Talking to teens about substance abuse is never easy, but the conversation often proves particularly challenging for parents in recovery. At St. Joseph Institute for Addiction, we know that breaking the cycle of addiction is a top priority for many of the parents in our Pennsylvania drug and alcohol addiction treatment program. In this post, we offer some tips to help you begin the conversation about substance abuse with your teen.
Don’t Worry About Being a Hypocrite
You may feel like you have no right to tell your teen to stay away from drugs or alcohol because of your own substance use. This isn’t true! As a parent, it’s your responsibility to help your teen learn to make good choices. As a parent in recovery, you’ve seen firsthand what happens when substance use spirals out of control. Your experience makes you uniquely qualified to take on this tough topic.
You don’t necessarily need to share every detail of your own recovery story, but hearing about your experience can help your teen better understand how easy it is for casual experimentation to lead to addiction. Stress that you’re only trying to help your teen learn from your mistakes.
Make Sure Your Teen Knows All the Facts
Teens typically learn about drugs and alcohol abuse in school, but these programs often provide incomplete information. Ask your teen what they know about how drugs and alcohol affect the brain, then fill in the gaps in their knowledge. If your teen asks a question that you don’t know the answer too, research it together.
Knowing all the facts also means that a teen needs to understand that having a parent in recovery increases their own personal risk of developing a substance use disorder. Biology isn’t destiny, but our genes do account for about half of our total addiction risk. Fully understanding this can help your teen make safer choices.
Acknowledge the Role of Peer Pressure
Many teens who would prefer to stay sober end up experimenting with drugs and alcohol due to peer pressure and a desire to fit in. They want to be true to themselves, but they also want to fit in with their friends and classmates. Acknowledging that this is a difficult balancing act can help you build trust with your teen.
You can help your teen overcome peer pressure by sharing some of the strategies you’ve learned in recovery that help you refuse an unwanted drink or substance. Encouraging your teen to stay active in school-sponsored extracurricular activities or community youth groups can also help by creating more opportunities to connect with like-minded sober friends.
Many parents choose to offer a “no questions asked” ride home to a teen who finds themselves in a sticky situation with no easy way out. If you’d like, you can even create a “code word” your teen can use to tell you they need help exiting an uncomfortable situation without their friends overhearing.
If you find your teen admits to experimenting with drugs or alcohol, keep your cool. Being overly critical will only serve to further stress your relationship. Thank your teen for their honesty and ask for the details. Who were they using with? What made them decide to use? How did they feel afterward? How often are they in situations where drugs and alcohol are being abused?
As a parent in recovery, you know addiction feeds on guilt and shame. Keep your household free of judgment, but don’t ignore the problem. Make an appointment with your child’s doctor to see if substance abuse treatment is necessary or if your teen is struggling with a mental health issue that needs to be addressed.
Make it an Ongoing Conversation
It’s not enough to talk to teens about substance abuse one time. This needs to be an ongoing conversation—throughout middle school, high school, and college. The specific challenges your teen faces will change over time, so you need to keep the lines of communication open in order to promote positive decision-making.
Talk to your teen about their daily activities at school and with friends. Share your own progress towards your recovery goals—including how you’ve worked to overcome setbacks. When you develop a trusting relationship that eliminates the stigma and misunderstanding that often surrounds substance use disorders, your teen will be prepared to face future challenges with confidence.