Although every situation is different, here are some best practices for helping a teen who's using drugs or alcohol.
If your child is using drugs or alcohol, you have probably felt a wide range of emotions during the process of dealing with the issue. You might wonder what the best way to help your child is. Should you show unconditional love? Tough love? Should you give harsh punishments? Let them decide their own fate? Dr. Karl Benzio has some excellent advice about helping a teen who is using drugs, and we are going to share that advice with you here. Remember, each child is different, and each situation is unique, but in general, the best way to help your teen who is using drugs or alcohol is to do the following:
- Love them and express it regularly. Nothing is greater than love. You as the parent have the opportunity right now to love your child. Let them know how deep your love runs for them. Show it through your words, actions, and attitude.
- Spend time with them and take an interest in their interests. By showing you care, you are building your relationship with your teen. This is important for establishing trust and helping them see that you do have their best interests in mind. Talk to them about things they are doing in school or after school, ask about friends or dates they’ve had, try to really understand the things that make your teen happy.
- Let them know you want to help them and help them enjoy a healthy life. When using substances, your child will be tempted to see you as their enemy and see you as an obstacle to using drugs. Ideally your teen should know you are on their side, but drugs and guilt get in the way, so it is important to keep telling them so. You do care about them and about their well-being and future, and this is why you want them to get help for their drug or alcohol use.
- Drug test randomly and tie it to rewards for clean tests and consequences for failed tests. You as the parent can and should set rules and expectations. By having your teen take random drug tests, you are telling them that you intend to stay on top of this issue. Let your teen know good things will happen when they are clean, and there will be negative consequences for failed tests. And most importantly, stick to the rules you have set.
- Develop a regular schedule of discussing life, goals, stresses, and behaviors. It is important to help your teen see the big picture of his or her life. Keep discussing their goals and help them stay excited for the good things that await them in their future. Help them make plans for their life and work to attain their goals. Also, encourage them to discuss stressors and coping skills while you also model coping skills to deal with your stressors.
- Get them someone they can talk to who can help them develop skills to stop using and deal with underlying stressors/stresses. Sometimes all a parent can do is love their child and provide them with resources to recover. When communication or mentoring is strained with your child, it is often helpful to bring in someone else who can help your teen develop the skills they need to deal with the stress of life in a healthy way. Lighthouse Network can connect you with those who can help you in these situations.
- Help them learn skills to calm their negative emotions. The life of a teen or young adult is filled with many letdowns and disappointments. They often turn to drugs or alcohol because they struggle with how to process and handle these negative emotions, either because of stress, pressure, or difficult situations they have experienced. The substances and the mistakes they cause then magnify the negative feelings even more. You can help your child by teaching them how to deal with these negative emotions, either by role modeling and discussion, through counseling and therapy, or a faith-based program showing them a power and a peace they can access.
- Encourage good sleep, nutrition, and exercise. Taking care of one’s physical health can dramatically help their brain be more alert, sharp, and function better to help make recovery easier. Encourage your teen to make healthy choices, and set a good example yourself through your actions.
- Pray for them and get others to as well. Don’t underestimate the power of prayer. Praying for the well-being of your child might be something you’ve been doing all along, but use prayer and your connection with God to provide comfort for your child and yourself during this difficult time. Share your trouble with others who will become prayer warrior for you and your child as well.
- When they do something illegal, report it. If your child is in trouble, they need to experience the consequences for their actions. Call the police, press charges, and don’t be afraid of your child going to jail, especially if their behaviors are getting dangerous. Jail, as unpleasant as it sounds, is often the turning point in a person’s life, and might be what your child needs to see how bad things have gotten.