Coming to terms with your child’s addiction isn’t always an easy thing to do. You might wrestle with questions or place the blame on yourself. When did the substance use start? Why did the substance use start? What could I have done differently? It’s natural to want to retrace your steps, examine every decision you made, and try to figure out where it all began.
It’s important to remember, however, that you cannot change the past, no matter how hard you try. The focus now should be on getting your child the help they need to get and stay sober. This process is going to require your family to dig deep and uncover difficult emotions that have been buried for a very long time. Sustain Recovery can help.
Be Rooted in Understanding and Compassion
In order to be successful in their recovery, your teenager is going to have to make some major changes. It’s going to take hard work and dedication, but they are going to learn, grow, and find their path on their recovery journey. The same is true of you. As caregivers, you must be ready to support your child when they return home from treatment. This will probably require some changes from your end, too. A good place to start is to be rooted in understanding.
There are often a lot of deep and painful emotions surrounding substance abuse. You will likely be disappointed with your child, and even with yourself. It’s important to feel these emotions instead of bottling them up and burying them deep inside of you — but you cannot harbor them forever. Start by letting go of any judgment or blame you are holding on to. As you move into a mode of understanding, these emotions no longer serve a purpose. The longer you cling to anger, the farther recovery will feel for your family.
Instead, commit to being rooted in understanding and compassion. The closer you look at your child’s substance abuse, the more you will realize that substances are not the problem — they are now the solution.
Using Substances as Coping Mechanisms
Stress has been known to contribute to one’s susceptibility to addiction, and adolescents in today’s world are not immune to either. In fact, because their brains are not fully developed, they are more likely to engage in impulsivity to help them cope with stressors in their lives. Adolescents don’t have enough life experience to see that their stressors are often temporary or that the impulsive methods they are using to cope have long-term consequences. They often see the world in black or white, ignoring the gray that can give them a sense of clarity.
When your child is dealing with experiences that are stressful for them, they’ll try to find any way to remove the stressor from their life. Whether it be depression, anxiety, trouble with relationships, trouble in school, or other traumas they have endured, your child will find some way to cope. Unfortunately, they often turn to self-defeating behaviors to do so. It’s not uncommon for adolescents to experiment with alcohol or drugs in an attempt to reduce stress or self-medicate to numb their feelings.
Over time, as your child learned to cope by using substances, an addiction formed. Their brain learned to depend on the substances to feel better and engaging in substance use was no longer a choice. Cravings and compulsions to use became so strong that not even negative consequences of their substance use was enough to stop them.
The Science Behind Stress and Addiction
The more stressors that your child is experiencing, the more vulnerable they are to substance abuse. In a study published by the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, researchers describe how chronic adversity leads to an increased vulnerability to substance use. The study focused on three primary areas of adversity — recent negative life events, past trauma and maltreatment, and lifetime exposure to stressors. The greater the number of stressors that an individual is exposed to, the higher the risk of developing an addiction.
It’s important to understand that your child was doing their best to cope with their problems. Although their coping mechanism wasn’t a healthy option, it was the one they chose. You cannot change the past. Instead of blaming them and being angry, it’s your job to now help them get the support and treatment they need for the underlying issues they were trying to cope with. If you allow yourself to come from a place of understanding and compassion, you will give your child the space to begin their recovery with your support.
Hope for the Future
There is help out there for your child. It’s important to understand that they need help not only for their addiction, but for the underlying issues as well. Think of their addiction like a weed growing in a flower garden. If you only pull the part of the weed that you can see and leave the rest, a new weed will soon grow in the old one’s place.
To successfully get rid of the weed, you must remove the roots. If you only get your child help for their substance abuse without dealing with the underlying stress and trauma, there will soon be unhealthy coping mechanisms that show up in the addiction’s place. The key is to treat the underlying issues as well and give your child the necessary tools they need to cope in healthy ways when stress returns.
Recovery from an addiction is hard work. If your child is returning home from treatment, know that the work is just beginning. No one expects perfection, so stop striving for perfection. Do your best to be supportive and give your child what they need, not what they want.
Sustain Recovery is here to help you and your child in their addiction recovery. We provide adolescents with a positive and loving environment where they can address their addiction and mental health issues and find the path to sobriety. Any treatment would be incomplete without the inclusion of the families who suffer alongside them, and that is why we include weekly family therapy in the recovery process as well. Let us help your child and your family heal together. To learn more, call us today at (949) 407-9052.