Parenting in a Time of Drug Abuse
Even under the best
circumstances negotiating a path from childhood to adulthood poses
tremendous challenges - for parents and their teenagers.
struggle to maintain a balance between keeping their kids safe and
close and giving them the chances they need to grow, between
holding their children accountable for their actions and
preserving some form of loving relationship.
to assert their independence in a world that's new - filled with
possibility and fraught with danger.
Add drug and
alcohol abuse into the mix and figuring out the process can be
overwhelming for both parents and their children.
and mental health experts who work with drug and alcohol addicts
and with families in stress say there is no one way to deal with a
child. Each person is unique. Each person develops at a different
pace. As dangerous as generalizations can be, they do agree on
some guidelines that can help parents and their teenagers maintain
an honest, open and caring relationship.
communication lines open, avoiding accusatory statements,
reminding kids that their parents love them and care about them
and that they value them not for being an athlete, or for wanting
to go to medical school, or for the grades they make, but for
themselves are all keys in passing the baton of responsibility
from parent to child.
If and when
systems break down parents need to reach out for help and support
whether or not their child is willing to seek help.
every family is different," said Brian O'Sullivan,
and manger of the outpatient mental health clinic for Hallmark
Health. "Every child develops at a slightly different pace.
Parents walk the line of accountability to the family, while at
the same time allowing kids to test their wings. And kids send
warning signals when they are having trouble flying."
to extremes - "Hey son, let's go smoke a joint," or turning a home
into a concentration camp - are definitely two paths to avoid, say
"I wish I had a
formula," said Cheryl Enos, M.S., a
veteran therapist of 16 years. "But I don't. Keep an honest and
open relationship. That doesn't mean you smoke pot together.
Locking kids up doesn't work either."
"That is a
problem for many families," said Punyamurtula
S. Kishore, M.D., M.P.H., who treats
drug addition in the Melrose area through offices in Woburn and
Brookline. "A lot of alienation comes when parents don't let their
children become individuals. The more families I meet, the more
awestruck I am about how little they know. Parents have very
little clue about what happens when their children hit the youth
One way to
bridge that gap is to pay attention to what kids watch on TV, what
they do on the Internet, the books they read and the music they
attention doesn't necessarily mean banning a TV show or music.
watching TV with your teenager and you see people engaging in
unprotected sex, make a comment. If characters are drinking,
wonder who is going to drive them home. You're missing an
opportunity to discuss real issues if you just turn the TV off. If
you're seeing it, use it as an opportunity to open up a
discussion," said Anya
Koutras, M.D., of the Malden Family
Health Center and assistant clinical professor at Tufts School of
must also look at their own value systems when looking at their
children. Sometimes this means examining their
own alcohol or drug use. Or looking at why they value their
"Kids need to
have something to look at beyond school," said
Koutras. "What do you want to do
beyond school? Kids getting Cs and down.
These students feel mediocre. Look to their artwork.
Their music. What makes them feel
unique. It's a great way to connect."
said he often treats athletes, especially football and hockey
players, for OxyContin addiction
because their parents urged them to take the prescription
painkiller so they could play through injuries.
"They see their
kids a sports stars," said
to send the message that they are concerned about their children
because they love them," said 0'Sullivan. "We're concerned about
you not because you want to go to medical school, but because we
love you. They need to reaffirm their unconditional love for their
use and the parent role model is also
smoking pot together, that happens a lot," said
Enos. "If you have a classroom full of
kids from alcoholic homes and they see a drug-education video,
that video isn't going to help a lot."
Maintaining child accountability
communication open between parents and teens is one goal. Keeping
kids accountable for their actions must also be part of that goal.
"Teens need to
be held accountable for their actions within the family and the
family needs to hold each person accountable for those
responsibilities," said O'Sullivan.
rules for when kids have to be home, for example, should be a
joint agreement between the parents and the teen. Parents need to
set the ground rules with the teen and have the teenager "buy into
the rules" and then set some kind of a common understanding about
what not keeping to the rules means.
"One would hope
the original discussion gets it said," said O'Sullivan. "We agreed
to the rules. What message are you sending us that you can't live
by them? You hope to get some response - 'Maybe I'm not as good at
managing my life as I should be,' or, 'Maybe
I'm out of control in some way.'"
holding kids accountable can be terrifying for parents.
he sees families in his practice in which the child may owe a drug
dealer thousands of dollars.
"The flip side
of anger is the parent's desire to protect the child," said
O'Sullivan. "If parents are paying off drug dealers for $5,000 to
$10,000, the are covering for their
kids. Parents shouldn't do it. If a person doesn't learn
accountability at 15 or 16 or 17, it is much more difficult at
The parent in
such circumstances, of course, doesn't let the child dangle,
waiting for the drug dealers and their baseball bats to come
"What it means
is we're not going to give you $5,000 so you won't be attacked,"
said O'Sullivan. "What we will do is get you treatment. Let's
report this to the police. Take any other option than paying off
the debt and saying, 'Don't do that again.' If a kid is really
addicted, parents should think about how much heroin or Oxy that
families, the addiction goes far beyond the measures discussed so
far. The child is out of control, to the point of endangering
himself and other, innocent family members. The child ignores or
rebuffs efforts to treat the addiction or goes right back to using
after the latest rehab stint.
At this point,
parents have a tough choice. They can try again. They can expose
the family to further danger and deterioration. Or they can move
"We have a
clearer line," said O'Sullivan of when it's time to take drastic
steps. "The law determines who should be committed. Parents have
it much muddier. We're dealing with one family where the family
went to the police and pressed charges. They realized the stakes
are very high and the situation was out of control. They were
willing to do what it takes."
"If a child or
teen refuses to get treatment or do anything, if a parent is
getting services for himself, to help cope, the parent will know
when that time comes," said Enos.
treatment doesn't work, if the child doesn't respond, the experts
said it's vital for the parents and other family members to
continue their own treatment. The effects of drug addiction don't
stop with the addict. Go to Alanon or
Narcanon meetings, they say. Stay in
love doesn't mean you have to dance with these people anymore,"
said Enos. "Living with something like
this, even if it's on the periphery of a family, is still
stressful as is the process of letting go."
Even if parents
seemingly do everything "right," that's no guarantee a child will
grow up drug or alcohol-abuse free. Genetics also play a role.
Some people are more prone to addiction than others.
parents can do is to feel good about what they are doing and
knowing they are doing the best they can," said
Enos. "Ultimately, the children will
make their own choices."
Found on SAMHSA http://www.health.org/newsroom/
Original Articles at: