessary to set strong boundaries around borrowing money, using your car, or inviting friends over, for example. It’s important that you protect yourself and your family members’ wellbeing and avoid enabling destructive behaviors.
Many people grew up with certain notions about the “type” of person who struggles with addiction. As a parent, your understanding of your child’s addiction is shaped, in part, by your own experience. Take a moment to reflect on what stories you have heard or seen about addiction that are shaping your reaction to your child’s drug or alcohol use so as not to allow any unrecognized bias or fear cloud your judgment.4
It is also common for parents to blame themselves for their child’s addiction, but this causes an unnecessary amount of guilt and shame and is not ultimately productive. Most parents could never anticipate that their child would develop an addiction; it does not mean that you failed. Anyone can develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol—it is a disease that does not discriminate.
Addiction is frequently referred to as a family disease because it often places an enormous amount of stress on the family unit. It is such a powerful force within a family that it can impact the family’s mental health and finances and their entire dynamic. Recovering from addiction as a family takes time. It isn’t reasonable to expect that things will get better over the first few weeks or months of recovery, but rather it takes years. However, moving through a challenging family problem like substance abuse can strengthen family bonds and help everyone learn better coping mechanisms.6
There are multiple risk factors in a teen’s life that may lead them to use substances. Major life events like divorce can be extremely painful for children. The impact of divorce may lead to a number of negative health effects such as trouble concentrating, lower grades, delinquency, and increased rates of drug and alcohol use.7
Even ostensibly positive things like participating in competitive sports can be a precursor to a child using drugs if a student is chasing a college scholarship and feeling a lot of pressure to perform. They may be more likely to experiment with harmful drugs such as steroids or stimulants that they think will improve their performance. Also, if a student suffers from an injury while playing sports, it is important to monitor their drug use so they do not fall into a cycle of abusing painkillers, which can ultimately lead to addiction.
A teen’s peer group also greatly influences whether or not they use drugs or alcohol.8 Teens are vulnerable to peer pressure and are willing to take risks around experimenting with alcohol, drugs, or tobacco, having unprotected sex, engaging in violence, and drunk driving. Teens may feel pressured to use substances out of fear of missing out. There is an intense need for social acceptance during a teen’s developmental years, and they sometimes think that using drugs or alcohol will help them gain peer approval if that is what their friends are doing.
Social media can also influence teen addiction: In 2015, 92% of teens aged 13 to 17 years reported that they were online daily, and 24% reported that they were online almost constantly; 71% reported that they used more than one social networking site.9 Given the fact that social media platforms are increasingly being used to promote substance use and abuse, as well as to directly market certain substances, this puts teens at a greater risk of both exposure and connection to various drugs.9 Social media use is also associated with higher levels of depression, eating disorders, and sleep problems, which are common underlying factors that lead to drug and alcohol experimentation and abuse. A 2011 report showed that teens who were more likely to use alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana were also more likely to be using social media.9
As a parent, it can be hard to know how to handle your teen’s social media use. To figure out what’s will work best for your teen, you may start talking to other parents about what’s worked for them or read parent forums online. Ultimately, you can decide what makes the most sense for your family, which may include creating a social media policy at home to regulate their use.9
The Newest Drugs and Addiction Trends
According to a 2017 New York Times article, teenagers are using smart phones more than ever, and researchers now think it may serve as an alternate to drugs and alcohol, with kids reaching for their phones instead of substances.3,10 Studies about smart phone addiction are in their infancy, but with more and more teens exhibiting addictive behaviors around their phones, expect to see more. Other concerns around increased smart phone use include higher rates of pornography addiction and depression.
