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Can I help an adolescent substance abuser?

anonymous anonymous
My son is using marijuana and xanax but does not want to go to a rehab center. Is there anything i can do to help? He is 15 and said he started doing marijuana in January 2012 and has taking xanax 4 times (4 pills last night)...

Rev. Christopher Smith Says...

Rev. Christopher Smith C. Smith

Parents, like the questionner, who have a child that are abusing substance(s) are facing a challenging situation, especially if their child does not see their use as a problem. So what can be done?

Going through rehab is not a guarantee for someone to abstain from the use of substances afterwards. Unfortunately, the probability of relapse is greater for those who have been forced into treatment, especially if they simply learn "to play the game". So, this is one thing to consider if state law gives you the right to make your child go into treatment.

Another avenue that could help as a precursor to rehab are activities that help your child realize that their use is problematic. Does your child understand the legal ramifications of their use? Does your child understand the full set of effects of the substance(s) they are using, particularly those they may be worried about? If you are not able to control your child's inappropriate behavior, have you reached out for assistance and if so does your child understand what it would mean to be classified as a Child In Need of Services? You can help your child with information that could lead to them understanding their situation more. Potentially this could lead to them being more receptive for your intervention and what treatment could offer.

Another thing parents in this type of situation may have to look at is their own behavior. What has their child been taught by what the parent(s) do or have done? Have you sent the child messages about using substance(s) based on your own behavior. This applies even if your substances of choice are different and potentially the case even if your substances of choice are legal (like alcohol or tobacco). What other examples has the child seen - in the larger family or in other people of significance for them. Depending on what you determine in this area, you may have some other work to do to in order to enhance your child's receptivity. 

What do you know about your child's friends? Who does your child smoke with or otherwise use substances? Is there a way to have an impact on the broader social circle that your child is involved with particularly if they are encouraging your child's behavior. Even still, don't overlook other reasons that may be behind your child's substance use. Are there other mental health issues that may need to be addressed and which your child is addressing by using a substance.

Throughout your movements, make sure that your child knows that you love them. As you do that, remain clear about what behavior is acceptable and not acceptable. As your child moves forward to sobriety and abstinence, they will need support as they deal with their problem. Take responsibility for what you are responsible for but do not take responsibility for what is really the responsibility of your child.

This may give you some ideas for a next step. There are also resources in your community that may be helpful to you from professional (counselors, child welfare agencies) as well as groups (you may want to look at Al-Anon and may want to see if there are groups available for adolescent substance abusers in your community). As you seek out these resources and move forward on helping your child, know that peace and wholeness is possible.

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Page last updated Oct 23, 2012

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