An epidemic of drug addiction with our kids today is scarier then ever!
Every day on national and local news, more and more stories keep pointing to the opiate epidemic, overdoses, and addiction of our young people. These kids have parents whose hearts are breaking and need ongoing support and strategies to take back their parenting from the addiction of their teens and young adults. I believe no parent ever intentionally wakes up each day and decides to harm their kids. Yet, with the affects of addiction on their parenting, most of these parents find it difficult to believe that their kids really care about them and they feel overwhelmed and powerless. Many of these teens and young adults have the following in common that parents need to know:
1- Remorse for what they have done to their families 2- Loneliness, sadness, rage, fear, and shame 3- Love for their parents
How do I know? I surveyed 300 teens and young adults newly sober from a recovery high school and sober living programs during the past 4 years. Their responses were heart felt, wise, and important to share with parents. They want you and need you in their lives even if they show otherwise.
One of the questions asked to the teens and young adults was:
“Dear Parents, I wish you knew this about me-“
- I did my best and tried to be stable, but couldn’t.
- I wish you knew how much I have suffered. Sometimes I feel that they only saw my maladaptive behavior as an attack against them rather than a cry for help or an act of desperation.
- I’m trapped in a vicious cycle of using because I can’t gain trust and I’ve given up.
- I have really struggled.
- I deeply regret hurting them.
- I love them and never wanted to hurt them with my addiction.
Who are these kids?
Many of these teens and young adults have been through treatment anywhere from one to nine times. Drugs of choice range from alcohol to marijuana to street drugs, prescription drugs, designer drugs, opiates, and heroin. Many of them have been bullied in grade school, middle school, and high school. Quite a few of them have been sexually or physically abused. Developmentally, many experience delays socially, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.
Through the years, I have worked directly and indirectly with thousands of adolescents and young adults all over the country. Their stories
are heartfelt and telling. Many are children of addicts, many are in recovery, and many have co-occurring mental health challenges. Most of them don’t know how to step out from active addiction and remain sober. Many of these children have mental health challenges that went untreated or were unsuccessfully treated. These include depression, anxiety, severe mood disorders, and learning disabilities. Many of these children mask untreated mental health issues with addiction to ease their pain. Most of the teenagers and young adults have dual diagnoses of chemical dependency with coexisting mental health challenges.
“How did addiction affect your relationship with your parents?”
- When I was depressed, I totally shut down and blocked my parents out, which caused them to try harder.
- They lost trust in me, and I’m not sure when it will ever be back.
- They were scared I would kill myself.
- I completely disappointed them.
Different Children, Similar Messages – No matter where these children come from, no matter their substances of choice, and no matter their ages, the message to their parents is the same:
• Be present with me physically and emotionally.
• Build a relationship with me.
• Console me if I am having a problem.
• Do absolutely everything to stay together and not get divorced.
• Don’t let your mental health problems wreck your family’s life.
• Don’t try to buy me with things or trips.
• Give me more attention.
• Have family dinners and get to know me.
• Help me know I’m not a bad person.
• Listen to my point of view. Make sure I know that I can tell you anything without judgment.
• Show me that you love me.
• Take time to learn how I think and feel.
Addiction/mental health challenges often suck the life out of parents due to their enmeshment, and inability to know how to detach and make dif cult decisions. To take charge again in their families, parents need support during that rst year of recovery when there are so many new challenges. Family programs only begin the journey. Parents have years of parenting habits that maintained an addicted family system. The 5 steps below teach parents how to shift their family, empower their parenting and not let addiction be in charge again. There are very few ongoing programs after treatment that support parents directly. They need an aftercare support while their kid is using to help them rebuild and sustain a strong parental foundation.
From my research and interviews with parents, the following 5 steps of foundational parenting were instrumental in teaching parents to regain their parenting, and restructure their relationships with their kids. Parents who were part of groups, weekend programs and coaching, regained hope and strength to heal their parenting and
in turn their families. Identifying concrete action steps or strategies that can be used in their relationship with their kids gives parents something tangible that can be practiced at home daily.
The following 5 steps of Foundational Parenting, teaches parents to:
• Practice being present with their children
• Develop emotional attunement
• Act and respond non judgmentally with their children
• Create sacred family time and recreate rituals
• Clarify values, rules and boundaries-natural/logical consequences
Healthy parenting is vital for a child’s continued sobriety. A healthy parenting approach does not allow for a child’s moods or actions to cause reactions that escalate into a destructive situation. The addiction or threat of a relapse is no longer permitted to rule the home, depleting the parents’ energy and power. When parents are clear about their values and expectations and adhere to them, children can push and test, but healthy parenting doesn’t allow this to in uence them into bending the rules. In this way, children know that parents “mean what they say and say what they mean.”
By Barbara Krovitz-Neren, MA