While e-cigarettes are marketed as “safe” alternatives to regular cigarettes, science shows that some e-versions contain addictive ingredients (including nicotine) that can cause harm too. When people smoke e-cigarettes, they breathe in harmful chemicals, and since teens’ brains are still developing, it is not recommended for them to use any type of nicotine product, including e-cigarettes.11 Despite these risks, teens are now more likely to use e-cigarettes than cigarettes. A 2015 national survey of high school students found that 16.2% of high school seniors reported smoking e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, compared to 11.4% who smoked traditional cigarettes.12
These days, many high school parties perpetuate the abuse of alcohol and various drugs. Some new drugs you should know about include:13-17
- Gray Death: The street name for a new drug containing several extremely dangerous opioids, Gray Death contains a potent mix of heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil, and U-47700 (“Pink”). It looks similar to concrete mixing powder (hence the name) and has been involved in many overdoses and deaths.
- Bath Salts: These synthetic stimulants contain synthetic cathinones, which are central nervous system stimulants. Designed to mimic the effects of simulants such as Ecstasy, meth, and cocaine, these drugs are often disguised and sold under labels like “plant food,” “phone cleaner,” or “research chemicals.”
- Fentanyl-laced narcotics: Fentanyl is an opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. The drug is often mixed in with other drugs like cocaine, heroin, and other opioids to increase the intensity of the drug’s effects without the user knowing they’re consuming it. Fentanyl-related overdose deaths have increased dramatically over recent years: In 2016, nearly half of all overdose deaths involved fentanyl, compared to just 11% of deaths in 2015.
- U-47700 (“Pink”): This synthetic opioid drug is much more potent than morphine and can be fatal even in small doses. In 2016, the drug was linked to 46 deaths. Pink is occasionally cut into the street supply of heroin or illicit fentanyl.
- Synthetic cannabinoids (K2/Spice): These drugs are chemically related to THC, but are much more powerful. Because K2/Spice is illicitly manufactured, with potentially inconsistent formulations and potencies, the drug’s effects can be quite unpredictable. In fact, the drug can be life-threatening; K2/Spice has been linked with a rising number of emergency room visits and deaths.
Young adults who are under pressure from their families or schools to perform at exceptionally high levels may feel the need to abuse so-called “study drugs” like Ritalin or Adderall to stay alert longer and study. Although these drugs do not make a user smarter, they are stimulants and temporarily ramp up several physiological processes, potentially eliciting a subjective boost of energy and mental focus. Young people may think that these drugs are safer than street drugs because they are prescribed by doctors, but nonmedical use of the drug can pose just as serious a threat.
For example, using Adderall can lead to sleep disturbances, high blood pressure, stroke, depression, aggression, and bipolar disorder. According to researchers, the number of emergency room visits related to Adderall misuse has increased dramatically while the number of prescriptions has remained the same. This suggests that people are diverting the drug for misuse; among 18 to 25 year olds, they report they primarily get the drug from family and friends.18
Novel Ways to Abuse Substances
Today, kids are finding new ways to abuse substances beyond the “traditional” drugs of abuse. The rise of the internet and social media platforms makes it easier for kids to share ideas for new ways of ingesting substances. These are novel ways teens have devised to abuse everyday substances:19-21
- Purple Drank: Since the 1960s, people have made Purple Drank by mixing cough syrup mixed with soda and candy. This combination is dangerous and can result in death; many reports state that people overdose on the mixture. Some people may also mix alcohol in with the other substances, which further increases the risk of dangerous intoxication and a combination overdose.
- Inhaling household products: Often, inhalants such as paint thinner, nail polish remover, hair spray, and whipped cream dispensers, are the first drugs that teens use because they are easily found in their households. Inhaling the chemicals in these products can produce a high that can impair breathing and oxygenation, be directly harmful to the brain and other organ systems, and sometimes result in death. Chronic inhalant abuse can pose a risk to a person’s long-term health. In 2016, it was estimated that as many as 1.7% of high school seniors reported abusing inhalants in the past year.
