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7 Ways Parents Can Help Move Their Child Away From Substance Use

It is alarming when you discover that your child is smoking marijuana or drinking.

For some lucky parents, that is where their child’s drug or alcohol use stops. Other parents find that their child’s experimenting opens the door to a growing dependence that quickly becomes out of control.

How Can You Help?

It’s common for parents to become emotionally exhausted as they realize how dependent their child has become.

In looking at ways to help their children and improve the situation, parents can sometimes lose sight of the fact that they have more influence with their teen or young adult than they realize.

Research-based strategies and tools are becoming more widespread, and substance abuse professionals are realizing that there is not just one way to combat addiction. Every family’s situation is unique, but it’s clear that the sooner parents intervene in their child’s situation, the better.

It’s also clear that taking a more compassionate approach may lead to a calmer, more manageable household, and gain positive results in less time.

If you are struggling with your child’s use, seek outside help as soon as possible. In addition, here are seven powerful tools – based on the Community Reinforcement And Family Training or CRAFT approach – that parents can use at home to help their child change.

  • Start with a foundation of self-care.Addiction has been coined as a family disease; every member has a part to play. As a parent, if you are emotionally exhausted, stressed, and feel like you are consistently drained, you will not have much to give to your child in the way of help.Get regular exercise, eat healthy food, and don’t let the shame of addiction keep you isolated. Continue to enjoy fun activities whenever possible. Start with just taking a walk. Remember that you are worth taking care of and you deserve a happy life. Your self-care will not only help you, it will help your child in the long run.
  • Take the time to understand why your child has chosen to use drugs or abuse alcohol.A number of psychologists feel that addiction often stems from childhood trauma. Others feel that, while childhood trauma plays a role, there are other factors that may contribute to your child’s interest in numbing out.Take the time to understand what your child likes about using substances. Consider what they may be thinking about or feeling right before they use.

    While not condoning drug use as an escape, let your child know that you had the same feelings when you were their age. Let them know you understand life can be challenging at times.

  • Let go of communication traps that keep you stuck. While it is understandable that you may fly off the handle when having to deal with so many negative consequences of your child’s use, keeping calm and staying positive helps. Lecturing your child is rarely effective.Giving the same information over and over creates a situation where your child tunes you out. Other communication traps that are not helpful are labeling your child, blaming them, taking sides, and asking closed questions that can only be answered by “yes” or “no.”
  • Strive for positive conversations. Confronting, yelling, and getting angry are not helpful. They just alienate your child and move you further away from solving the problem. Timing conversations is critical.Wait until they are sober to have conversations about their use. Ask open-ended questions that begin with words like what or how. This allows for a conversation, rather than an interrogation. Whenever possible, find something positive in your child’s behavior to acknowledge.
  • Compliment positive behavior. It is easy to be overwhelmed with the negativity of your child’s behavior. However, no one feels motivated to change if they feel they never do anything right. While it can feel challenging, start the snowball effect of being positive.Compliment your child on the smallest positive actions. When you think they have done more, give them healthy rewards (that don’t include giving money). While it may feel that all you are seeing is negative behavior, when you reinforce the positive, you will begin to see more of it.
  • Let your child accept responsibility for the actions.Is your child missing school or work? Are there other consequences of their use that are harmful? It may be tempting jump in and bail your child out or cover for them each time they get themselves into trouble, but your child will learn a powerful lesson if you gently step away and allow the world be their teacher.Allowing your child to take responsibility gets you off the hook from being the cause of the problem. Give them the opportunity to realize that their habits and actions are at the root of the problem and that they are responsible.
  • Ask if you can help.Parents can help support their child’s recovery. When your child is facing a dilemma or is sharing a problem, rather than solve the problem for them or lecture them about their bad decisions, just simply ask, “Is there anything I can do to help?” Have your boundaries established and clear, so that there is no misunderstanding on what you will or will not do. When you make the offer to help, it demonstrates to your child that you care and that you are on their side.

Never Give Up Hope

According to Bert Helm in The End of Hitting Rock Bottom:

“By making loved ones feel listened to, empowered, and supported, CRAFT’s proponents say, family members can motivate them to seek help. And it appears to work.”

Thomas McLellan was also quoted in Helm’s article as saying:

“CRAFT is among one of the most potent ways to change people’s behavior.”

While it may seem like your life has become a stormy roller coaster with dark clouds always brewing on the horizon, beneath the surface and behind the drug use, your child – whose behavior you may not recognize – is still there.

A child’s substance use can be challenging for any parent. Showing compassion and leaning in, rather than letting go and detaching, can be powerful. It might be what actually works.

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