Atrium Health's behavioral health experts offer help – and hope – to parents about addiction recovery, whether their child is a teen or grown adult.

Men's Health, Women's Health | 3 years ago

How Parents Can Support a Child Who's Dealing with Addiction

When is the time for tough love? For unconditional support? Behavioral health experts at Atrium Health offer insight and hope to partners about addiction recovery.

Editor's Note: This article is part of a mini-series devoted to helping the loved ones of those dealing with addiction. Scroll to the bottom to read more.

For additional information and resources, visit Hope for Addiction today.

Being a parent to a child dealing with addiction or substance disorders can be fraught with uncertainty over how to act, what to say and when to intervene. It’s an extremely difficult situation with a sincere and heartbreaking dilemma at its core: How do I help my child?

This situation is especially hard for parents. While parents are in a role of authority, that sense of authority can create friction – or even interference – in the recovery process. Whether a child is a teenager or 50 years old, the fact remains: Children tend to push against parents who tell them what to do.

“As a parent myself, I understand – sometimes we can come off as authoritarian. ‘Do this, don’t do that,’” says William Wright, MD, an addiction psychiatrist at Atrium Health. “But when you’re talking about addiction, it’s not that simple. We encourage an open style of communication, and that can be harder for parents. Offer to be there and be willing to listen.”

Dr. Wright encourages parents to learn about the disease of addiction in order to understand what their child is facing. With addiction, the brain undergoes changes that progress as long as the disorder goes untreated. Just as diseases like diabetes and hypertension worsen when they’re left untreated, so does addiction, Dr. Wright says. But just as doctors have disease models to treat diabetes and hypertension, they have disease models to treat addiction as well. There are evidence-based methods to overcome addiction and put your child on a path to recovery. There is hope.

Warning Signs of Addiction in Your Child

If you’re concerned that your child is dealing with substance use disorders or addiction, look for symptoms. Oftentimes, you’ll see physical changes. Perhaps your child has lost weight suddenly or no longer prioritizes self care. You may see social changes. People struggling with addiction tend to estrange themselves from friends and family and socialize with new people. Or maybe your child behaves differently, spending more time in the bedroom or bathroom or showing less motivation for school or work.

If you notice such behavior and suspect addiction, please remember: This is a disease, and help is available. Just as importantly, realize how important you can be to your child’s recovery process.

“Don’t ignore it or try to wait it out,” says Sandra Villarrubia, LCSW, an addiction specialist at Atrium Health. She encourages parents to listen to their child so that they can understand what their child is feeling and experiencing. “Look for help. Don’t let guilt or shame impact your ability to help. It’s not your fault.”

An Individualized Recovery Process

Recovery for your child may involve any number of elements, and it’ll change throughout the recovery process. It may involve medication, individual therapy, group therapy or a combination of these.

Recovery doesn’t come with a template, however. It’s different for each person. That customization is a good thing – your child has unique strengths and interests that doctors can employ in the recovery process. For example, Dr. Wright has encountered people with a deep love for music, and he’s been able to use music as part of their recovery.

While it can be hard for parents to navigate addiction with their children, parents can play a vital role when they support their children through this time. By encouraging their children to enter treatment and offering to listen to them while they’re in recovery, parents can give their children what they need most: support, hope and love.

“Addiction is a family issue,” says Villarrubbia. “It impacts the entire family. Being a part of the recovery process allows the patient not to feel alone in the process.”

If you or a loved one is in need of assistance, Atrium Health’s Behavioral Health Help Line is available 24/7 at 704-444-2400.

Three-Part Series

Read our other two stories in the Hope for Addiction series below:

How to Support a Significant Other Who's Dealing with Addiction

How to Support a Friend Who's Dealing with Addiction