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Published on February 19, 2024

Boundaries and Communication: What to do When Your Son or Daughter is Addicted to Drugs

As a parent, finding out your child has been experimenting with drugs and alcohol can be distressing. It can be exceptionally scary to find out that your son or daughter may be experiencing more than curiosity and might be heading toward a full-blown drug or alcohol addiction. 

If you are worried about your child’s substance abuse, continue reading for advice on what to do next.

Step One: Talk To Your Child

Upon discovering their child’s substance abuse, many parents feel paralyzed about the first steps to take. Parents often worry about bringing it up out of concern that their child might possibly hide their drug use even more diligently or become even more secretive. On the other side of the spectrum, some parents overreact. They scream, yell, or enforce severe restrictions to stop the drug or alcohol use. This is a common—but largely unhelpful—fear response that can even further alienate the youth and break down communication. 

If you find out that your child is using drugs or alcohol, the best thing to do is sit down and have a frank, earnest discussion. Let them know that you are aware of the problem and you want to talk about it. Ensure they know you are their supporter and ally in getting their life back on track. 

This doesn’t mean you’ll sit by and watch them continue down this path, but it also doesn’t mean you’ll vilify or judge them in the process of getting help. Creating an honest, therapeutic alliance with your child is extremely important at this time so they know they can trust you and come to you, especially in a crisis.

Step Two: Learn What’s Happening and Get Educated

When talking with your child, get as much information as possible about what substances they’re using, how often, in what doses, and with whom. Knowing their use patterns will be essential to getting them help. Learn what you can about their drug or drugs of choice and help them to get informed about harm reduction practices, like Narcan. Obviously, total sobriety is the goal. But giving them the tools and resources to handle an emergency is also incredibly important.

The unfortunate reality is that young people have elaborate networks of peers who are willing and able to help them find and use different substances, including drugs you’ve likely never even heard of. For young people in the age of the internet, synthetic chemicals and other dangerous substances are incredibly easy to get. Staying informed about what’s out there will help you help your child. When it comes to substance abuse and supporting a loved one, knowledge is power.

Step Three: Establish Healthy Restrictions and Boundaries

Of course, every family situation is different. Maybe your child already has a series of curfews, daily expectations, and safeguards around their behavior and social life in place. If this is the case, the burgeoning substance abuse may come as a shock. However, it might be worth reviewing how your child spends their time and how you can implement further supervision around their social groups and daily activities.

Establishing restrictions is easier said than done but is an essential next step in helping rein in their substance use behaviors. This is especially important for teenagers and even pre-teens as they are starting to develop their own identities and sense of independence. Ideally, you want your child to have friendships and be able to engage with their peer groups safely. But if you find that your young adult is beginning to push boundaries and make questionable choices, then restrictions and boundaries will likely be an uncomfortable, but necessary, step.

Step Four: Speak To a Professional

If you try the first three steps and get nothing but resistance, silence, and pushback, your next course of action should be speaking to a mental health and substance abuse professional. Many parents will bypass the first three steps and just go straight to consulting with a professional, which is also an entirely valid option. Especially if you have limited experience with substance use,  recovery, or if you are concerned that your child’s drug use behaviors are putting them in serious danger.

Substance abuse professionals are trained to learn how to work with resistant teenagers. They can help family systems address communication issues and build a therapeutic treatment and recovery plan. A counselor can help determine what level of treatment would be most beneficial for your child as well as help neutralize some of the rebellion that children often feel toward their parents during this complicated adolescent time. 

Important note: Depending on the severity of your son or daughter’s drug of choice and use patterns, it’s crucial to consult with professional help sooner rather than later. There are some substances (including alcohol, in extreme quantities) that can be dangerous to stop without medical intervention. If you have any safety concerns, reach out to a substance abuse counselor or crisis center, there are options listed below.

Reach Out for Help Today

Drug or alcohol use is often the symptom of other underlying issues that could be going on. Use the four steps discussed to help identify what is happening with your son or daughter, get them safe, and get them back on track so they can start their life in a healthy, sober way.

If you need assistance connecting with your son or daughter who you suspect is experiencing addiction, act now. If you would like support from an empathetic and experienced substance abuse counselor and you live in the San Diego area, contact Confidential Recovery today. For those outside of the San Diego area, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 to find resources in your area.

About the Author

Scott H. Silverman is a high-profile expert on addiction and recovery, making frequent public and media appearances for the last 40 years.  He is the author of The Opioid Epidemic, and the Founder and CEO of Confidential Recovery, a San Diego substance abuse treatment center specializing in helping Veterans and First Responders get and stay sober.

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