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How to Help a Son or Daughter Addicted to Drugs

Knowing how to help a son or daughter who may be addicted to drugs is incredibly difficult, as not only are you seeking to support them, but you must also figure out how to support yourself through the ravages of addiction. The good news is that if you are here and looking for answers, you are already on the right path. 

Here we will explore not only how to identify if your child is struggling with an addiction, but also how you can help and intervene to the best effect. Do not forget that early intervention, especially with professional support, is one of the best indicators for long-term and lasting recovery. 

Is My Son or Daughter a Drug Addict?

Knowing if your son or daughter is addicted to drugs can be difficult, particularly as many people who have addictions tend to be dishonest and secretive about their use. It is also important to distinguish if you are looking for a clinical diagnosis of addiction, or a more colloquial definition of addiction. 

Addition, in this context, is ultimately about compulsive substance use despite negative consequences and with a loss of control over the drug consumption. Whether someone meets that diagnostic criteria or not, their use may still be having a negative impact on their life and the lives around them. 

While only a medical professional is qualified to make diagnoses about substance use disorder (also known as drug or alcohol addiction), being familiar with the warning signs can help signal when something is going wrong. Based on the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition), diagnostic criteria, here are some clinically based questions you may use to determine if your child may have a drug addiction: 

  • Do they ever use drugs in larger amounts or over longer periods of time than they intend to?
  • Have they ever made an attempt to cut down or stop using drugs altogether, but were unable to? 
  • Do they spend a great deal of time obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of drugs?
  • Do they ever express cravings or strong desires to use?
  • Do they continue to use drugs, despite it causing them to fail in fulfilling their responsibilities at home, school, or at work? 
  • Do they continue to use drugs despite it causing social problems, or problems within their relationships that are either caused by, or exacerbated by their use?
  • Have they used drugs in situations that were physically dangerous, multiple times?
  • Have they continued to use drugs despite experiencing, and being aware of, recurring physical or psychological problems that have been caused by, or exacerbated by, drug use?
  • Do they need to use higher quantities of drugs than they used to to get the same effects?
  • Do they ever experience withdrawal symptoms when not using, that are then alleviated when they start using again?

Again, these questions can be difficult to answer if your child is not incredibly forthcoming and honest with you. Even if they state they do not identify with any of the above questions, it may be that they are in denial, being dishonest, or are simply unaware of the impact of their drug use. Some more overt signs that may indicate a problematic relationship with drugs could include: 

  • Changes in social behaviours or circles
  • Changes in mood or personality
  • Decline in work or academic performance
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Changes to weight or appearance
  • Hiding or lying about drinking
  • Defensiveness about their drinking
  • Neglecting their health and wellbeing

When we talk about a problematic relationship with drugs, this is different than a drug addiction. The key difference is mainly that problems resulting from drug use are less common and do not serve as a chronic and pervasive drain on their quality of life. These individuals also demonstrate more flexibility and control over their drug use, being able to limit and stop using when needed or desired.

What Is Labelling?

In this context, labelling refers to using a term such as ‘addict’ or ‘drug addicted’ to ‘label’ someone, and identify them based on their behaviour regarding substances, or more specifically, drugs. While this is very common in everyday language, using terms like this can have a range of negative effects and impacts. 

Of primary concern, this type of language is highly stigmatising, leading to unfair judgement and treatment of individuals. It fosters a lack of empathy, reducing the person to a stereotype rather than recognising their individuality. Stigmatisation can escalate, causing individuals to internalise these labels, damaging their self-esteem and belief in their capacity for change.

Labels can create a perception of permanence, making it difficult for individuals to envision a future beyond the constraints of these stereotypes. The fear of being labelled as an ‘addict’ or ‘drug addicted’ can significantly hinder those wanting to make positive changes from seeking help, as they worry about societal perceptions.

To address addiction effectively, it’s crucial to use person-first language, emphasising an individual’s potential for growth and change. Utilising non-stigmatising language promotes understanding, empathy, and a more supportive environment for those seeking assistance.

What to Say if Your Child Is Addicted to Drugs

If your child is struggling with drug addiction, it’s important to approach the situation with empathy, support, and understanding. Begin the conversation by underlining that this concern is coming from a place of love and not judgement. Let them know specifically what you have observed, and why you are worried. 

Ensure that you are listening actively, and allowing your child to be the focus of the conversation. Avoid turning the situation against them, and making yourself the centre; for example “I can’t believe my child is a drug addict” or “I must’ve been a terrible mother”. Remember, you are here to express your love and support, not your pain or grief. 

Offer help to your child through supporting them in their recovery and helping them to identify professional sources of treatment such as therapists or support groups. Educating yourself ahead of time about addiction and how it can be treated will give you the armour you need to go into this part of the conversation ahead of the ball. 

What to say can sometimes be less important than how you say it. Using judgement free language in a neutral tone can often be key to letting your children know that you are a safe space. By being honest and willing to hear things you might not like, you can become a trusted source of information, and a secure confidante. 

Finally, be willing to establish clear and consistent boundaries to protect both your child and your family. Boundaries can include expectations for behaviour, consequences for breaking rules, and guidelines for seeking help. This may seem like tough love at first, but it is important to avoid enabling addictive behaviours if your goal is to see your child sober. 

Help for Parents of Drug Addicted Children

Being a parent of a child suffering from addiction is incredibly difficult. It is crucial to remember that addiction truly is a family disease – no person is left unaffected. It is therefore so important to seek not only professional help for your child, but for yourself as well. 

Seek therapy for yourself or consider joining support groups specifically designed for parents of individuals struggling with addiction. These groups provide a safe space to share experiences, receive guidance, and build a support network.

One of the most popular sources of peer support include Al-Anon and Nar-Anon meetings.Inspired by the traditional 12 step meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, these are support groups specifically for family and friends of individuals struggling with alcohol or drug addiction. Attending meetings can provide valuable insights and connect parents with others facing similar challenges.

In addition to peer support, it is usually recommended for parents to seek their own professional counselling separate to that of any family or addiction counselling done for the child. A qualified therapist, experienced in addiction, will be able to support you in coping with, communicating about, and recovering from your child’s addiction.

Educating yourself about therapy, mental health and addiction is key to heading into your child’s recovery with open eyes and a long-term view. Recovery can be a rocky road that takes some people years to start down. Knowing what to expect and how to react not only supports you in handling difficult situations, but also helps you to feel more secure in your capacity to cope. 

Finally, seek professional inpatient treatment for your child and their addiction. Treatment facilities, such as Clinic Les Alpes, often provide family programmes that not only support parents, but also deliver therapeutic family interventions to help the family system emerge in recovery stronger than they were before. Clinic Les Alpes also allows you a rest from worry as you can be assured that your child is receiving top-class addiction treatment in full luxury, security, and confidentiality.

Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. It’s essential for parents to prioritise their well-being and seek the support they need to navigate the challenges of having a child with addiction.

Conclusion

Being a parent of a child struggling with addiction is incredibly difficult, and the ripple effects of addiction spread throughout whole family systems. Whether they are experiencing a diagnosed substance use disorder or not, the harms of drugs can still leave their mark. By educating yourself and seeking professional support, you can be best prepared to know how to help your son or daughter with a drug addiction.

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