- Stealing prescription drugs from medicine cabinets: Teens abusing prescription drugs is sharply on the rise. As a parent, you can help prevent the misuse of prescription drugs by keeping an eye out for the drug-using behavior mentioned above, knowing the medications you have in the house, keeping prescription medications locked away, and properly disposing of medications after you have finished using them. All unused, expired, or unnecessary medications should be removed from your home as quickly as possible to avoid the chances that your child will use or sell the medication.
Slang Names for Drugs
Teen drug abuse is always evolving, and teens may use slang names when they talk about drugs to disguise from their parents what they’re using.
Common slang names for drugs teens frequently abuse include:14
- Opioids: Big H, Dover’s Powder, Brown Sugar, Junk, Ox, Oxy, Sippin’ Syrup, Smack, Mud, Purple Drank, Horse.
- Fentanyl: China Girl, Jackpot, King Ivory, Friend, Great Bear, Apache, China Town, Dance Fever, He-Man, Tango & Cash, Murder.
- Heroin: Hell Dust, Negra, Thunder, Black Tar, Smack, Big H, Chiva, Horse.
- Oxycodone: Roxy, Oxy, Oxycotton, Perc, Kicker, Hillbilly Heroin, OC.
- Morphine: Dreamer, Mister Blue, Morpho, Unkie, God’s Drug, Emsel, Morf, First Line.
- Hydromorphone: Smack, Juice, Dust, Footballs, Dillies, D.
- Cocaine: Soda Cot, Flake, Coke, Coca, Crack.
- Methamphetmaine: Methlies Quick, Yaba, Ice, Meth, Trash, Poor Man’s Cocaine, Chicken Feed, Shabu, Bikers Coffee, Stove Top, Go-Fast, Shards, Crystal Glass, Uppers, Tina.
Performance enhancement drugs:
- Steroids: Juice, Weight Gainers, Roids, Arnolds, Stackers, Pumpers.
- Barbiturates: Yellow Jackets, Goof Balls, Red Devils, Barbs, Christmas Trees, Reds & Blues, Block Busters, Pinks.
- Benzodiazepines: Benzos, Downers.
- Ecstasy/MDMA: Lover’s Speed, Ecstasy, Clarity, Adam, XTC, Hug Drug, Peace, Disco Biscuit, E, Eve, STP, Beans, X.
- Ketamine: Cat Tranquilizer, Vitamin K, Super Acid, Kit Kat, Cat Valium, Super K, Jet K, Special La Coke, Purple, Super Acid.
- LSD: Acid, Window Pane, Mellow Yellow, Dots.
- Marijuana: Skunk, Yerba, Chronic, Ganja, Herb, Indo, Mary Jane, Pot, Blunts, Dope, Aunt Mary, Sinsemilla, Mota, Hydro, Herb, Grass.
- Bath Salts: Pure Ivory, White Lightning, Vanilla Sky, Meow Meow, Drone, Purple Wave, Bliss, Blue Silk, White Dove, Lunar Wave, White Knight.
