Addiction starts early. Over 90% of addicts begin abusing drugs or alcohol before the age of 18. While it’s impossible to accurately measure how many addicts there are, a 2013 study showed 24.6 million Americans had abused an illicit substance within the last month (at the time of the survey). This means there are lots of parents out there with drug-addicted and/or alcoholic children. If you’re one of those parents, here are some tips on how to detect an addiction in a child, how to approach your addict child, and how to help control yourself and remain as collected as possible.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse offers a list of signs to look for regarding whether or not your child has become drug-addicted. They also point out that some parents will mistake signs of drug addiction for effects of puberty. Signs your child may be on his or her way to a drug addiction include:
- Suddenly seeming withdrawn or unusually lonesome
- Being constantly fatigued
- Hostility, especially unprovoked
- Change of friends
- Lack of personal hygiene
- Unusual school performance, i.e. skipping or detention
- Significant changes in sleeping or eating habits
Exhibiting any of the above signs does not necessarily mean your child is abusing drugs, but surely puberty would not cause any of this. Showing any number of these signs warrants further investigation into the status of your child.
If you (unfortunately) are already aware that your child is a drug-addict, it may be difficult for you to cope. How can you stop it? How do you approach them? All you want to do is help. While there is no easy solution, there are things that can be done to help, and there are facts that when realized should help you as a parent remain as collected as possible.
- Be a friend. Whether you are the grandparent, the aunt, a neighbor or an actual friend, be a friend. Approach your child not as an authority but rather as a peer. Albert Camus said, “Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.”
- Remember the problem is real. Sometimes addicts exaggerate things, or say some things that seem irrational. Just remember your child is experiencing a barrage of emotions. Some things he or she says may seem trivial or silly to you, but do not laugh at or scold your child.
- Have rules, yes, but establish boundaries. This will help both the battle of having an addict child and the battle you face internally. Two excerpts from the same heartwarming article written by the father of an addicted child says it all:
“I have learned that there is a big difference between rules and boundaries. Rules are easy. Rules are set and everyone follows. Boundaries are not rules. Boundaries help direct your universe when the rules do not apply or are not relevant. My lack of clear boundaries for myself gave me permission and allowed me to justify enabling my son’s drug use…”
“…I can make a rule directed at my son that he cannot use drugs in my home. The reality is that he is an active addict; he will use drugs in my home… Did it make anything better or change anything? No, we are still at square one… But I can establish a boundary – like this: I do not wish to live in a home were drugs are being used illegally. This actually puts everything on me; there is really no reason to become angry… I am not trying to control him. I get to decide on the actions in my life.”
Chapter 5 Recovery offers an excellent list of harsh but helpful reminders for the struggle of having addict children. In summary, the list reminds you to remember you’re a parent. Because of your love and desire to help, you may be the worst option! Seek the help of counselors, professionals, sponsors, etc.
Remember that you cannot fix this on your own. Addicts must choose to end their addiction first before they can be helped. What we can do is guide them and talk to them. Also, remember addicts lie. Whatever needs to be said will be said. Take what addict children say with a grain of salt and learn to read between the lines.