Mental Health Issues and Substance Abuse in Teens
Poor mental health is another risk factor for teen substance abuse. A little more than 20% (or 1 in 5) children, either currently or at some point during their life, have had a seriously debilitating mental disorder.22 Among teens, it is common for mental health disorders to overlap with addiction, which is referred to as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders. The mental health disorder may be present before a person becomes addicted to substances, or the addiction may trigger a mental health disorder or exacerbate its symptoms, but either way, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental and substance use disorders are the leading cause of disability worldwide.23
The following are the most common mental health conditions:24
- Depression: This disorder is more than feeling sad or having a difficult time. Depression is a serious condition that impairs a person’s life and requires appropriate treatment
- Anxiety: Almost everyone experiences anxiety in their life, but for some people it can become overwhelming and even stop them from engaging in activities
- Bipolar: When a person is living with bipolar disorder, they may experience intense highs and lows and make it hard to think clearly in situations
- Eating disorders: Some people become so obsessed with their weight and the food they eat that it impairs every area of their life and significantly compromises their physical health
- PTSD: People who have experienced a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, an accident, domestic violence, sexual assault, or war, may have PTSD as a result. This condition requires treatment and support to recover
- OCD: This is a condition in which unwanted thoughts drive people to do certain actions compulsively. Compulsive behaviors such as cleaning, locking doors, and handwashing may all be part of a person’s OCD and interfere with their daily life
- Schizophrenia: This condition is characterized by certain psychotic features including profoundly disordered thoughts, auditory and visual hallucinations, and delusions. People with schizophrenia may lose touch with reality and exhibit confused behavior
- Personality disorders: There are 10 types of personality disorders, one of which is borderline personality disorder (BPD), which is characterized by mood swings, instability, poor self-image, troubled relationships, and impulsivity
Another form of a mental health disturbance is self-harming, which includes burning, cutting, or hitting oneself. If you suspect your child is engaging in this behavior, it can be a serious indication that they are struggling with mental health issues including anxiety or depression. While research into why children engage in self-harm is not robust, psychiatrists believe that kids who injure themselves do so as a way to self-medicate their difficult emotions in a similar way that people use drugs and alcohol to “numb out”. Or, the child may feel numb to the world and wants to feel “alive,” so they inflict physical pain to jar them into reality.25
Researchers note that self-harm can be potentially addicting. If you notice that your child is harming themselves, schedule an appointment for them to see a therapist or psychiatrist right away.
Statistically, girls are more prone to engage in self-harm than boys. Girls also have double the rates of depression compared to boys; research finds that as many as 1 in 6 girls suffers from a major bout of depression. An analysis by the RAND Corporation estimates that more than 36% of girls in the U.S. have been or are depressed by the time they reach the age of 17 years old.25
Treatment for Your Teen
Your teen’s treatment plan will be determined by a team of treatment specialists but will also be influenced by:1
- Overall health.
- Any co-occurring health conditions such as diabetes.
- The severity or duration of addiction issues.
- The severity of withdrawal symptoms or the risk of impending withdrawal complications.
- Their substance of choice.
- Their willingness to engage in therapy.
Addiction treatment can take place in a number of settings, depending on what you and your child feel most comfortable with. In general, treatment begins with detoxification (the protocol of which is based on the type of substance abused), followed by inpatient or outpatient treatment as a form of continuing care. Aftercare usually consists of regular group meetings and therapy, and, if needed, continued medical supervision. Depending on your family’s situation, family therapy may also be an important component of your child’s recovery.1
Specific treatment approaches vary depending on the drug abused and the person’s mental and physical health, among other factors. It’s important to know that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for substance abuse treatment, but the following is a general course of treatment for substances most commonly abused:26,27
- Alcohol: Treatment often begins with a supervised, medical detox followed by inpatient or outpatient rehab. Depending on the person, medication may also be prescribed to alleviate some of the discomfort associated with withdrawal symptoms or to discourage future use.
- Marijuana: Treatment involves a slow tapering off of the drug (detox), usually followed by outpatient rehab.
- Stimulants: Like the other substances mentioned, stimulant addiction treatment begins with detox followed by inpatient or outpatient rehab alongside therapy. The Matrix Model has proven an effective therapy method for treating stimulant addiction.
- Prescription opioids: Recommended treatment begins with detox to manage the often uncomfortable side effects of withdrawal. After finishing this period, the next phase of treatment is likely inpatient or outpatient rehab. Depending on the opioid abused and the severity of the addiction, clinicians may implement medication-assisted therapy (MAT) to stabilize patients and help prevent relapse. MAT may be used for months or even years, depending on the individual circumstances.
Everyone who leaves treatment is at risk for relapse, so it’s important that your teen works on identifying and understanding what their individual triggers are to help avoid falling back into their addiction. Common triggers include:
- Feeling lonely or left out of social events.
- Being around drugs or alcohol or people who are using them.
- Feeling bored.
- Feeling stressed.
- Experiencing low self-esteem.
In treatment, your teen will learn to manage these triggers and cravings by noticing when they start to feel uncomfortable in a situation. For example, if they notice that whenever they are with a certain friend they feel like they want to drink, they may want to avoid being around that friend. They may also talk to their therapist about why this friend elicits these feelings. Having a plan about how to manage triggers when they are around this friend is half the battle; preparing beforehand can help them feel ready to handle these triggers as they inevitably arise.
For most parents, the concept of treatment is a murky one. When you are searching for a treatment center, you may be seeing a lot of different advertisements for services and wonder which one is right for your child. You may need to interview multiple rehab centers to find the right fit. Every center is different and has a different approach to treating addiction, but fortunately, more programs have developed specialized services for teens. This age group has unique needs when it comes to academics, mental health, peer influences, and recreational activities. In addition to insurance coverage, cost, and location, you can take these factors into account when choosing a facility.
Remember that what you want for your child and what ultimately ends up working for them may be different, so it’s important to listen to your child throughout their treatment to ensure that their needs are being met and that they are equipped to be successful in recovery after leaving treatment. You are their greatest advocate.
In most cases, addiction treatment is handled in the following settings. It can be helpful to take the time to get acquainted with each step of treatment so you feel more confident about what to expect at every stage in the process.
- Detox: Depending on your child’s addiction and how long they have been using drugs, they will likely need a period of detoxing the drugs from their system. With few exceptions, detox is always required if your child abuses alcohol, benzodiazepines, or other sedatives since these drugs can produce life-threatening side effects during withdrawal. In many cases, opioid abuse will warrant a medical detox, as the acute opioid withdrawal syndrome is so markedly unpleasant. The safest setting for your child to detox is a 24-hour supervised setting. However, a range of different detox protocols can be followed in either a hospital or residential rehab setting, prescribed and monitored out of a doctor’s office, or carried out as part of an outpatient rehab program. After finishing detox, your child will be referred to the next most appropriate step in their treatment, which is usually enrollment in either an inpatient or outpatient substance abuse treatment program.
- Inpatient or residential treatment: An inpatient program allows your child to live at the facility while receiving around-the-clock treatment services. If your child has multiple triggers in their home environment, such as living near people who are using, inpatient is a great choice.
- Outpatient treatment: These programs often provide a similar range of treatment options as inpatient programs—group therapy, individual therapy, and specialized classes or groups—but your teen lives at home and attends treatment at a facility for a set number of hours every week. This is a good option for those with less severe addictions and those with strong support at home.
- Aftercare treatment options: After leaving treatment, it’s important that your child remains engaged in continuing care to avoid relapse. However, relapse is often a part of the process when people feel stressed or triggered. Aftercare resources provide ongoing support to help prevent relapse and overcome the triggers that frequently lead back to substance abuse. Common relapse strategies include:28
- Individual therapy: Staying connected with a therapist or counselor after leaving treatment helps ensure your child continues to work through problems, stays accountable, and reflects on their addiction issues and any triggers that they experience after leaving treatment.
- Support groups: Twelve-step meetings and other community support groups are great ways to remain engaged with a community of sober people. There are groups specifically designed for young people, such as Teen Addiction Anonymous, and in a group setting, your child can learn from others who have been through the same experience with addiction.
- Avoiding high-risk scenarios: If your child had a regular friend group with whom they used drugs or bought drugs from, you can work on helping your child avoid those places, people, or things that might tempt them to use drugs or alcohol again. This could mean finding a new group of friends or engaging in different extracurricular activities.
- Stress management: Alcohol and drugs are often used as coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety. There are many stress-reduction techniques that you and your family can begin incorporating into your everyday life to manage common stressors in a healthier way. This might include yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, massage, reading, hiking, running, eating healthy, and self-care.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): When using CBT, a teen learns how to view their thought processes more clearly and understand what leads them to abuse drugs or alcohol. CBT can also help people slow down and manage stress so they can better understand their own triggers and learn the skills necessary to cope with everyday challenges.
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